Closing the (Note)Book on Rose at Last?

Really, now, only one thing should shock about the now-firm evidence that Pete Rose bet on baseball while he still played baseball: that anyone should be shocked, when all is said and done. The telltale signs have been there. And, numerous observers are saying (and have said in the past), Rose changes his story almost as often as he once changed his sanitary socks.

One year after Fay Vincent was purged as baseball's commissioner, Vincent told at least one reporter, "He bet [on baseball] as a player with the Phillies." Rose's own mother once told a Cincinnati newspaper reporter her son lost bets on the Padres to win the 1984 World Series. And now comes evidence from documents formerly unseen outside official investigative channels.

If what ESPN's Outside the Lines transmitted Monday is certain, the last known defense available to Rose in his quest to return from baseball's Phantom Zone to the Hall of Fame has crumpled. Big. "This is the final piece of the puzzle," says John Dowd, the one-time federal prosecutor deputized to investigate Rose originally for baseball government. "This is it, this does it. This closes the door." Over a quarter century since Rose first insisted he never bet on the game as a player, there comes a smoking gun.

The smoker is a notebook that once belonged to Michael Bertolini, once a Rose marketing partner, through whom Rose bet with mob-tied bookmakers, apparently. The notebook is damning. Very damning. It shows Rose betting extensively on baseball in his final playing season, 1986. (The player-manager played in 72 games, collected 52 hits, and hit .219 before ending the playing part of his career August 17, 1986.)

The notebook sat under court-ordered seal for 26 years before going to the National Archives' New York division, seized as part of a mail fraud investigation during a kind of raid at Berolini's home two months after then-commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti banished Rose. ESPN says its authenticity is verified by two officers involved in the 1989 raid. Attorneys for Rose and Bertolini say their clients won't talk; in Rose's case, his statement through his attorney says he won't talk until after he meets with commissioner Rob Manfred about his reinstatement application.

Among other things, the notebook's pages say that in late April 1986 Rose — still the Reds' player-manager, not yet close to his final playing game — dropped bets down on several games including at least one or two involving his Reds. He bet several other baseball games, too. Either he or Bertolini made notes of the games' starting pitchers in hand with each bet:

* Rose bet $2,000 on the Mets on a game started by Dwight Gooden, the defending National League Cy Young Award winner: "2=D 2000 vs. Pete, the entry reads.

* He bet $500 on the Blue Jays with Doyle Alexander — eventually a Brave sent to the Tigers in the deal that made a Brave out of freshly-elected Hall of Famer John Smoltz — taking the ball, and won that bet.

* He bet $1,000 on the Red Sox with forthcoming World Series standout Bruce Hurst — who'd beat the Mets twice in the Series before running out of fuel in Game Seven — on the mound, and won.

* He bet $1,000 on the Royals with Charlie Liebrandt, knuckleball specialist, on the bump, and won.

* He bet $1,000 on the Orioles with Storm Davis (their starter and winner in Game Four of the 1983 World Series) starting, and lost.

* He bet $500 on the Indians with another knuckleball specialist, Tom Candiotti, starting (Candiotti eventually portrayed Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm in Billy Crystal's film about the 1961 home run chase, 61*), but the entry seems a little muddy and it's hard to tell whether he won or lost the bet.

* He bet $500 on Jose Rijo and the Athletics, and lost.

* He bet $500 on Mike Scott — emerging that season from nobody special to never better — and the Astros, and won.

* He bet $1,000 on Rick Horton and the Cardinals, and lost.

* He bet on Candiotti and the Indians in another game, and won $1,000.

* On 21 of the days the notebook makes absolutely clear he was betting on baseball, Rose dropped bets on the Reds, one way or the other, including possibly for several games in which Rose did play.

* Most if not all of the time, Rose was likely to drop as much as $2,000 per bet, on average, with the highest recorded bet during the timeframe being a Boston Celtics basketball game. Charlie Hustler lost that bet. He bet big on basketball, college and pro, that March, and once lost $15,400 in a single March day, during a week in which he lost $25,500 total.

Two postal inspection service agents weren't figuring on anything other than a failure to render services complaint when the service got a complaint from a dissatisfied customer of Bertolin's Hit King Marketing, Inc. operation. The agents called the realtor tasked with selling the home posing as a couple looking to buy and got a guided tour of the house.

When they saw an item another complainer said hadn't been returned (Bertolini apparently might have been forging baseball autographs, including, ESPN says, those of Rose and Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mike Schmidt, and Duke Snider) the agents sought and got a search warrant. That search produced the notebook that may now close the book on Rose permanently.

The notebook's existence wasn't exactly a secret, ESPN notes, with themselves and several news organizations seeking access under the Freedom of Information Act following Bertolini's guilty plea for tax fraud. Because it was introduced as a grand jury exhibit, ESPN continues, those requests were denied. Only after the notebook transferred to the National Archives at a U.S. Attorney's Office request, were the contents able to be copied.

"There has never been a doubt about the serious danger that Rose brought to baseball though his chronic gambling," writes Kostya Kennedy, author of Pete Rose: An American Dilemna, for Sports Illustrated. But there had always been three factors held up as mitigating Rose's sin: 1) There was no hard proof that he bet while a player; 2) He never bet on his own team to lose; and 3) Betting on his team did not influence his managerial decisions."

Obviously, factor number one is now "passe," to use Kennedy's polite-way-to-phrase-it word. Factor number two should be blown away by the language of Rule 21(d) which does not distinguish between betting to win and betting to lose. As for factor three, someone might remind Manfred (and anyone else) that strictly as a manager Rose is now known to have withheld betting on his Reds on certain days, with certain pitchers starting, which Sports Illustrated‘s Jay Jaffe previously reminded us actually sends signals to other bettors to bet against the team.

Kennedy recalls, correctly, that in the original 1989 investigation Rose and his legal team mounted a "horrifically botched defense [that] revolved around questioning minute details and picayune facts of baseball's investigation, trying to wriggle free of guilt on technicalities rather than meet the allegations head on."

"With even a modicum of sincere admission, Rose might have escaped with far less than permanent ineligibility. So although Rose has continued to deny he bet as a player — as recently as last year — his best move now is to come completely clean when he meets the commissioner."

He's come "clean" how many times? Sooner or later, even the sturdiest garment can come clean only so often before it's washed up. There's been much talk in recent years about a mercy factor, about showing Rose mercy after all these years. But every time the mercy factor arises, it seems that something else comes forth to throw it a knockdown pitch.

A month ago Rose told a radio station he "never once" bet on baseball while he still played the game. The Bertolini notebook blows that one away, too. Strike three called, curve ball on the inside corner. When at last will Rose, his shrinking circle of defenders, and even baseball's commissioner, agree that enough's enough, that it's time to quit defending what can't be defended?

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