Pete Rose: Sports Illustrated cover story broke betting investigation wide open

CINCINNATI  - Alan Statman, the attorney for Pete Rose's bookie 25 years ago, says he has never met the Hit King – not even in Las Vegas, where Statman travels once a year with his buddies and Rose sits and autographs memorabilia for hours on end.

"Pete's not going to greet me with open arms," Statman said last week. "I'd rather walk right past him and not let him know I'm the guy who kept him out of the Hall of Fame."

Jill Lieber Steeg, the Sports Illustrated reporter who wrote the cover story 25 years ago Thursday that tied Rose to gambling on baseball and broke the Rose investigation wide open, said she had never met Rose until she went to spring training that year to interview him.

RELATED: Read the Sports Illustrated cover story from April 3, 1989

"He was one of the most interesting interviews I ever had. Pete was Pete. He didn't have a filter. He used a lot of profanity. He called me 'honey' and he was dismissive," Lieber Steeg said.

"I didn't have any sentimentality or empathy toward Pete Rose. It's not like I was doing research on someone I idolized."

Lieber Steeg had a partner in the SI investigation, Martin Dardis. If you don't know him, think Watergate and the movie, "All the President's Men."

Dardis'  investigative skills connected the Watergate burglars to President Nixon’s Committee to Reelect the President. He was the character in the movie played by Ned Beatty, who handed over Kenneth Dahlberg's check to Carl Bernstein, played by Dustin Hoffman.

"Marty's experience as an investigator was invaluable in the Rose story, " Lieber Steeg said.

It's easy to compare Watergate and the Rose betting scandal that got him banned from baseball – and the Hall of Fame – in 1989.

Both began with a crime and a cast of buffoons, proceeded with a mountain of lies and a coverup or two or three, and brought a national figure down in flames.

Twenty-five years later,  Lieber Steeg and Statman – two key figures in the Rose investigation - say they believe baseball would have given Rose a minor penalty, like a suspension, if Rose had just owned up to his gambling and not gone into denial.

In fact, Lieber Steeg said she thinks baseball was trying to "shove it (the Rose scandal) under a rug until they heard Sports Illustrated was investigating.

"Baseball wasn't going to do anything," Lieber Steeg said. "Peter Ueberroth (the commissioner) was going out of office. The commissioner before (Bowie Kuhn) had been made aware of Rose's gambling, and they chose not to do anything.

"Ueberroth knew of the Pick-Six. They should have had the info to go forward. I'm not sure they ever devoted anybody to researching it until SI did. If you look at the Dowd Report, they traced where we went."

"I still think baseball would have been much easier on Pete Rose if he had dealt with Ueberroth in the first 30 days," Statman said. "But he was too arrogant and caught up in himself to make an admission. On Ueberroth's watch, Pete would have had a softer landing.

"Pete denied it, but the preponderance of evidence contradicted him. He made bad choices and he hung out with bad people."

RELATED: DJ: We all knew Rose gambled, just not how much

Rose had an oddball circle of friends and hangers-on that included Paul Janszen and Tommy Gioiosa, weightlifters at Gold's Gym that Rose partly owned with Michael Fry. Rose let them hang out in the Reds' clubhouse, against baseball rules.

Eventually, they would all go to prison for drug dealing or failure to pay income tax.

As with Watergate, the Rose investigation took persistence, reporters with know-how, and a willing witness who came forward with his story.

It wasn't Lieber Steeg meeting Deep Throat in a dark parking garage, though. She and Dardis met Statman and Ron Peters, Rose's bookie, in March in Statman's law office in Franklin, 40 miles north of Cincinnati. That's when SI's investigation really took off.

"The Rose investigation began with a steroids investigation at a gym where Pete was part owner," Lieber Steeg said.

RELATED: Timeline of Pete Rose's career

She said she got a call from a long-time source while she was in Indianapolis in February covering the NFL Combine.

She said she went to spring training in Arizona and Florida "to talk to people who knew Pete and played for Pete and see if they saw anything or heard anything. I came back with a lot of stories, " she said.

"There was a lot of interesting characters running in and out of the Reds clubhouse.

"Marty and I spent a lot of time in Cincinnati meeting people and cultivating sources. I went to a prison in Indiana to see Michael Fry and they pulled him out of solitary confinement to talk to me. I would come down for breakfast at the Cincinnatian and they already knew what I wanted."

Statman said Rose's downfall began in 1988 when Janszen was arrested for selling steroids.

"Janszen set Ron up and told the feds about his relationship with Rose," Statman said.

For years, Rose had bet heavily – and legally – at horse tracks. He eventually found Peters, who owned Jonathan's

Café in Franklin, to take his bets on football and basketball, Statman said.

Janszen and Gioiosa phoned Rose's bets to Peters, according to the investigation.

Rose and Peters struck up a relationship long before 1989, Statman said.

"Ron sat in Pete's seats the night Pete broke Ty Cobb's hit record (in 1985)," Statman said. "They had a relationship. It just didn't turn out to be good for either one."

Baseball bets came later, Statman said.

"Ron didn't like to book baseball, " Statman said. "He said there were too many variables. But Pete was such a big loser in football and basketball, he felt he had to give him something to keep him in the fold.

"Pete was ahead on baseball. He knew baseball. But, really, who knows baseball better than Pete Rose?"

After he was arrested, Janszen tried to get the feds to go easy on him, Statman said, so he wore a wire and bought drugs from Peters in a Kroger parking lot in Middletown.

"Ron  had introduced Janszen to somebody who wanted to buy drugs," Statman said. "At the last minute, Janszen said to Ron, 'I don't know your friend, maybe you better come along.'

"The next thing my client knows he's face down in the parking lot," Statman said.

The feds then searched Peters' house and offices and found betting slips, Statman said.

"Ron had also made the mistake of getting divorced," Statman said. "He didn't have spousal protection anymore."

Statman said Peters hired him to be his attorney because Statman and his law partners regularly ate at Jonathan's Café.

"We were about the same age, and we were one of the top bankruptcy law firms in Southwestern Ohio," Statman said. "Once Ron got arrested, he was out of the bookie business."

Statman remembered getting a call from Peters at the law office about 7 o'clock at night.

"He said, 'Can you come down to the restaurant? 'I've got a problem.' "

Statman said two baseball investigators were waiting for him.

"One guy gives me his card. It's got the logo with the batter on it. He asks me to sit down and I told them we had a relationship with Pete Rose.

"They said, 'Can you prove that?' "

"I said, 'Let's have Ron call Pete Rose's lawyers and see if they know who Ron is.' "

"We taped it. Ron called and they said, 'Don't talk to anyone. Pete Rose will get in touch.' "

After that, Statman and Peters tried to sell Peters' story, first to Sports Illustrated and later to USA Today and the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Statman said he pitched the story to Lieber Steeg and Dardis in his law office in March, 1989, several days after Ueberroth announced that baseball was investigating Rose.  Ueberroth didn't say why.

Statman, who was 26 at the time, said that's when he realized he had a lot to learn about dealing with the media.

"She put a tape recorder on the desk and I said, 'No taping.' I thought we were just talking. I told her she was sitting with Pete Rose's principal bookmaker and that he bet on baseball.

"I didn't realize she still had time to call and get that into the Scorecard (an SI feature)."

That appeared in SI on March 27 – a week before the cover story.

Lieber Steeg said Statman and Peters were being coy with them at that meeting. "They wanted to be paid and SI didn't pay," she said.

"They asked if we wanted coffee and we said yes. Reporters always take a cup of coffee, because you have to sit and drink it. You don't just get up and leave.

"They started telling us they had info that would get Pete Rose banned from baseball. The only thing that could have been was definitive baseball gambling information," she said.

Statman said Peters tried to sell his story because "that was all he had left."

"Ron didn't walk up the feds and say, 'I've got betting slips from Pete Rose.'

"Ron was broke. He was a single father with a young son. He had to pay to live, to defend himself. If anyone had offered (to buy his story) ... "

But Peters didn't collect any money for it, Statman said.

"Not one dollar," he said.

"There were a lot of people criticizing Ron, saying if he wants money, he can't be credible. In those days, the media didn't pay for stories, Nowadays, they still don't pay for the story, but they'll give you $100,000 for the photo that goes with it."

Statman said he "never knew Ron to be anything but forthright.

"People called him a liar, but we knew what the truth was.

"He was a loving father. He was a great golfer. We played golf the day after he got out of prison and he shot par. He could've been a professional golfer.

"Ron was a very charming guy. I think that's why as a bookmaker he appealed to high-line clients," Statman said.

"I remember walking back and forth to the courthouse downtown with him and Ron would see some of his old clients and stop and talk to them. He'd say, 'I'm going to write a book about this someday.' That would freak them out."

"One thing about Ron – he never laid off his bets. The FBI was hoping he would lead them to the mafia."

Peters was shot in the head in Dayton in 2006. He survived, Statman said, but he lost touch with him.

Statman said he was "lucky" to work

such a high-profile case at a young age.

"I was exposed to things in one year that it would have taken me 20 years to learn."

He enjoyed rubbing elbows with media celebrities. He remembered being interviewed by Murray Chass of the New York Times and broadcaster Marv Albert.

He said he had friends in South America who called him and asked, "Why are we reading an article with your name and Pete Rose's name in Spanish?"

"John Dowd  (baseball's special investigator in the Rose case) used to sit in my office with his feet up on the desk. That's when sports memorabilia was really hot.

"We used to say, 'Wouldn't it be great to have a baseball signed by Rose, Peters and Bart Giamatti?' "

The hard part was listening to people calling him a liar.

"I knew the truth. I knew what the facts were. We used to sit back and listen to the talk-show hosts talking about what they didn't know.

"Bill Cunningham called me a liar. Bob Trumpy called me a liar. I never met Bill Cunningham but I happened to be in his restaurant in Montgomery when he was there, so I walked over and introduced myself. He called me a 'great American' or whatever he says. I shook his hand and I wouldn't let go. I said, 'You know me better than my mother knows me. You know me well enough to call me a liar.'

"I told him who I was and he said, 'Oh, was I wrong about that!' "

Statman has built a successful law practice with offices downtown and in Chicago, Detroit, Sarasota (Fla.), Dayton and Northern Kentucky. He said he represents Fortune 500 companies and banks and other financial institutions.

Lieber Steeg compared the Rose episode to "pulling a thread out of a sweater and having the sweater completely unravel."

She said she was proud of her story and SI's commitment to it.

"It was all-consuming," she said. "Marty and I and the team worked our butts off. It helped SI win the National Magazine Award for Excellence for the first time. That's how groundbreaking it was.

"The Rose investigation will always be linked to SI."

Lieber Steeg remembered going to the federal courthouse downtown to watch Rose when he faced charges for not paying income tax.

"He smiled at me and shook his head. He had to respect what I did. I was so deeply determined and stubborn and willing to take risks to get the story and get it right, just as he did when he was playing," she said.

Dowd submitted a 225-page report on his investigation in May, 1989. Baseball's case included betting slips and the testimony of Peters, Janszen and Gioiosa, who said Rose bet on baseball. Rose was banned on Aug. 24, 1989 and remains banned 25 years later.

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