A Déjà Vu Ethics Dunce: Pete Rose

Pete Rose

I confess that at this time of year, with the Boston Red Sox in the play-offs (and doing splendidly so far), my thoughts keep defaulting to baseball and baseball ethics. However, I couldn’t have resisted this inspiration in the dead of winter.

I was already considering writing about how Major League Baseball has now abandoned its former principled stand against gambling on the game to the point where its gambling industry partners are encouraging suckers to bet on game details like extra-base hits and runs-batted-in, and during games, using special bonus pay-offs—you know, like the casinos that give out free chips to get tourists hooked? How MLB is going to square this sudden embrace of professional gambling with the sport’s so-called “third rail” rule that demands a lifetime ban of any player, coach or manager who is caught betting on baseball games is anybody’s guess.

Pete Rose, the all-time career hits leader, is the most famous victim of the third rail, and he was also my very first Ethics Dunce. In January of 2004, Pete’s sleaziness helped launched The Ethics Scoreboard when I wrote,

Pete Rose now admits he bet on baseball (after ten years of lying about it) but says that his bets (always in favor of his team, never against it, he says) as manager of the Cincinnati Reds never effected his management decisions, and thus he did not harm the integrity of the game. He feels he should be let back into the game as a manager.

A couple of things, Pete:

1) Even if this were true, fans of the game cannot put their faith in the outcome of games when they know that those who help determine the outcome might be motivated by their wagers. This is the reason that we call “the appearance of impropriety” an ethical problem.

2) Presumably you did not bet on the Reds when a key player was sitting out, or when your starting pitcher wasn’t feeling good. Right? Or are we supposed to believe that you bet large amounts of money while already in debt to bookies in circumstances when you thought you would lose? So every time you didn’t bet on the Reds, you were sending information to the bookies, and it affected their odds on the game. Got it?

3) You say you never bet against the Reds. You used to say you never bet on baseball. You’re a liar. Why should anyone believe you now?

Pete continued to embarrass himself and baseball, leading to several posts on Ethics Alarms. My favorite Pete Post is this one, in which I wrote in part,

All of the above could be more concisely summarized by six words: Pete Rose is a stupid man. As comedian Ron White says, “You can’t fix stupid.” Manfred, in his letter telling Pete that he can forget about any future employment in baseball, noted more than once that Rose does not appear to understand the import and purpose of the rule he violated, which exists  to protect the integrity of the game. Indeed,  Pete Rose wouldn’t know what integrity was if it sat on his face.

“This final chapter (I hope) in the sad Rose gambling saga drives home a fact that is under-appreciated in the ethics world. Ethics is hard, and requires attention, critical thinking, and a modicum of intelligence. Ethics involves choosing among competing options in difficult situations, often under pressure; it involves recognizing when non-ethical considerations are threatening to overwhelm ethical principles; it involves being able to understand why an ethical society is preferable to a corrupt one, and the difference between rationalizations and ethical values.

When tying your shoes is a challenge, most of this is out of the question. Or to put it in Pete Rose terms, if you are seeking forgiveness for  placing bets on baseball when you knew that baseball bans anyone who does that, and can’t figure out that continuing to gamble on baseball isn’t going to help your case, the chances that you are going to be able to figure out whether a particular situation requires an application of the Rule of Universality or not are those of Frosty the Snowman bumpety-bump-bumping safely through Hell...”

As you have probably guessed by now, that was not “the final chapter.” A new chapter came out today. Pete, who is always playing some angle to make money off of his baseball exploits because he is perpetually broke, has launched a sports gambling podcast.

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