It seems like yesterday that Pete Rose was considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. One of the most decorated baseball players of all time, Rose was a five-time MLB champion, a three-time MVP, and a two-time batting champion. On top of that, Rose was also the manager of the Cincinnati Reds from 1977 to 1993 and chairman of the board of directors of the MLBPA. He’s considered by many to be the best man ever to manage a baseball team.
If that wasn’t enough, Rose also bet on baseball. Over a period of 15 years, from 1970 to 1984, Rose admitted to betting on 15 out of 20 games he managed. Whether it was as a player or manager, Rose was a risk-taker and didn’t believe in playing it safe. While he never admitted to fixing baseball games, people will always wonder. With MLB banning gambling, what would have happened if Rose had fixed a World Series game or National League Championship Series game?
That is a legitimate question. And the honest answer is, we may never know for sure. What we do know is that Rose was, and still is, considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. And it’s not hard to see why. But as amazing as Rose’s baseball career was, the greater irony is that he probably wouldn’t be in the position he is today if he hadn’t admitted to gambling. Let’s take a look back at Pete Rose’s remarkable career, which lasted more than four decades.
The Early Years
Pete Rose was born April 16, 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. As a child, Rose was an expert in the art of throwing a baseball through a hoop. And let’s not forget about the time he pitched Little League baseball and struck out 11 batters in a row. At the age of 15, he became the youngest player ever to be drafted by Major League Baseball. Rose even drew the attention of professional scouts at just 16 years old. After just 3 months in the minors, Rose had made his major league debut on October 2, 1957. And what was supposed to be a short stint with the Cleveland Indians turned into a long and storied career. You see, Rose had a talent for drawing attention to himself. And it wasn’t just the way he played baseball. Rose had a reputation as a hothead and a crazy partyer. If the rumors surrounding him are to be believed, Rose even liked to drink and drive. The Indians, not surprisingly, released Rose after just 11 games. So he returned to the minors where he spent the next several years bouncing around from team to team, often using cocaine and other performance-enhancing drugs. But no matter where he played, Rose always managed to attract more than his share of media attention. And during that time, he continued to prove himself to be one of the best athletes of all time.
After spending some time in the minors, Rose jumped at the chance to play for the Reds, a team he’d grown to love during his years with the Indians. And what initially started as a stopgap arrangement quickly turned into something more permanent. In March of 1969, the Reds purchased Rose’s contract from the Pirates. And four months later, on National Letter Day, October 6, 1969, Rose signed what was then the record-breaking $45,000 contract with the Reds.
What followed for Rose was the best and the worst of times. On the plus side, Rose quickly became one of the most popular and recognizable faces in baseball. He worked hard to prove to the baseball world that he was a changed man and that his previous indiscretions were no longer a part of his persona. In addition to leading the league in hitting in 1971 and hitting.356 in 1973, Rose also set an all-time record with 56 stolen bases, and he did it all while leading the league in walks five times. For his efforts, Rose was named as the Sporting News’ Player of the Year each year from 1971 to 1978 and was a five-time All-Star. In 1975, Rose won his first of five straight batting titles and was the MVP that year as well. And in recognition of his many talents and excellent work ethic, Rose was given the nickname, “The Enigmatic Hero.” On the negative side, Rose’s on-field performance did not always match his hot-headed personality. In 1978, his batting average fell to.284, its lowest mark since 1955. Furthermore, between 1969 and 1980, Rose was suspended three times by Major League Baseball for violating baseball’s drug policy. But while some saw Rose as a destroyer rather than a savior, he didn’t see it that way. By admitting to his indiscretions and proving to the public that he was a changed man, Rose was able to move past any bad memories and continue the pursuit of greatness.
Fall From Grace
In 1983, Rose was arrested for tax fraud. This was, in part, due to suspicious gambling activities the IRS was alerted to through an anonymous tip. After being named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a massive football betting scheme, Rose pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was forced to retire from baseball as well. But Rose served just two years of his five-year sentence and was released on good behavior. While in prison, Rose kept himself busy by writing a biography of his life, which was published in 1985. After his release, Rose maintained that he was a changed man and that he wanted to get back to winning ways. Though he never went into details, he frequently talked about how he’d started over and was on the right path. The evidence, however, didn’t seem to support that claim. In September of 1988, less than a month after his 42nd birthday, Rose was arrested for drunk driving in Florida. And although he was released without charges, it was his fourth arrest in 12 months. And then, in April of 1989, Rose was arrested on suspicion of theft. This time, he was accused of stealing $7,500 in cash and jewelry from a room at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Monterey, California. The police believed there might be an explanation other than theft for how the valuables ended up in Rose’s room. But the damage was done. Rose was suspended for 30 days without pay. And with his fifth arrest in 12 months, it was clear that Rose wasn’t going to change his ways. Though some might see Rose’s last years as a failure, they were probably the best of times. Not only was he able to spend more time with his children, who he’d always wanted, but he also spent a lot of time writing his autobiography. When the book was published in May of 1991, it was entitled “I’m Sure This Is Illegal.” Rose died of esophageal cancer on June 22, 1994 at the age of 57. By that time he’d already spent more than four decades in the game, which is nearly half of his life. In his book, Rose wrote about how he’d gambled on baseball as a way to escape his difficult personal life. But for a guy who had everything, it was surely a way to lose it all.
Despite his fall from grace, it’s hard to argue that Pete Rose didn’t make the most of what was left of his extraordinary life. Rose was able to spend the last few years of his life with his family and children, which he always wanted. And in 1994, Rose published his autobiography, I’m Sure This Is Illegal. In it, he discussed how he’d gambled on baseball as a way to escape his difficult personal life. But for a guy who had everything, it was surely a way to lose it all. In 2018, Rose was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And to this day, Rose remains one of the most popular and recognizable faces in baseball. So it’s fair to say that despite his fall from grace, Pete Rose’s life was, and still is, a glorious one.