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August 10, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

The Debate Continues

by Derek Zumsteg

There are new, ugly accusations about Pete Rose floating around, but rather than deal with them I'm going to look at how the story has developed.

Rose's camp initially said they weren't going to comment on the situation, but as it grew, they did, and Rose has now given an interview to a sympathetic ear. Jayson Stark has used Rose's denials as the basis for an article on how poor Pete is being denied his rightful place in the hall by evil Bud Selig, and how the public supports poor Pete in his noble struggle. This appears to be the denial of record so far, and has been quoted (without attribution to Stark) in wire-service stories.

In the interview, Rose had attacked his accuser, saying Tommy Gioiosa was paid to talk to Vanity Fair. The writer, Buzz Bissinger, has denied this. Rose attacks the reporter through Stark: "Of course, the guy's going to say he didn't pay Gioiosa no money. But he was in Cincinnati, bragging that they paid him $75,000."

Buzz Bissinger won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 (along with with two other reporters) for a series of articles about the court system that directly led to federal and state investigations. In addition to a career of reportage, he wrote a great book about Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell's first term, and another about football obsession in West Texas.

Pete Rose denies he bet on baseball, despite all the evidence against him.

One of these two has a history of lying to serve himself, and one of them has an exemplary history of telling the truth.

Stark's piece is, in fact, so pro-Rose that it actually refers to Rose as "Hit King" while quoting him:

"I did have a corked bat one time," the Hit King conceded. "You know who corked them? Jose Cardenal."

I started out trying this defense in grade school, when I'd be accused of something I did (usually) and I'd say "Nope, wasn't me. But hey, do you know who does do that? That guy right there." I'm glad someone's getting mileage out of it, because I certainly didn't, and was forced to quickly upgrade my arguments.

This is all pretty standard Rose: any set of accusations are "laughable," "ridiculous," and so forth. They're not ever addressed in fact or admission, only in deflection. Rose just welds them onto the giant cross he bears, frowns, and trudges off to the next casino appearance.

In defending Rose, his supporters have already said things that are clearly not true or, at least, willfully ignorant.

Rob Dibble, in a column: "I've yet to see any substantial evidence that Pete bet on baseball."

The evidence in the Dowd report is comprehensive, credible, and persuasive. If there's something wrong with that evidence, I'd like to hear about it. I have to wonder if Dibble, who likes Rose a great deal, is afraid to read the report and confront the implications. That's sad.

More Dibble:

"While I was around him, I certainly never saw anything indicating attempts to alter the outcome of a game. I'm not a betting man, but if I had money on a game, I'd be doing everything in my power to change the outcome. I'd send the worst bullpen guys to the field knowing they'd give up a bunch of runs or I'd constantly be putting together bad line-ups."

That seems true, until you consider Rose bet on his own team to win, which affects decisions in the other direction--maybe using tired relievers needlessly one day, sacrificing their performance the next, or putting together lineups that neglect the need to rest regulars, or get young players experience they'll need in the future. This is a dangerous variant of the old "well, he didn't bet on his own team to lose" argument, a poor attempt to put a good spin on a terrible problem, but moreover, it fails to identify or confront the wide and dangerous implications even betting on your own team to win carry.

Joe Morgan, in an ESPN.com chat session: "You have to consider the source. This is a guy who says he never talked before making these allegations."

That's not what Gioiosa says and, as detailed by John Donovan on CNNSI.com, many of these allegations are substantially identical to a statements Gioiosa made in 1990.

More Joe Morgan: "And the writer who wrote this is not a real journalist because he's basing it on one guy. You don't write things you can't check out and prove."

I'd just like everyone to cross-apply my previous comments about Bissinger, and kick Joe Morgan while he's down by pointing out that he frequently says crazy stuff in broadcasts and in print that he doesn't check out and prove, or care to check out and prove.

The only reaction I've seen so far that's been vaguely pro-baseball-integrity has been Ken Rosenthal's in The Sporting News, who wrote that he was tired of hearing allegations and denials in the face of evidence. "Rose is the one who got himself into this mess. And he's the only one who can get himself out of it."

This is what we can expect to see in the sports columns, shows, and radio: "He's as guilty as ever, this is just heaping it on" vs. "The source, reporter, and story are bad, and Pete Rose deserves to go into the Hall." It troubles me that sports coverage has never widely acknowledged that Rose is guilty, guilty, guilty, because without acknowledging that he broke the only rule baseball cannot and should not forgive, we can't have a reasonable discussion about whether the punishment was just, or if he's served his time. I really wish Pete would fess up, if only to advance the level of discussion. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Derek Zumsteg is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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