Welcome to baseball and gambling ... with apologies to Charlie Hustle

  • Former Cincinnati Reds player Pete Rose -- here at the dedication of his statue outside Great American Ballpark in June 2017 -- had been banned from baseball for betting on the game.

    Former Cincinnati Reds player Pete Rose -- here at the dedication of his statue outside Great American Ballpark in June 2017 -- had been banned from baseball for betting on the game. Associated Press

Updated 8/22/2021 10:28 AM

Where to start? I guess apologies to Pete Rose is as good a place as any. To old Cub manager Leo Durocher, as well. Willie Mays. Mickey Mantle. Maybe Michael Jordan, too, though MJ's gambling always seemed more careless than cruel.

Shoeless Joe Jackson's lapse was not gambling. Jackson used the gamblers in 1919 and took their money. He got no credit for that. Got a lifetime ban from baseball instead. We must say it's so, Joe.


Gambling and sports have been dating forever, though only recently have they been given permission to share the same building.

Baseball's position on gambling had been the same as Capt. Renault's in "Casablanca." Shocked to find gambling taking place. Shocked. Until now. When there is money to be made.

Durocher was suspended a year from baseball for "consorting" with gamblers, which is like having drinks at the same end of the bar. Mantle and Mays, careers over, were greeters in Atlantic City, where gambling was known to take place.

Mantle said he was banned from baseball 14 years after he left baseball. It wasn't that he or Mays gambled -- maybe they did -- but they played golf with gamblers. That was enough for Bowie Kuhn, then commissioner, the man who oversaw the designated hitter, World Series night games and polyester uniforms, any one of which could be considered an indictable offense.

Right now, the NFL is in public and unregretful partnership with several sports betting services. So, apologies to Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, too, both once suspended for gambling.

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Times change, and maybe never more quickly than lately and much more quickly than is wise. Baseball used to hate gambling and now it wants to build its own shop, at Addison and Sheffield to give it a local address.

Peter Ueberroth lifted the lifetime ban on Mays and Mantle two years after Kuhn imposed it. But he vowed that baseball would remain "free from any connection between it and gambling."

I can envision a walkway from the Cubs sportsbook above the statue of Ernie Banks to Wrigley Field.

With the Cubs and with the Nationals and more teams to come, sportsbooks will be partners with the teams they make odds on. This is not that much different from insider trading, which has its own Hall of Fame, just to bring Rose back into this tale.

Inside knowledge is sort of what shamed Rose. That and lying about it. Rose knew too much to be trusted and he made out the lineup. So, goodbye Pete. Join Shoeless Joe in the corner over there.


Maybe Rose's failing was no more than a bad habit. Certainly, compared to the subsequent steroid era it was harmless fluff. But 225 pages of investigation, with appendices and exhibits, determined Rose was not good for baseball, a violation of Rule 21d. No saving Rose, merely the greatest hitter ever in baseball. Not one of his 4,256 hits has been taken away, as has his eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Rose bet on baseball, confessed as much in his own book after lying about it.

It should not matter if that little brick museum in Cooperstown has a place for the man who is the personification of its existence, but it does. It matters not just to Rose but to justice. I suggest that every one of the new baseball sponsored sportsbooks have a statue of Rose at the entrance. Come on in. Pete's happy to see you.

I don't know how to bet on baseball, don't understand the jargon. Point spreads are easy. March Madness brackets are a sacred spring rite. I wonder if baseball bettors don't just humor the form until football season starts.

But baseball is betting there is money to be made from what used to be Sin No. 1 and those who can make it happen are making it happen.

As Rick tells Capt. Renault at the end of "Casablanca," slightly altered for my purposes here, "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a shameful friendship."

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