Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Enemy At The Gate

If sports is a religion in North America, and for the most part it is in my view, sad to say on some levels, if there is one thing that can destroy what for millions of people is an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life, it's the realization that the contests which generate all that interest and the revenue that comes with it, are fixed. No sports league can tolerate betting. It's about the only thing that can kill that goose that lays the golden egg!

Each of the four major teams sports in North America have safeguards which are designed to prevent those who would gain personally from establishing a system whereby the outcome of the games is contrived. For Major League Baseball (MLB) it's rule 21 (d). That rule is in every major league club house for all to read (in two languages) whether they be player, umpire or anyone connected with MLB who can influence the outcome of games. There is even a section of rule 21 which refers to those involved in the game who are not in a position to affect the outcomes.

For anyone caught violating rule 21, the consequence is "baseball death" (i.e. you are declared permanently ineligible from further participation in MLB)! The key consequence if you are a player is ineligibility for consideration for the baseball "Hall of Fame".

I think most if not all would agree that this most severe of consequences is essential for a professional sport to protect itself.

Enter one Peter Edward Rose, the only player to have been proven and admitted (albeit after a prolonged period of denial) to have violated rule 21 (d) in the modern area (Google "Black Sox Scandal").

Pete the player had no parallel, especially when it came to hitting the ball, the signature skill in the game. As his career entered the back nine, his election to the baseball "Hall of Fame" was considered a certainty, most likely on the first ballot with perhaps 100% of the voters placing him in the Cooperstown shrine.

But, as foreshadowed above, Rose's personal Achilles heal reared its ugly head when Rose, completing his playing days for his beloved Cincinnati Reds, was named the team's manager. And, in the initial stages, Pete was the "playing manager". He didn't play regularly, as you might imagine, but he did play and it seems that during those days, and as we have recently learned, even before that when he was Pete Rose the player, he wagered on his team's outcomes.

Although Pete was addicted to gambling, and not the first star athlete to be so afflicted, his betting spilled over into the sport he loved (his words, not mine) and on the team for which he pulled the managerial strings. Pete could have confined his wagering to basketball, football, hockey etc., and from what I'm lead to believe, did so, but he couldn't resist betting on the one sport for which he had an influence on its outcome!

When Pete finally admitted to betting on this team, he contended it was only for his team to "win", not lose. For many of Rose's fans and admirers, that was all they needed to know asserting that to bet that your team would win is the ultimate statement of one's desire to excel. That's where the problem begins!

Had Pete been a journeyman player, with an undistinguished career who took over the managerial reins of his team and bet on the outcome of baseball games, many of you out there who are going to the wall to "forgive and forget" wouldn't even contemplate doing so. Your instinct would kick in to protect the most important element of the integrity of the game, the notion that the outcome has not been predetermined, because when the outcome is "fixed", much, if not all of the interest in the game vanishes, along with the money the game generates. Its records and "Hall of Fame" become meaningless. Ultimately betting is the cancer that kills sport.

It's why I have to shake my head when Rose still expresses his "love" of baseball and openly seeks his inclusion into its "Hall of Fame". Rose doesn't care about baseball! He had a chance to demonstrate that, in part by not violating its most important regulation and to fall on his sword and accept what he did for what it is, and be a role model for anyone else in his position who contemplates betting on baseball. As for his inclusion into the "Hall of Fame", I'm reminded of a line from the movie "Cool Runnings", "If you're not enough without the gold medal, you'll never be enough with it!". Substitute "Hall of Fame" for "gold medal" in that line and it's all you need to know about Pete Rose.

But let's go back to Pete's insistence that he only bet on his team to win. As previously stated, on the surface, it seems almost harmless but a more careful consideration leaves disturbing questions.

Why didn't Rose bet on all the games in which the team played? When he didn't bet, did he manage that game with all the competitive instincts at his disposal or did he manage in such as way so that he could enhance the likelihood that for an upcoming game (one on which he had placed a wager), he could put a better "nine" on the field. When he placed a bet, was the size of the wager the same? When it was not, again, what did that say about the level of his competitive juices?

When you consider the ramifications of betting on one's team, it puts everything that the game means on a very slippery slope.

Another argument Pete is quite willing to allow his supports to put forth is the fact that the "Hall of Fame" is filled with rouges and scoundrels, some of whom did despicable things. But, there's one difference between Rose and those rouges and scoundrels. When those in the latter groups crossed the foul lines, they did everything in their power to win every game. A strong argument can now be made, given the evidence now unearthed, Pete didn't!

I'm all for forgiveness! People make mistakes and to provide another opportunity for a "do over" is admirable. But sometimes there simply are no "do overs" because of the implication. Those who would seek to profit by controlling the outcome of baseball games, like Rose, don't care one iota about baseball. Money is their only driving force and for many in the gaming industry (and I use that term loosely) its attainment supersedes any speck of morality. If the gaming establishment ever does get into baseball, the game will cease to exist as we know it and when the betting revenue dries up, the gaming industry will move on to its next target.

Pete Rose is the bettors' perfect foil because arguably he has no more respect for baseball then they. I'd like to forgive Pete but to do so will assuredly embolden another individual associated with baseball who like Pete, is in a position to control the outcome of games. There simply is no wiggle room in the dilemma. Pete made a conscious decision and he must live with it.

When his betting on baseball came to light, the then Commissioner of Baseball, Bart Giomatti, met with Rose, produced the irrefutable evidence (Google "Dowd Report"). Pete agreed with the declaration of permanent ineligibility and signed off on it. Two of Commissioner Giomatti's successors (Vincent and Selig) have upheld Rose's ban. At the time, that did not exclude him from being elected to the Hall of Fame but two years later that loophole was closed and anyone banned from baseball was also ineligible for its Hall of Fame.

Baseball now has a new man at the helm in the person of Rob Manfred who it seems, is at least willing to consider reinstating Rose. He will not! To do so will let those enemies of baseball, who are waiting at the gate to get their foot in the door with inevitable, negative consequences. And those of you who support Rose will be complicit!

Look, I respect what Rose did from a performance perspective. In my mind, he has "Hall of Fame" numbers. That will never change and in the mind of baseball fans who either saw him play or historically appreciate his skills, he will always have a place in list of the games best players. But that's where he should remain.

As fans we make a critical error in judgement when it comes to our "heroes". Because they have been given extraordinary skills to play a sport, we apply other qualities by default. In the case of Rose, I'd argue that Pete is not a candidate for inclusion into this local MENSA chapter. I really don't think, after all these years, he gets it!

If Pete really cared about baseball, he would stop asking for reinstatement because when he does, it demonstrates his real motive! Don't let Pete draw you in!