When John M. Dowd was asked to investigate rumors that Pete Rose had bet on baseball, he had no idea what he might find.
It took Dowd less than three weeks to gather the evidence that convinced him Rose, then the Reds manager, had bet on baseball games that included the Reds. It took Rose another 15 years before he finally admitted to violating baseball’s cardinal rule.
It’s been 25 years since baseball released Dowd’s famous report that led to Rose, the all-time hits leader, agreeing to a permanent ban from baseball. Dowd, speaking Thursday at the Emory University School of Law, said Rose should never be reinstated to baseball or inducted into its Hall of Fame.
“Pete’s feats as a baseball player are correctly honored in the Hall of Fame,” Dowd said, noting the exhibits that highlight Rose’s accomplishments. “But you cannot honor him.”
The damage baseball sustained because of Rose’s transgressions was among the topics discussed by Dowd and Allan Diamond. Dowd is a 1965 Emory Law graduate and Diamond, who owns an extensive collection of baseball memorabilia, is a 1979 graduate.
Diamond asked Dowd if there are parallels between Rose’s wrongdoing and baseball’s so-called “steroids era.” Several high-profile players admitted to or were accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and the best of those players put their Hall of Fame chances in doubt.
“Sure,” Dowd said. “It’s integrity. They cheated. They knew they were cheating. We don’t reward people who cheat.”
Rose violated part of Major League Rule 21 (d). It is posted in every baseball clubhouse and the language is unambiguous: “Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
Dowd said baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti was concerned about protecting the reputation of the game when he directed Dowd to investigate the rumors of Rose’s gambling. Banning one of the best players in history had a chilling effect.
“My view is when you are permanently ineligible (for gambling) you should never get back in the game,” Dowd said. “Because it’s the force of the rule. Lenny Dykstra said, ‘I’m glad you got Rose; it stopped me cold.’ It involves the integrity of the game. Those are the things you hang on to.”
Dowd was special counsel to Giamatti when he investigated Rose’s gambling in 1989. The resulting Dowd Report includes more than 225 pages of evidence and several volumes of exhibits.
There was intense public interest in the Rose gambling rumors. Rose retired as a player two years earlier and held the major league record with 4,256 hits.
“He was extremely popular because he was a working-man’s ballplayer, hustler, always in the dirt, knocking people down,” Dowd said. “And he was successful. He was the ‘Hit King.’”
After Dowd completed his investigation, Giamatti told him to set up a meeting with Rose and his lawyers. The commissioner instructed Dowd to give Rose a chance to respond to all of the evidence, but that Dowd was not to challenge any of Rose’s statements.
At the meeting, Dowd said Rose denied all of the allegations against him. But then Dowd played an audio recording of a 1988 telephone conversation between Paul Janszen, who served as a middleman to place bets for Rose, and Michael Bertolini, a friend of Rose’s in New York.
Bertolini discussed placing bets for Rose with New York bookmakers and said Rose paid his debts with checks. Rose’s financial records showed checks written by Rose in the amounts Bertolini described.
“Pete turned green; he turned gray,” Rose said. “I actually stopped. I thought he was going to go down. This was after 19 denials. Bart’s idea worked. He didn’t want (Rose) ever to (say) that he didn’t know what the evidence was.”
Eventually Rose reached an agreement with Giamatti to accept a lifetime ban. Giamatti did not make a formal finding on whether Rose bet on baseball, but Rose acknowledged the commissioner “has a factual basis to impose the penalty.”
In 1991, the Hall of Fame voted to ban individuals on baseball’s permanent ineligibility list from being inducted, thus making official an informal rule. The Hall’s Veterans Committee followed suit in 2008.
“Giamatti really did want to settle,” Dowd said. “There was a cloud on the game. He thought he could put Pete Rose back together. We tried. … Every day people come to Jesus and get forgiveness. This country is better at that than anywhere else. When Bart told Pete he wanted him to ‘reconfigure his life,’ what that means is go to every ballpark and tell kids how corrosive gambling is.”
Instead, Rose repeatedly denied he bet on baseball until finally admitting to it in his 2004 autobiography, “My Prison Without Bars.” Rose said he always bet on the Reds to win.
Dowd said Rose’s many years of denials probably cost him a chance to ever get back in baseball.
“He’d be managing the Reds today if he’d just said (then), ‘Fine, I did it,’” Dowd said.