Selig must act on Rose ... now

Now that Pete Rose has finally admitted to betting on baseball, Bud Selig must quickly decide on Rose's fate.

Originally Published: January 9, 2004
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

Now Bud Selig has all the information he needs to decide the immediate fate of Pete Rose. The commissioner of baseball has had a chance to read a few lines from Rose's book, or perhaps more, if he dished out the $24.95 to grab one of the first copies. He has presumably seen Rose's interview on ABC Thursday and his follow-up appearance on Good Morning America on Friday, in which Rose talked about being sorry but mostly seemed to feel sorry for himself.

More importantly, Selig met Rose in his Milwaukee office 14 months ago and looked him in the eyes and had the opportunity to ask the questions that needed to be asked.

Pete Rose
Pete Rose's return to the game remains very much in question.

And now Selig needs to act. Quickly. Firmly. There should be no extended deliberation, a Selig trait, because baseball needs resolution in this matter. Spring training opens in a few weeks, and until Selig makes a strong public decision, there will be more conversation about betting slips and gambling tabs and clubhouse phone numbers than the improved playoff hopes of the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays.

To this point, the commissioner has been passive in this matter. Nothing has changed in the Rose situation, he has said, deferring to the agreement Rose signed in 1989. But the situation has changed: the door to Rose's return is cracked open just a bit, and Selig should decide whether he's going to invite Rose back into the game or if he intends to slam that door in the face of Charlie Hustle. And the commissioner should get it over with in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months.

Selig's options are apparent.

Selig could reinstate Rose unconditionally
There's probably no chance of this happening, given the gravity of Rose's offense and his unwillingness to take full responsibility for his actions.

"The biggest mistake I made" was in not acknowledging his gambling in 1989, Rose said in his ABC interview. Excuse me, but I think the larger mistake might be the gambling itself. Imagine an imprisoned convict saying his biggest mistake was not getting a better plea bargain, rather than the crime he committed.

Rose talked about how baseball officials seemed willing to let him rot, and how he's had to live with this the last 14 years. It's clear he harbors bitterness toward John Dowd, the investigator in his case, and former commissioner Fay Vincent; despite publicly denigrating them repeatedly for more than a decade, Rose indicated he does not owe either man an apology. Earth to Rose: it's all your fault.

Rose speculated that if he were reinstated, there would be no way that he could ever go back on his word to Selig. Sorry, but Rose's words no longer have any value, after being depreciated by dozens of lies repeated hundreds of times. The idea that Selig could let Rose back into the game without stringent conditions is absurd.

Selig could reinstate Rose with specified terms for probation
Selig made no promises to Rose after meeting with him, and in the months that followed, the commissioner waited to see how Rose would conduct himself. Selig must now understand, after Rose's infamous actions in the last week, that Rose will require strict guidelines when he returns. Rose's self-centeredness and desire for cash make him a reckless bungler.

So if Selig intends to bring Rose back into the game, he should set the rules, create the mechanics for monitoring his conduct, get a firm commitment from Rose, and make it clear that any offense will end his reinstatement.

Tell him to stop gambling altogether. Tell him to sell his interest in race horses. Tell him to stay away from race tracks, from NCAA tournament pools. Tell him to go into an on-going treatment program to address his gambling addiction, a program like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Require him to speak to players, in the majors and minors, about why gambling in baseball is such a danger. Earth to Rose: It's not because you might get caught; it's about the integrity of the game.

The door to (Pete) Rose's return is cracked open just a bit, and (Bud) Selig should decide whether he's going to invite Rose back into the game or if he intends to slam that door in the face of Charlie Hustle. And the commissioner should get it over with in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months.

Put him to work for the Cincinnati Reds, a struggling franchise -- but not as a manager, but in community service. Pay him a reasonable salary that gives him a chance to make a living and address his debts, and then order him to make appearances and sign autographs, for free. (Rose indicated his greatest remorse about his lying was how he deceived the fans -- and now he's charging them to learn the supposed truth in his book, and continues to charge them for his signature).

Take the Hall of Fame question out of the equation, by making Rose's probationary period at least three years. By then, Rose won't be eligible for election into the Hall of Fame, and he will be forced to earn his peace with his peers -- the veterans' committee -- on his own.

And even when Rose's probation ends, and he is permitted to become involved on the field -- as a minor-league instructor, perhaps -- make it clear he must continue his treatment for gambling addiction, he must continue to make appearances for baseball. Rose said it himself: he owes baseball. Baseball doesn't owe him anything.

If Rose were to abide by these rules, he would serve the game. The bet is here he wouldn't even accept the terms, because his modus operandi, at least since the end of his playing career, has been the pursuit of money.

Selig could deny Rose reinstatement
This is what Selig has done for the last 14 months, by refusing to act. It's a strategy that is more effective when the commissioner is, say, considering the reinstatement of Steve Howe from a substance-abuse suspension.

But this is Pete Rose. This is baseball's all-time leader in career hits. This is the sport's most notorious character since the 1919 Black Sox, and he will hang over baseball like a black cloud until Selig acts decisively and loudly.

The commissioner should expressly state Rose's status. If Selig decides to keep Rose out of the game, he should announce that Rose's request for reinstatement is denied -- until Jan. 1, 2005, or 2007, or whenever. If Rose's reinstatement will be considered again, Selig should say so. Treat his case like that of an inmate; set a parole schedule.

If Major League Baseball wants Rose to follow a precise code of conduct while he's out of the game, they should tell him. Be direct, be frank, be open. The only person who can resolve this now is the commissioner of baseball.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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