With bans seemingly headed to a variety of baseball’s steroid offenders, and none of them headed for a lifetime ban, perhaps it’s time to check in with Pete Rose and compare his transgressions to the dopers who have ruined the game for those who love the numbers.
Rose, permanently banned from baseball for betting on the game, clearly didn’t harm the sport nearly as much as did Misters Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa, Rodriguez and, well, we could go on all night.
Rose harmed it. Don’t ever think he didn’t, by betting on games when he was managing the Cincinnati Reds, even if he bet on the Reds to win. If you can’t figure out how, I can’t help you. Here’s one way. Bet on the Reds to beat Pittsburgh on a Wednesday night, and if you’re in control of the squad, you could go all-out to win. Which you absolutely cannot do in baseball. Baseball is a night-after-night sport. You can’t go all-in, for instance, with your bullpen. You’ve got to play the next night or the next 14 nights.
Betting on baseball, for those involved in the game, is lousy and no good.
However, taking a needle in the butt or putting the right kinds of pills under your tongue so you can jump from being Babe Herman to Babe Ruth, is lousy and no good, too.
As I’ve written, they’ve ruined the numbers in baseball. The games might still be dramatic, but the great statistical chases have been soiled.
There’s not any question that the Bonds/Clemens/McGwire/Sosa/A-Rod crowd polluted baseball more than did Pete Rose. It’s not even debatable.
However, that doesn’t mean Rose was wronged. Rose did not damage baseball as severely as the ‘roid ragers, but Rose could have. The damage done to baseball in recent years is nothing like the damage done to baseball almost a century ago. The betting scandals of the 1910s — the Black Sox were merely the prime example, not the only perpetrators — dang near killed the sport.
Baseball today is not on its death bed. It is not hanging to life. Its lost some zip and some popularity, but it’s still a strong, thriving business by almost any measurement. Not so in 1920.
A major betting scandal today could kill a sport. If we discovered that multiple games weren’t on the up-and-up in MLB or the NFL or the NBA or the NHL, huge amounts of fans would write them off. I know I would.
Credibility is the No. 1 thing sports sells. The non-scripted action. The drama of the unknown. We love ballgames because we don’t know what will happen.
But get a whiff that games are fixed — get a whiff that one of our sports has gone the way of boxing, which absolutely has lost its credibility — and that sport is headed not for a gradual decline, but a crash landing.
Pete Rose didn’t really dent baseball’s credibility. He dented Pete Rose’s credibility, but he left baseball largely unscarred. But if we had discovered that Rose had bet on the Reds to lose, or if left unfettered Rose had eventually resorted to such a grisly act, then baseball’s credibility 20 years ago would have been gone.
That’s why Rose’s penalty was justified. Not for what he did. For what betting could do. Betting on ballgames can take them down much quicker than can steroids.
The doping scandals of recent years do not lift Rose off the sandy bottom where baseball’s despicable villains reside. They only give Rose some company.