AS ONE WHO COVERED PETE ROSE during his heyday with the Big Red Machine and, thus, saw first-hand what a phenomenal baseball competitor he was—as well as getting to understand what made him tick—I read with great interest the story that the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon has signed on to be a spokesman for legalized sports gambling.
In case you missed it, Chuck Nazty is becoming the first Major League Baseball player to endorse a bookmaker in the United States. He has signed an endorsement deal with MaximBet to serve as a brand ambassador. A new entry into the sports betting arena, MaximBet is the latest venture of the international multimedia company best-known for Maxim magazine—“Catering to the modern man with content that promises to seduce, entertain and continuously surprise readers.”
While neither Blackmon (nor any other MLB player) is allowed to promote betting on baseball specifically, he is permitted to endorse and promote this, or any other, sportsbook in general, thanks to language added to the collective bargaining agreement that ended the MLB players lockout in March.
Marketing and sponsorship deals between players and sportsbooks were verboten before the new CBA, even though league and team entities were not similarly restricted. Now players, coaches and MLB personnel can share in that pie, though they’re still strictly prohibited from placing—or promoting—wagers on their sport.
“We see it primarily as a form of increasing fan engagement,” Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has rationalized. “It’s an additional way for our fans to interact with the game.”
If this embrace of betting on baseball—however it’s justified by the face of MLB—isn’t hypocritical, Pete Rose isn’t barred for life from the Hall of Fame.
“I do think in-game betting is going to be a significant component,” Manfred continued. “ . . . in-game betting, so-called prop betting . . . is going to be the growth area. And most of that betting is going to take place on mobile devices.”
That’s a far cry from Pete Rose laying down some cash, in advance, on games not involving him or his team.
The reality is, Major League Baseball doesn’t want to miss out on the cash cow that sportsbooks represent. So, it can reconcile encouraging the public to wager on its sport while, at the same time, continuing to insist on purity among its employees. Money talks.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of Charlie Blackmon. I’ve long thought he was a prime example of someone who got the absolute most out of his ability through tireless effort, attention to detail and continuous hustle.
That describes Pete Rose, too.
My problem is encouraging the public to embrace the idea that they can make money on the sport. Not even Rose urged others to gamble. His risk was solely his own, a private matter.
I know, a rule is a rule. And baseball’s admonition, in so many words, to not bet on baseball if you’re part of the game, is unequivocal. (In this case, “game” means “associated with professional baseball in some way.”) But the key part, in my reading, is “. . . upon any baseball game in connection with which (the) bettor has a duty to perform . . .”
As an integrity position, it’s commendable. But if that’s the case, how does betting on a game over which you have, or exercise, no influence on the outcome compromise the integrity of the sport? (Knowing Rose as I do, I am absolutely certain he never passed up a hit because of a wager, and those 4,256 hits of his are the reason he should be in the Hall of Fame.)
There is no allegation, much less proof, that Pete Rose ever influenced the outcome of a game. And yet, he’s been punished as if he had.
The Pete Rose issue is a complicated one, to be sure. And I realize there are impassioned arguments on both sides. But I come down on the side of, enough is enough. It’s been 33 years.
The very best treatment of all sides of the matter is a book by Kostya Kennedy titled Pete Rose: An American dilemma. Having grown up in the Cincinnati area and having covered Rose for a large portion of his baseball career, I believe this is absolutely the most accurate and complete look at Rose from every angle, beginning with his youth and ending with his banishment from baseball.
My conclusion is that Charlie Hustle sinned, but not so badly that the all-time Hit King should reside in Hell for the rest of time.
My hunch is that Baseball will allow him to enter Cooperstown within a few years of his physical death, thus denying him any human joy or satisfaction over his induction yet finally recognizing his place among his peers.
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 14 books, eight of them sports-related.
You can write to Denny at email@example.com.