Giamatti finally vindicated

In saying he bet on baseball, Pete Rose has finally admitted to what the late Bart Giamatti said 14 years ago.

Originally Published: January 9, 2004
By Alan Schwarz | Special to ESPN.com

Regardless of what the commissioner said today, I did not bet on baseball.

-- Pete Rose
August 24, 1989

He would come up with something considerably more clever. If Bart Giamatti were still alive, he would summon a retort far more pithy and poignant, maybe trot out an excerpt from Virgil or Francis Bacon.

Roughly translated, though, it would still be:

I told you so.

Pete Rose
After 14 years of denials, Pete Rose has finally admitted he bet on baseball.

For 14 years, Pete Rose has painted
A. Bartlett Giamatti, the commissioner who instituted Rose's lifetime ban, as a man out to get him, a man beholden to bureaucracy, a man who put a sense of vindictiveness ahead of the truth. It was rarely that explicit, but most certainly implicit each of the 17,344 times Rose said no, dammit, he did not bet on baseball. If anyone thought otherwise, including Giamatti ... well, they were idiots.

A Renaissance scholar and former president of Yale, and a man who lent the Office of the Commissioner an erudition and dignity it neither had nor ever recovered, Giamatti was far from an idiot. But eight days after the press conference banishing Rose, Giamatti died of a heart attack, never allowing him to confront the people who continued to drink Rose's Kool-Aid of lies. After 14 more years of Pete denials, 14 more years of his saying, "Show me the evidence," it became easier and easier for some people to wonder, "Maybe Bart got it wrong."

No. Bart got it right. Rose has finally come around and admitted that he bet on baseball. Yes, he has said. The sun does rise in the east.

With Giamatti not here himself, his friends and family can't help but indulge a feeling of public vindication on his behalf.

"I think of Bart a lot," said Fay Vincent, Giamatti's deputy commissioner and ultimate successor. "All of this does bring up memories. It does remind me of the lingering aspects of his legacy. The real tragedy is that Pete Rose occupied the whole five months of his commissionership. He never got to Fenway Park. When it was over he was so euphoric -- 'Now we'll get to the postseason, and really enjoy the job.' Oh, he hated lawyers."

Efforts to reach Giamatti's sons -- Marcus and Paul, both Hollywood actors
-- were unsuccessful. His sister, Elena, and brother-in-law David Ewing, were relieved the truth was finally clear. "We were just discussing what Bart might be saying right now," Elena said. "I think he'd say he was right. It took this guy (Rose) 14 years to tell the truth. I'm very pleased, and Bart would have been, too."

Giamatti's stepfather, Edward Clancy, said he wished he could tell Bart, "Thank God for what you did. You were right." This isn't the first time that the Giamatti family has spoken up on this. Vincent said that when rumblings began in 2002 that current commissioner Bud Selig might reinstate Rose, "Marcus called Selig and really gave him a piece of his mind," Vincent said. Marcus Giamatti later explained to The New York Times, "I think Mr. Selig is a good man, but he may be leaning toward what is popular more than what is right ... My family has been quiet about this for a long time. I said to my mom, 'It's time.'"

"The major question I ask is, 'Has he (Rose) been rehabilitated?'" Marcus continued. "If he hasn't done the process, it's easier to fall off the horse. I think that's something that's real important that hasn't been said. I know my father would have voiced that. He wanted to help him. I think the worst thing that could have happened was that my father died, because I think my father would have taken steps to help him."

Speaking on the departed's behalf is appropriate for a family member. But when Rose has done so, it's been pure PR. Criticizing Giamatti outwardly -- something Rose longed to do -- after his sudden death would no longer fly, so he strategically put words in his mouth. "I seriously believe that if Bart would have lived, and we all wish he would have ... he would have given me a second chance," Rose said in late 1999. "That's the kind of man he was."

Every time (Pete) Rose said he didn't bet on baseball, he sullied (Bart) Giamatti's name and legacy. Every time Rose invoked his memory in some self-serving press conference, he pilfered dignity he did not deserve.

Rose's biggest beef with Giamatti concerned how, during the news conference announcing his banishment, the commissioner, whose written agreement with Rose stated that there would be no formal finding of Rose's guilt, answered a question by saying, "In the absence of a hearing and in the absence of evidence to the contrary ... yes, I have concluded that he bet on baseball." Rose felt as if the agreement had been violated and considered legal action to void it. Still bitter, Rose writes in his current book: "The commissioner had reneged on his own terms! ... Everyone talked about my morality, but what about his?"

Vincent, however, offered this explanation: "I negotiated that agreement. I went through with his lawyers what Bart would say, and Bart said precisely that. The lawyers didn't tell Pete."

That didn't stop Rose from spinning the situation to his advantage, of course. He sicked his PR people on Giamatti for him. Former spokesperson Barbara Pinzka once told the Cincinnati Enquirer that regarding Major League Baseball's investigation, "Giamatti's hands were not clean." Had he not died, Pinzka added, "Giamatti's reputation would have been questioned and his motives would have been questioned ... I think baseball had it in for Pete from the beginning, and by that I mean Bart Giamatti."

Now, this is not to suggest that it's impossible for Giamatti to have misstepped in MLB's investigation of Rose. Fair trials exist for both the innocent and the guilty. But hiring henchmen to sling arrows at a man who could not defend himself was downright sleazy. Especially when Rose was blatantly lying about the underlying base of this whole sorry affair -- one he dragged out for 14 years, to everyone's detriment.

Every time Rose said he didn't bet on baseball, he sullied Giamatti's name and legacy. Every time Rose invoked his memory in some self-serving press conference, he pilfered dignity he did not deserve.

What would Giamatti say today? Chances are he already said it -- the same day he announced Rose's punishment.

I will be told that I am an idealist. I hope so. I will continue to locate ideals I hold for myself and for my country in the national game as well as in other of our national institutions. And while there will be debate and dissent about this or that or another occurrence on or off the field, and while the game's nobler parts will always be enmeshed in the human frailties of those who, whatever their role, have stewardship of the game, let there be no doubt or dissent about our goals for baseball or our dedication to it. Nor about our vigilance and vigor -- and patience -- in protecting the game from blemish or stain or disgrace.

-- A. Bartlett Giamatti
August 24, 1989

Alan Schwarz is the senior writer of Baseball America magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Alan Schwarz is the senior writer for Baseball America. His book, "The Numbers Game: Baseball's Lifelong Fascination With Statistics," can be ordered on his website, www.alanschwarz.com.

ALSO SEE