We don’t get many pronouncements from the mountaintop anymore about Pete Rose and his insidious crimes against humanity. But, since Fay Vincent has a new book out and the “Mike and the Mad Dog” (is Mad Dog one word or two? – I can’t tell on the YES Network) show is a good place to pop your latest book, we had to hear it again on Monday on WFAN in New York City.
Before getting to the book, Fay Vincent had to explain to us (people who think Rose should be in the Hall of Fame) what a terrible thing Pete did and how we don’t “grasp” how bad betting on baseball is.
The joke, of course, is that we are now looking at NINETEEN YEARS for Pete Rose. No chance for the Hall of Fame, no ability to get back into baseball, no (correct) sympathy for a bad guy like Rose.
But now, 19 years later, that totally misses the point. What Fay Vincent and everyone else on the keep-your-foot-on-Pete-Rose’s-throat-forever bandwagon can’t “grasp” is this basic tenet: The punishment has to fit the crime. Do people who kill other people get less than nineteen years? You betcha (pun intended).
MAJOR LEAGUE RULE 21(d)
So let’s start with Major League Rule 21(d) which, in pertinent part, states: “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.” Many of you know that if the same person bets on a game in which he had no duty to perform, that suspension is for one year.
Understand the stupidity of this rule on its face. If an outfielder on one team sees his buddy on the other team right before the game and says “I’ll bet you fifty bucks we win tonight” and the other guy says “OK,” they can both be banned for life. Stupid, no? Suppose that afternoon, an outfielder on one team says to his friend on the other team, “We’re dumping tonight. We’re not going to try to win.” Do you see a difference? Even an idiot could “grasp” the difference.
Understand that Rule 21(d) was made in the wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal (did you know that Shoeless Joe Jackson was hitting .382 in September of 1920 (seriously) when he had to stop playing due to the scandal? – but that’s for another time). We don’t even know if betting on your team to win, not something the Black Sox were involved in, was considered by Commissioner Landis when Rule 21(d) was implemented in the early 1920s.
Unfortunately for Pete Rose, no differentiation was ever made between betting on your team to win and betting on your team to lose. Anyone remotely objective has to see the difference. If you’re betting on your team to win, obviously you’re going to make every effort to win. If you’re betting on your team to lose, well, you can figure out the rest of this sentence. And while Vincent tells us how insidious betting on your team to win is, has there ever been ANY evidence that Rose hurt one of his pitchers or hurt his team’s ability to win the next game by blowing out a relief pitcher. Did that ever happen with Rose?
So the best argument, aside from the stupidity of the same punishment under present Rule 21(d) if you bet $20 once or $2,000 a thousand times, is this: If you bet on your team to lose, you should be banned for life. If you bet on a team in a game you’re not involved in, you should get a year. BUT IF YOU BET ON YOUR TEAM TO WIN, YOU SHOULD GET SOMEWHERE BETWEEN A YEAR AND A LIFETIME BAN. You pick the number: two years eight years, 15 years, it doesn’t matter because Pete Rose has already been banned for 19 years. When does the “punishment fitting the crime” come into play? Never? Why can’t these guys “grasp” that?
WHAT ABOUT THE DRUGGIES?
Fay Vincent was happy to tell us about the difference between the druggies who were banned for “life” (in some cases again and again and again – I won’t write again seven times) and could (and did) seek reinstatement after one year. How (Howe) could this be? Well, the rules state that if you’re banned for “life,” you can apply for reinstatement after one year.
So, when Pete Rose was banned for life, don’t you think he thought it was for a year? Of course he did. Was that stupid on his part? Of course it was.
But make no mistake – the general feeling at the time was Rose would eventually get back in the game. So, as the druggies came, were banned for life and were reinstated after a year, Pete Rose twisted in the wind for, for, for, forever, apparently. Again this is just wrong.
WHAT IF PETE ROSE HAD “COME CLEAN”?
Perhaps the funniest/saddest thing of all is Vincent’s pronouncement that, if Rose had told the truth earlier, he would have eventually been reinstated. This is really scary, because it confirms what many of us think: Pete Rose isn’t being banned for life for gambling. He’s being banned for life for gambling and then lying about gambling. So, the “deterrence” that Vincent talks about isn’t based on people being punished for life for gambling. It’s based on people being punished for life for gambling and then, however weakly, trying to cover it up. See the difference?
The “deterrent” effect that Vincent talks about as being all-important is undercut by his own analysis. Again, when he admits that Rose would have been treated differently and probably reinstated after a few years had he admitted his gambling right away, any notion of long-term deterrence disappears by Vincent’s own words. That’s not too hard to understand, is it?
WHAT ABOUT GAYLORD PERRY?
While there are many Hall of Famers to put in this headline, Gaylord Perry takes the cake. While still in the majors, Perry wrote a book entitled “Me and the Spitter” (you can’t make this stuff up). In it, he explained how he started throwing a spit ball, Vaseline ball, etc. Of course, he stated that he had stopped and then pitched ten more years after the book was published. Who did more to hurt the game of baseball: a great player who bet on his team to win as a manager or, a 3-7 pitcher who experimented with a spitter (by his own admission) to stay in the majors and became a Hall of Famer? If you’re remotely objective, it’s not even a conversation. Put that on Gaylord Perry’s plaque.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Well, nowhere. Bud Selig won’t make a decision (who hurt baseball more: a manager who bet on his team to win or (fill in the blank with the name of your choice), a steroid-user who did what he had to do to stay ahead of the pack? Again, not even a conversation).
Pete Rose has served his time out of baseball and out of the Hall of Fame He should, at a minimum, be allowed to be voted into the Hall of Fame (he probably wouldn’t get there, but he deserves the opportunity). He should also, with strict conditions imposed by Bud Selig, be allowed to return to the game in some capacity.
FINALLY, WHAT ABOUT VINCENT’S BOOK?
The book is called “We Would Have Played for Nothing” and purports, according to Chris Russo, to talk about baseball in the 1950s and 1960s. Of course, the notion that these guys would have played for nothing is, essentially, a crock.
Go ask Sandy Koufax why he and Don Drysdale held out as a tandem in the 1960s. Look up the Mickey Mantle story when, the year after he won the Triple Crown in 1956, he “only’ hit .365 and the Yankees wanted to cut his salary. Go ask Ralph Kiner about the Branch Rickey story he tells when Kiner, looking for a raise after leading the NL in home runs (again) for the lowly Pirates, was told “We came in last with you and we can come in last without you.”
This false notion of playing for nothing was never true – in the last 100 years, numerous players jumped to rival leagues for more money. In the early 20th century, the owners had a salary cap of $2400 per player. The Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series because their owner was so cheap. Sal Maglie and others jumped to the Mexican League. And on and on and on.
It’s a quaint notion that, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, players who had to get jobs in the off-season to support their families would have played for nothing. But it’s simply untrue.
What these people need to understand is that there are other baseball fans with a clue who follow this stuff. Whether it’s talking about the “good old days” or talking about the absurdity of the Pete Rose situation, a better grasp of the situation is necessary.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.