- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Pete Rose may have had great timing at the plate and on the base paths, but when it comes to lifting his lifetime ban from baseball for betting while manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Rose strikes out.

This time, though, it’s not his fault. It’s just bad timing.

New baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has been a Chatty Cathy since he officially took office. He wants to speed up the game, maybe consider stopping fielding shifts, and has basically let everyone know that he is open for business and everything is on the table ­— including reinstating Rose, the all-time Major League Baseball leader in hits.

“I have heard from his lawyer, and I do anticipate having a conversation about that,” Manfred told ESPN Radio last week when asked about reinstating Rose. “I’ve been very careful not to say anything about the merits of it because ultimately I’ll have to make a decision there. It’s a conversation I’m expecting to have.”



But just a few days earlier, Manfred also opened the door to baseball dropping its opposition to legalized sports betting when he was asked on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” about the growing movement — particularly in New Jersey — for legalized sports betting.

“Nobody’s talking about a situation where anyone, any way involved with the play of the game on the field, would be subject to rules different than they are today,” Manfred said. “The ban on that type of involvement would stay in place.
“Having said that, gambling, in terms of our society, has changed its presence,” Manfred continued. “The legalization. And I think it’s important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be.”

Well, you can’t do both.

You can’t relax your “institutional” position on legalized sports betting, maintain your staunch institutional position on gambling for those in the game, and then welcome back the poster boy for your “ban on that type of involvement.” You can’t make a monumental shift in your position on sports betting among the fan base and then relax your standards inside the game to welcome back an icon who bet on his own team as Reds manager.

Again, bad timing for Rose.

This time, though, it’s not his fault.

The last time Rose was close to be reinstated — so close that a plan appeared to be in place for him to come clean and for then-commissioner Bud Selig to lift the ban — Rose sabotaged it by instead staging an early release of his 2004 book, “My Prison Without Bars,” with a Sports Illustrated excerpt where Rose finally admitted what was in the John Dowd report — that he indeed bet on his team while managing.

It is the most mortal sin in baseball — it nearly destroyed the game in the midst of the 1919 “Black Sox scandal” — and Rose made his confession for profit instead of standing next to Selig in a press conference that would have paved the way for a lifetime ban issued by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989 to be lifted. He also did so the week that the National Baseball Hall of Fame election results were being released.

That scuttled any chance that Rose’s ban would be lifted as long as Selig was commissioner.

It also brought to light that behind the scenes, among Hall of Famers, Rose’s presence would not be embraced. Ferguson Jenkins, who had been a supporter, wrote a letter to Rose after his book came out that said, “Knowing what I know now, I will never support your reinstatement to the game or your bid for the Hall.” Former teammate and friend Joe Morgan was outraged at Rose’s blatant mercenary decision to profit from his confession.

Those were some of his supporters. Privately, a number of Hall of Famers have never supported Rose’s Hall of Fame bid, which complicates any reinstatement.

There would have to be some sort of special exemption made for Rose for him to appear on the Baseball Writers Association of America Hall of Fame ballot, since it would be well past the 15-year period a candidate can be on the ballot once he becomes eligible five years after retirement. As it stand now, his future in Cooperstown would rest in the hands of the Hall’s “Golden Committee” — formerly known as the Veterans Committee — and it’s uncertain, at best, Rose would receive a warm welcome there.

First, though, there is Manfred, who has signaled that baseball may relax its position on legalized sports betting outside of the family.

If and when he does that, you can’t send the same message inside the family. The message then, if anything, has to be tougher, more diligent, about the influence of gambling inside baseball.

That’s not the message reinstating Pete Rose delivers.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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