CINCINNATI -- Sports Illustrated is re-igniting the ongoing saga of Pete Rose’s ragged association with baseball in a cover story appropriately entitled, “The Dilemma."
Excerpts from a soon to be published book of the same title will layer new evidence for and against his restoration to Major League Baseball’s good graces. It was 25 years ago that Rose accepted a lifetime banishment for gambling related associations and allegations. He has since confessed to betting on baseball, cementing for some the sentiment that the ban should stand.
As I’ve said many times over the years, Rose, a non-drinker and non-smoker, got hooked on the one thing that could get him banned from the game he loved. As for the depths of his compulsion? Try this one on for size as we enter one of Rose's favorite months of the year, and not because March engenders the start of baseball, but rather the madness that is the NCAA college basketball tournament.
While the exact dates remain murky, the impressions are as clear and indelible as they were when the episode unfolded in Tampa, Fla., in 1987. Long before the advent of cellphones, we used whatever resources we could to facilitate our coverage of spring training. I was on assignment for Channel 9 Sports and was in the process of calling the TV station from a pay phone in the Reds clubhouse at Al Lopez Field. This was to be their last season in Tampa, where they had trained since 1946, before moving to Plant City.
The one constant was Rose’s fascination with the basketball tournament. And during that call, I realized the scope of his gambling disorder. We all knew Rose bet on sports -- just not baseball, we presumed. A fall Sunday didn’t go any differently, when in the course of his post-game remarks with reporters, he had asked no one in particular about the results of West Coast NFL games.
“What did the Raiders do?"
"What do you mean you don’t know,'' he would admonish. "You call yourself a sports reporter!”
But this March afternoon, Rose was presiding over field drills when I got a glimpse into his self-destruction.
As I waited on hold, a clubhouse attendant came up to me and asked how much longer I would be on the phone.
“Just a couple minutes,” I assured him. “I can cut it short if it’s an emergency.”
“No, take your time," the attendant said, "I just have to call in Pete’s bets,” which were openly displayed on a sheet of paper.
I’m no forensics expert ,but it appeared to be Rose's handwriting, detailing numerous first round match-ups.
So many that I asked the attendant: “How many games does he have there?"
A quick count revealed 20.
“How much is he putting down on each one?” I asked.
“Two grand,'' came the stunning reply.
Run the numbers: Rose was wagering $40,000 on one night of college basketball. One of the most volatile nights of the tournament when literally anything could happen. Yet, there it was in black and white, with a clubhouse attendant sent to do his bidding with a bookie on the other end of the line.
That is when I ascribed new heft to Rose's admission over the years that, “Sure, I bet more than most people because I make more.”
Sadly, as we are now painfully aware decades later, more became never enough.
And, that's my 2 cents.
Dennis Janson's "My 2 cents" column is published every Monday and Wednesday on WCPO.com. His video commentary airs every Friday at 6 p.m.