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Door to Cooperstown closing on Pete Rose

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Pete Rose was back in the news this week for the wrong reasons. Banned for life in 1988 for betting on baseball, Rose first denied the accusations entirely, before finally backing off that stance.

It took 15 years to finally admit to ABC’s Charlie Gibson that he bet on baseball and his Cincinnati Reds team while he was their manager. Rule 21, posted in professional baseball clubhouses, is baseball’s foremost rule that promises a lifetime ban for gambling on the game, let alone that player or manager’s own team.

This week, ESPN revealed evidence Rose was making wagers on many teams, including his own, in 1986 while he was still a player/manager. This complicates his desire, and those who feel his 4,255 career hits make him worthy, to someday enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Those supporting his eligibility for Hall of Fame induction, but not necessarily reinstatement to work in baseball, argue what he did as a player must be separated from actions as a manager. Baseball specifies the category in which members are enshrined such as player, manager, executive or umpire.

Rose had a good case to make. Probably the most famous player ever banned from the game was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was expelled (along with seven others) from baseball for their roles in the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal.

What Jackson and his teammates did happened on the field while active players. Rose was different, we thought, because his transgressions occurred after his playing days were over.

Rose was also known as a serial philanderer as well as a gambler. His first wife, Karolyn, was left to make a simple request of Pete to “not embarrass me in Cincinnati.” He embarrassed her in Cincinnati.

The Hall of Fame does not count “choirboy” on its list of qualifications, however. Ty Cobb, the man whom Rose surpassed in 1985 as the all-time leader in hits, was known as an antagonistic man off the field and one who would spike opponents on the field. Babe Ruth was a Hall of Fame player and Hall of Fame womanizer.

But none of them were ever linked to betting on baseball while they were compiling the most hits and most home runs at the time, respectively, during their days on the field. The latest revelations about Rose start to remove the line of demarcation between player and manager.

Compounding the problem is the belief or concern that more revelations are yet to come. Will further notebooks with Rose wagers surface indicating bets placed during his Philadelphia Phillies days? Maybe even during the period of the Big Red Machine during the ’70s in Cincinnati?

Many are left to wonder why a player of such stature and dedication would put himself in such a position in the first place. It is pointless to speculate, but it is a fact that precious few gamblers ever succeed when trying to make a lot of money.

Most trying to win big ultimately lose big, leaving them subject to many forms of collection methods. If Rose is, or was, a compulsive gambler, he never had a shot to stay above water. Those of us who lived in the Tampa Bay area during the ’70s and ’80s saw firsthand how Pete Rose liked to gamble.

When the Reds trained in Tampa, Rose was a regular patron at St. Petersburg’s Derby Lane greyhound track. His move to the Phillies in 1979 meant spring training in Clearwater, an easy trip to Derby Lane.

For those who rooted for Rose during his playing career, this has always been especially hard. My father interviewed him after Rose’s first selection to the National League All-Star team in 1965. Rose gave me a baseball after the interview, providing a memory for a lifetime.

When covering the 1978 All-Star game in San Diego for radio, Rose gave me, and a long line of others, quality interviews for our stations and newspapers around the country. A signed picture taken during spring training in 1985 of Rose and me flanking my wife has been in my office for more than 30 years.

Rose and those believing he belongs in the Hall of Fame must know how damaging this is. John Dowd, who led the 1988 investigation, never saw these notebook pages, but understands their significance.

“This does it. This closes the door,” Dowd told ESPN.

Before that door closes, perhaps we could ask Pete to say it ain’t so. On second thought, it would not do any good.

Joe Jackson could not make such a declaration when asked 96 years ago. Neither can Pete Rose today.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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