Pete Rose -- and by extension, Kostya Kennedy, author of a new biography of Rose, and Sports Illustrated, which put Rose on the cover this week with the cutline "It's time to rethink Pete Rose" -- claims his admitted gambling on baseball is a lesser crime, and less damaging to baseball, than players who used PEDs. Whether or not you believe Pete Rose should be allowed back in baseball, he is wrong. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. It's the No. 1 rule. When players walk into any clubhouse in any stadium in baseball, they see this rule: "Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year. Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible." This has been the case for nearly 100 years, since the game was almost destroyed by a betting scandal. There are now rules posted in clubhouses about banned substances that cannot be taken. But they have only been there for the past decade, and a lifetime ban occurs after three offenses, not one.
2. Gambling truly damages fan interest. The game of baseball was devastated in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, with trust in the game eroded to the point of near annihilation. Baseball can weather a scandal of whether players are using artificial means to boost their game; it cannot weather a scandal of those players purposely trying to lose. Imagine what would happen if a player like Eddie Cicotte told a grand jury what he did back then: "I don't know why I did it. I must have been crazy. Risberg, Gandil and McMullin were at me for a week before the Series began. They wanted me to go crooked. I don't know. I needed the money. I had the wife and the kids. The wife and the kids don't know about this. I don't know what they'll think. I've lived a thousand years in the last 12 months. I would have not done that thing for a million dollars. Now I've lost everything, job, reputation, everything. My friends all bet on the Sox. I knew, but I couldn't tell them." Also, note that statement: My friends all bet on the Sox. This is an impossible thing to abide today. Baseball knew gambling was such a mortal threat it had to be kept away from players entirely.
3. PEDs do the opposite: They increase fan interest. It is easy to argue years later that PEDs were a great stain on the game, once you have the supposed moral high ground. But no one minded PEDs when there was a home run chase. And fans continue to cheer for players who have been attached to PEDs as long as they are helping their team win. (Ask David Ortiz, or Andy Pettitte. Our anger with PED users tends to be directly proportionate to how much we like the player already.) Fans like to mock supposed PED users when they're on the other team. But when they're on theirs, they cheer. Fans would rather players not use PEDs. But more than that, they'd rather just not know, and enjoy the fruits.
4. There is moral downside to betting on your team to win. There is no moral downside to juicing. A common defense of Rose is "he never bet on his team to lose." This is easily swatted down: Any person helping to facilitate Rose's gambling could simply look at games he didn't bet on and adjust accordingly. (If you told me nine times out of 10 that your team was going to win, I wouldn't have much faith in you in that 10th game.) That gambling creates the moral hazard of being potentially so in hock to bookies that they require you to throw a game -- something that apparently didn't happen to Rose but quite easily could have -- must be noted as well. No one takes PEDs to lose or only takes them before important games.
5. Results are more important than statistics. This would seem self-evident, but it's a claim Rose makes explicit. "I know I didn't do anything to alter the statistics of baseball," Rose told Michael Kay last month. "As you know, baseball statistics are sacred. That's why baseball cards are worth more than football cards, why that Honus Wagner card is going for a couple million bucks, why baseball memorabilia is much more valuable than football or basketball memorabilia. I had nothing to do with altering statistics of baseball." Think about what Rose is saying here. Changing the documentation of the game -- statistics -- is more sacred than changing the results of games -- which is what betting on the sport when you are involved with them inherently is. It is also noteworthy that Rose is unable to discuss the value of baseball without connecting it to the buying and selling of memorabilia.
6. There's still not a ton of proof that PEDs work the way many claim. We know throwing games works. Many intelligent observers have long argued that the supposed "steroid era" of baseball might in fact have been a juiced ball era; the only proof we have so far of the benefits of PEDs have been in helping players recover from injury and workouts. (There has been no connection proven between taking PEDs and being able to hit a baseball, farther or otherwise.) There may be benefits from PEDs, but they have never been definitively proven; instead, we are given platitudes about "integrity" and "class" and "honor." Also, it has not been proven that PEDs have changed the result of a single game, particularly when you consider that it's not just hitters who have taken them. Pete Rose placed money with people outside of the game based on the results of games he was directly in charge of. This is proven, admitted and undeniable. No one else has been proven to do this since Rose.
7. Amphetamines are widely thought to have more performance-enhancing benefits than PEDs. Rose used those. He told David Letterman that very thing.
8. Those who have been punished for PED use, even Alex Rodriguez, have admitted what they did and accepted the punishment. Rose has changed his story for years, depending on what rhetorical point he's trying to make, and continues to argue that what he did -- breaking the fundamental baseball rule -- wasn't that bad. The players have been punished according to the collectively bargained rules (with the possible exception of A-Rod) and accepted their punishment. Rose can argue the rule is too harsh, but he cannot argue it was never the stated penalty -- or the one he formally accepted.
9. We are still in the early stages of understanding PEDs. We are not in the early stages of understanding gambling. Science is changing rapidly, and always will, and what we think of as a PED today may mean something very different in 20 years. (Even the PEDs Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds are accused of taking are archaic, almost barbaric, compared to the PEDs being used today.) We still do not understand the effects PEDs have on sports or will continue to. The effects gambling has on sports have been proven for a century now. It is one thing not to trust that all players are on an even field; it is another to not trust that all players are trying to win, perhaps for their own private financial purposes.
10. There's still a ton we probably don't know about Rose's gambling. This has always seemed the shutdown argument. When Rose voluntarily agreed to his ban, part of the deal was MLB would halt its investigation of him. That's to say: There may have been far more gambling involvement with Rose than we know now. Do we know that? No. But we do know that when Rose agreed to his ban, he did so in large part so the investigation would stop. As Matt Snyder from CBS Sportsline put it: "We'll never know what more the investigation would have found and revealed, but we do know Rose wanted badly enough for it to stop that he cut the deal and volunteered to be banned from baseball for life."
This is not something ever afforded Alex Rodriguez and other suspected PED users: The one thing MLB never offered to do was halt any investigations. (To say the least.) Pete Rose claims he's had a raw deal, and that PED users are getting off easy. He's wrong. He has it exactly backwards. He tends to do that.