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On This Date in Sports August 24, 1989: Pete Rose is Banned for Life

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Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hit leader, and current manager of the Cincinnati Reds is banned from baseball for life after an investigation that he bet on baseball, including games involving the Reds while serving as manager. The announcement is made after Rose reached a deal with Commissioner Bart Giamatti, following the findings in the Dowd Report. Though given a chance to seek reinstatement, Pete Rose remains on baseball’s ineligible list.

Nobody played the game with more passion, spirt and intensity than Pete Rose. Known hardnosed play, he earned the nickname Charlie Hustle while collecting a record 4,256 hits in a 24-year career spent mostly with his hometown Cincinnati Reds. Rose had played with the Reds from 1963-1978 and was a big part of the Big Red Machine. After five years with the Philadelphia Phillies and half-season with the Montreal Expos, Pete Rose returned to the Reds in 1984, being named player-manager. Rose would serve as player-manager through the 1986 season, becoming baseball’s all-time hit leader in 1985.

After retiring as a player, Pete Rose remained manager in Cincinnati as the Reds had finished in second place in all four full seasons that he was the manager in Cincinnati. As the Reds were preparing for the 1989 seasons, whispers of Rose being involved with betting on baseball caught the eye of the commissioner’s office. Major League Baseball was in a transition period that off-season as Peter Ueberroth’s term was ending, with A. Bart Giamatti set to take over as the season was set to begin. With the rumors circling, Rose was called into the Commissioner’s office at the start of Spring Training, answering questions from both the outgoing and incoming commissioners, addressing the allegations.

The speculation surrounding Pete Rose’s gambling activities would not go away, as Sports Illustrated ran a cover storing detailing the allegations, which led to John Dowd being appointed as a Special Investigator for Major League Baseball by Bart Giamatti in his first act as commissioner. Dowd interviewed many associates and friends of Pete Rose and quickly uncovered that the Reds manager was betting as much as $10,000 a day. Dowd filed his report with the commissioner as June came to an end, leaving Giamatti with the burden of how to deal with one of baseball’s big stars breaking its cardinal rule not bet on games.

The dark cloud of the gambling investigation would take its toll on the Reds. After holding first place much of May and looking like a strong contender in June, the bottom fell out for the Reds in July as speculation surrounding the Dowd Report and Pete Rose’s future hovered over Riverfront Stadium with the Reds winning just seven games and falling out of the race. With Bart Giamatti continuing to review the Dowd Report, Pete Rose attempted to prevent a hearing by Major League Baseball by filing a lawsuit in Cincinnati. This would prevent baseball from being able to move unilaterally against Rose and instead forced baseball into negations with the Reds Manager.

In response to the injunction, Bart Giamatti sought to have the case moved to a federal court, arguing that judicial elections and the popularity of Pete Rose in Cincinnati had compromised the local judiciary’s fairness in the case. However, the case would go no further as Pete Rose shockingly reached a settlement with the commissioner to accept a ban from baseball after accepting that the league had the evidence to ban him from life. He was given the right to apply for reinstatement though there was never any agreement on reinstatement. Though Major League Baseball agreed to find no formal finding on Rose betting on baseball and the Cincinnati Reds, Commissioner Bart Giamatti confirmed that he had bet on the baseball and the Reds during the press conference when asked by reporters. The full score of the agreement was never known, if there was an understanding it would be a short-term ban. However, any secret deal with the commissioner went out the window eight days later, as Bart Giamatti suffered a massive heart attack while vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard and died at the age of 51.

Pete Rose meanwhile gave his own press conference, denying he bet on baseball and stating he made the agreement to spare the sport form a long legal battle. That night he appeared on the Home Shopping Network selling autographed baseballs. Pete Rose’s troubles were no over as he soon faced tax evasion charges and served five months in prison. The Reds meanwhile finished the 1989 season in fifth place with a record of 75-87 with Tommy Helms serving as manager the last five weeks of the season. The Reds would bounce back in 1990, leading the Western Division from wire-to-wire and winning the World Series under Lou Piniella.

When he got out baseball landed another blow, announcing that players on the ineligible list were also banned from getting in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This has left Pete Rose as the man on the outside looking in as he heads up to Cooperstown every year on induction weekend to sign autographs, echoing the night of the ban when he was on the Home Shopping Network. Only on rare occasions has he been invited back into the game, as a fan vote named to the All-Century Team in 1999, showing that he had the public’s support. However, he has yet to be reinstated. In 2004 after years of denial, Rose finally came clean, though he was often criticized in the manner he did it. Nobody that has been on baseball’s ineligible list has ever been reinstated, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, who most people believe has a much better case.