Baseball’s Greatest Problem (Today)

In this day and age of suspensions and scandal in Major League Baseball, I believe we should stop and pay homage to the one man who has done more to clean up the sport than perhaps any other in history: Peter Edward Rose.pete rose

Yes, the eradication of one of MLB’s greatest problems can be traced solely to this one extraordinary man. This plague that once afflicted America’s Pastime can be traced back as far as 1865, when Thomas Devyr, Ed Duffy, and William Wansley of the New York Mutuals were (temporarily) banned from the sport. The Black Sox scandal of the 1919 World Series brought with it a slew of lifetime bans (and spawned the excellent movie Eight Men Out in 1988). And then Pete … well, we all know what happened to Pete.

What happened to Pete, though, apparently did something no commissioner or league rule could ever manage to accomplish: The lifetime suspension of Pete Rose ended gambling in professional baseball.

Think about it for a moment: Has anyone been banned from the game of baseball – temporarily or otherwise – for gambling since Pete Rose was back in 1989? I can’t even think of anyone who has been investigated for gambling within the game of baseball since then. (Note: I did stumble across a story from 2011 that MLB was looking into some possible gambling activity by Alex Rodriguez. That investigation was apparently for “underground poker games,” though, and didn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual game of baseball.)

Now, I would consider any infraction that warranted a lifetime ban from, well, anything to be of the greatest importance. It must rank as the crime above all crimes, the capital offense of all capital offenses, the sin of all sins. And with the banishment of Charlie Hustle, it disappeared from Major League Baseball forever. Poof…

Um, yeah. Right.

In a sport where players live, breathe, eat, and sleep competition, does anyone honestly believe Pete Rose was the last person arrogant enough to place a bet on a game? Even throwing out the possibility of someone attempting to influence the outcome of a game like Rose was accused of doing and the 1919 Sox were proven to do, there are spreads to be beaten, dollars to be earned, more victories to be accomplished. Players today make a lot more than Rose did in his day, plus they have the advantage of eliminating paper trails by using online betting. And they all just quit cold turkey?

I bring this up because as I type this Bud Selig and the rest of MLB are busy patting themselves on the back for striking a major blow against the use of illegal performance enhancers in the game. Basically, what we got was Ryan Braun being set up with a sweetheart deal to come back and play next season and not lose that much money; the attempted suspension of A-Rod through the end of 2014, which has been appealed and hasn’t gone into effect yet; and 50 games each for Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, and a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of, with last names like “Bastardo,” “Puello,” and “Norberto.”

I don’t point this out so much to criticize MLB for its relatively lightweight response to the issue of PEDs (again) as to show that this is another example of baseball striking a sweeping blow, patting itself on the back, and then firmly inserting its head back into the sand. Illegal performance enhancers are supposed to be the cardinal sin of baseball today, just as gambling was in Pete Rose’s day. Yet gambling is not even mentioned in the game today. How many years before baseball considers its PED problem “solved” and moves on to something else?

I appreciate the fact that MLB is at least trying to take a step in the right direction with these suspensions. I just hope they continue to take more and more steps and not consider their problems solved in a year or two. Whether they do that or not is one bet I’m not willing to take just yet.

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