Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Increasingly Misnamed Sunday Baseball Blogging

So Pete Rose finally admitted that he bet on baseball.

Most fans don't seem to care: two-thirds say he should be allowed to work in professional baseball again. On the other hand, baseball writers generally don't seem impressed.

The pro-Rose argument seems to go something like this:
If Rose admits his sins and seeks help, why should he not be allowed into the Hall?

Drugs, alcohol, drinking and driving, even murders and spousal abuse are routine headlines amongst today's stars. Where does betting rank on that list of crimes? [...]

We do live in a forgiving society. Once Rose admits his sins, it is time to forgive and elect him to the Hall of Fame.
The thing is, a lot of these folks seem willing to skim over the "Pete Rose confesses and is sorry" part. He doesn't in fact seem to be particularly sorry, or particularly aware that his actions were wrong. Look at excerpts from his ABC News interview - the rationalizations are thick on the ground. He actually tries to claim that most players barely know that betting on baseball is against the rules. He minimizes the seriousness of his offense, as Jayson Stark notes:
He speaks of how he never bet against his own team, and how he never placed a bet from the clubhouse, and how he never used "inside" information, and how he would never, ever fix a game -- no matter how much money he could have made. [...] You'll find words like "mistake" and "stupid" and "wrong" in there -- many times, in fact. But here is the only context in which he uses the word, "sorry":

"I'm sure that I'm supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong," Rose writes in the book. "But you see, I'm just not built that way."
It doesn't matter whether or not Rose ever bet against his own team. A manager who bets on some games and not others is going to make different managing choices when money is on the line. He'll use his resources differently. He might, for example, be willing to blow out his bullpen to get a win, regardless of the effects on the next few games. Rose says his managing choices were never affected by bets - as if he can make that argument credibly. No one could, but it's particularly unconvincing coming from someone who has been lying to baseball fans for fourteen years.

So what about the drug-use analogy? Darryl Strawberry doesn't have a lifetime ban, despite his sordid history of cocaine addiction, repeated arrests, and solicitation charges. Is gambling really worse than being a cokehead?

Yes. For baseball, gambling is absolutely worse than being a cokehead. Cocaine use harms the player; gambling harms the game. If you're a baseball fan, ask yourself this: Suppose that it were widely known that managers and players sometimes bet on baseball games. Suppose that when your home team lost, you could never be quite sure that they hadn't thrown the game. Would you still watch?

We still watch now, knowing that some players use steroids. We still watch, knowing that some players use illegal drugs after the games or in the off-season. Because as long as everyone on the field is doing his utmost to win, the game itself is still exciting and emotionally engaging.

If gambling on baseball is tolerated, we don't have that anymore.