Banning of Pete Rose

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The Banning of Pete Rose refers to a 1989 agreement between Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti and Pete Rose whereby Rose agreed to be banned from baseball for life in return for baseball not making a formal determination about whether or not he had bet on baseball.

Rose was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. He still holds the record for most hits in a career, after passing Ty Cobb's record of 4,189 hits in 1985; he went on to total 4,256 hits in his career. Not only did he break that record, but Cobb is the only other player who has over 4,000 career hits. Given his career accomplishments, he would have been a cinch to be elected to the Hall of Fame, but the ban made him ineligible for Cooperstown.

The events which led to the ban occurred during the 1986 season, when Rose was player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds. In 1988, allegations surfaced that Rose at the time was betting heavily on sports results, including on major league baseball games, and possibly on his own team. It is explicitly prohibited for players or anyone employed by a major league team to place a bet on a major league game and especially on a game in which he is playing ("has a duty to perform" is the language used). This rule, known as Rule 21, is displayed in every major league clubhouse and its violation results in a lifetime ban from the sport. It was put in place when Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis endeavored to clean up baseball in the wake of the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.

When the allegations surfaced, Giamatti, who was in his final weeks as National League President, instructed Special Counsel John Dowd to investigate. He produced a detailed report, known as the Dowd Report, which detailed the allegations and the evidence available and concluded that it was clear that Rose had bet on major league games and on games in which the Reds were playing. Dowd was unable to find incontrovertible evidence of this, but the report paints a very ugly picture of a gambling addict who associated with various disreputable types and placed bets during baseball season on what were in all probability baseball games.

At first Rose denied all allegations and even filed suit against Major League Baseball. The saga was played out all over newspapers and was doing significant damage to baseball's image. When presented with the Dowd Report, Giamatti decided to cut a deal with Rose to try to end the matter: Rose agreed to withdraw his suit and accepted a lifetime ban, while MLB did not make a finding regarding Rose's guilt. Rose was also allowed to ask for reinstatement at a later date. After the deal, the Hall of Fame passed a rule that a banned player would be ineligible for election, and as a result, Rose's name never appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot (he would normally have been eligible for election in 1991).

Immediately after the agreement was concluded, Giamatti answered a reporter's question about his opinion of what Rose did and he stated that he was personally convinced that he had bet on baseball games. Rose was outraged about this apparent breach of the agreement, but as Giamatti died of a heart attack only a few days later, he never got to clarify his position. Giamatti's untimely death made him a sort of secular saint, and had the effect of giving a sacred aura to his decision.

If Rose was hoping that he would be able to obtain reinstatement after a couple of years, as others had done in the past, he was sadly mistaken. Giamatti's successors have all refused to re-open the decision. Public opinion was largely in Rose's favor at first, but as the years passed, he began to confess to ever more serious offenses, while his personal behavior, including a stint in prison for tax evasion, did not help his image. All other evidence that has since become public has corroborated Dowd's findings, making it very difficult for Rose to keep up his claim that he was an innocent man who had been wronged. His supporters' line of defense is now that either what he did was not that serious ("he never bet on the Reds to lose"), or that he has served enough time and should be cleared three decades after the events. Those who defend the ban explain that the rule that was broken is a cardinal one of which all players are aware, and that others who have trespassed in a similar manner, notably Joe Jackson and those who took part in the Black Sox scandal, remain banned as well.

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