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With Friends Like Joe... The
2002-11-08 23:49
by Mike Carminati

With Friends Like Joe...

The other day I started to crave Joe Morgan Chat Day at ESPN, but since Joe retreats to the golf course over the long winter months, there was nary a Joe Morgan quip to be found. To sate my Jones I took Long Balls, No Strikes, Joe's 1998 State of the Baseball Union Address, out of the library.

No sooner do I crack open this scholarly tome then what ever should I find in chapter 8? No, not Joe's meatloaf recipe, like a bat out of heck no. I found Joe's take on the Pete Rose situation.

Here's a choice moment:

Pete claims he bet on the ponies and other sports, but never on ballgames. My heart wants to believe him when he says he did not violate the rules. But it's difficult for my head to accept his protestations of innocence.

You see, I'm certain that baseball possesses the proof to refute him. In 1989, I was interviewed for the job of National League president. During the process, someone asked me if I could impartially mete out a sentence to my friend if the evidence demonstrated he bet on baseball. I told them I loved Pete, but that no one was bigger than the game; I would treat him the way I would any delinquent player, manager, or coach. The interviewers then confided that they had the goods on Pete locked away in a safe. Two other executives who were later privy to the Rose file have since confirmed that for me.

Pete's own actions, or lack of them, also tell me he did something wrong. The Pete Rose I know is a consummate fighter. Had he been innocent, he never would have signed the document that banned him from the game he loves so passionately. Instead, Pete would have fought the commissioner the way he battled Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, and all the other pitchers who stood between him and another base hit.

This doesn't mean I think Pete is lying. I believe he's in denial on all this. He continues to tell people he was kicked out of baseball for betting on Monday Night Football. That's an insult to everyone's intelligence. Baseball would never banish one of its most popular figures and best ambassadors unless it couldn't support its allegations with hard evidence. What would be the point?

The information I've acquired along with my gut feelings tells me that Commissioner Giamatti and his investigators got it right.

Secret evidence? Maybe Joe didn't get the NL presidency because he was too na´ve, not because he wasn't impartial. Look, baseball had a handpicked investigator whose main evidence was a copy of betting slips allegedly written by Pete Rose. Does Joe mean to tell us that all the while there was some piece of evidence that would have proven Rose's guilt that a) wasn't gathered by the Dowd investigation and b) was inexplicably not given to Dowd to augment his 225-page report. Does this sound reasonable? Why hide the evidence when this has proven such a divisive issue?

Morgan points to Rose's quiescence in accepting the agreement with baseball to be added proof of his guilt. This is like saying a rape victim "asked for it." Rose was in a bad spot. He knew that what baseball had uncovered was more damning in the criminal courts than in the kangaroo court. He had the FBI on his trail and made a deal to cut his losses. He had advisers telling what was best-he was not a lone, cornered man fighting his way out of a fix. Besides he thought that the agreement a) didn't mention betting on baseball and b) guaranteed that he could apply for reinstatement in one year. Why isn't the rationale that Rose uses, i.e., that he didn't take the agreement to mean that he would in actuality be banned for life, reasonable?

Morgan claims that baseball would never banish a star without the goods. How does he know what baseball would do. He spends the first chapter detailing the history of the players' struggles with the owners and the lies and machinations the owners have been a party to over the years. Why is he so sure that Rose's overall pungency did not taint the baseball management's view of the issue? One should remember that the Giamatti and Vincent regimes were known for their draconian measures, including an excessive fine on Rose the previous year for bumping an umpire. Joe's gut feelings aside, this is more of the same old rhetoric.

Here's a story Morgan relates about a Hall of Fame alumni dinner during the weekend of Mike Schmidt's induction ceremony. Schmidt had said that Rose deserves to be in the Hall in his speech:

After the greetings, we open the floor to discuss general baseball topics. We can talk about anything that is happening in the game or the Hall. On the night of Schmidt's induction, Robin Roberts, the former great Philadelphia Phillies right-hander, used this session to address the point raised by Mike that very afternoon. Robin wanted to know how the assembled Hall of Famers felt about Pete's ineligible status. He proposed that we discuss the issue to see if we could achieve some consensus that would form the basis for an official statement to the press. For the next hour, the ballroom became a war zone.

Opinions on Pete were as diverse as they were fervent. Since Pete and I were close, I said little while trying to keep an open mind to all sides. Everybody already knew how Schmidt felt. Reggie Jackson rose and said something like "I wanted to invite Pete to my own induction ceremony and I didn't. I feel gutless about it. He belongs here." Only Reggie's version was laced with several choice profanities. You could tell he believed strongly that Pete was getting shafted.

Then Jim Palmer stood to make a telling point. He asked the nine Hall of Famers at his table if they had ever bet on baseball. Each answered no. Palmer turned to the rest of the room, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "Then what are we talking about here?" Someone, I'm not sure who, followed by asking, "Why should we lower the standards of the Hall for someone who has shown such a blatant disregard for the game?"

By now, the mood in the room was decidedly anti-Rose. Players were shouting at each other. No one threw a punch, but you could feel a hint of physical confrontation in the air. I wasn't surprised by the vehemence of the exchanges. You have to understand that 99 percent of the players elected to the Hall break down in tears when they make their acceptance speeches. That induction ceremony is the culmination of our life's work. So deciding who you will share that parthenon with is no small matter for any of us.

I tried to play the conciliator before things got out of hand. Robin Roberts joined me on the middle ground by announcing, "I would be willing to listen to Pete if he would make a public apology." Many of the members agreed with that position; I thought we might be able to build our consensus around it. But then three of the greatest players in history-Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, and Bob Feller-stood up to oppose Pete's admission. Two of them vowed never to return to Cooperstown if Pete were allowed to enter the Hall. That got everyone's attention. After another half hour or so of heated discourse, the advocates on both sides could agree only to disagree. We left without issuing any public statements. Good thing for Pete, too. If anyone had called for a straight up-and-down vote, he would have lost in a landslide.

So c'mon, Pete, you need to do some fence-mending here. If you think you've made enough apologies, then one more won't hurt. Unlike Joe Jackson, you never threw a baseball game; you loved winning too much to do that.

Wow, pretty heated stuff. It's interesting that the players, some of whom played with Rose and/or knew him well, all seem to assume that Rose was guilty and therefore in the majority oppose his induction. However, the belief that if Rose were to now mea cupla his plaque in Cooperstown would be assured seems to have had some resonance with the players. Don't they seem like contradictory believes? If you believe that there is enough evidence to prove Rose's guilt, why would you ever consider allowing him to enter Cooperstown's hallowed Hall? If you think the evidence is weak, why do you need an apology? It seems that the two mutually exclusive ideas are merged into one, something like "Rose is guilty but we can't really prove it so well, so yeah, the case is kinda iffy. Therefore, if he apologizes, we will forget the tainted evidence-that Rose is validating with the apology-and let him in."

What kind of twisted mind comes up with this stuff? Oh, it was Joe's. Never mind.

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