The rise and fall of Pete Rose: Gambling, statutory rape allegations and ban from baseball
When Rose told an Inquirer reporter on Sunday that he wasn't interested in talking about something from 55 years ago, he wasn't referring to betting on baseball.
The first half of Pete Rose’s Major League Baseball career is full of accomplishments — Rookie of the Year in 1963, an MVP award 10 years later, 17 All-Star appearances, and a trio of World Series titles — that would make any player envious.
The second half, however — the part that took place after his retirement as a player — reads more like a rap sheet: multiple suspensions as a manager for betting on baseball, followed by his permanent ban, tax evasion, and worse.
What isn’t often highlighted prominently when discussing Rose’s legacy is the worst accusation against him: statutory rape. It’s one that has nothing to do with baseball but makes the fact that he appeared on the field during Phillies Alumni Weekend on Sunday — and dismissed an Inquirer reporter’s question about it because “it was 55 years ago, babe” — look even worse.
In many instances, if mentioned at all, it reads like a footnote in the long and winding history of Rose’s life and career. Based on his response when asked about it Sunday, that’s more than enough for the former Phillies first baseman. But based on the response from the sports world at large, those allegations aren’t nearly well known enough — with many fans thinking the question and Rose’s response had to do with betting on baseball, not something much darker and much more serious.
The following is a timeline of Rose’s career and post-career exploits and how it all fueled the optics of his return to Philly.
Rose’s career before Philly
Rose spent the first 15 years of his professional career playing for the Cincinnati Reds, where he earned 12 of his 17All-Star selections and won a pair of World Series titles in 1975-76 as part of “The Big Red Machine,” the name given to those dominant Reds teams of the 1970s. Rose immediately earned the nickname “Charlie Hustle” for his never-quit attitude, which was never on a greater display than the 1970 MLB All-Star Game, when Rose barreled through Ray Fosse to score the game-winning run and separated the Cleveland catcher’s shoulder in the process.
During his time in Cincinnati, not only did Rose cement himself as one of the best players in the game, but as one of the best of all time, becoming the 13th player to reach 3,000 career hits and compiling a 44-game hitting streak, which is still tied for the second-longest single-season streak in MLB history (and the longest in National League history).
Rose’s career in Philly
Tired of winning the National League East but failing to win the NL pennant, the Phillies decided to go with the old if-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em approach in 1979 and acquired Rose from the Reds, making him the then-highest paid athlete in sports. Rose moved from third base (where he settled in Cincinnati) to first base, and helped the organization get over the hump and win the first World Series in its history in 1980.
However, Rose’s numbers declined, capped by the worst season of his career to that point in 1983. The Phillies made it back to the World Series that year, falling to the Orioles, but Rose was benched after a poor showing early in the series and ultimately asked for his release the following offseason.
Rose’s career after Philly
Following his release from the Phillies, Rose signed a one-year deal with the Montreal Expos, where he became the second player to reach 4,000 career hits, but was traded back to Cincinnati in August 1984.
Back with the Reds, Rose served as player-manager (the last in MLB to do so) and in 1985 he broke Ty Cobb’s record for the most hits in the game’s history.
Despite his accomplishments, however, Rose is not in the Hall of Fame and has been banned from baseball for life. Not because of the allegations of corked bats in the run-up to breaking Ty Cobb’s record or his associations with an alleged steroid dealer, but because of breaking one of the sport’s golden rules.
Betting on baseball and a lifetime ban
When Rose’s name is mentioned today, this is often the thing most associated with him. And for good reason — there’s never been another case like it, at least not one involving such a high-profile player and manager.
In 1989, a year after Rose received the longest suspension ever for a manger (30 games) for his role in an on-field incident that led to fans throwing objects onto the field, Rose was questioned over reports that he had bet on baseball, including this 1989 Sports Illustrated cover story. And although Rose admitted to betting on other sports at the time and denied betting on baseball, new commissioner Bart Giamatti retained lawyer John M. Dowd to investigate whether Rose had bet on the game.
Dowd’s findings were extensive and included not only a pattern of Rose’s betting habits in 1985-86 but also evidence of him betting on 52 Reds games during the 1987 season, when he was wagering as much as $10,000 per day. In August 1989, following an attempted lawsuit, Rose accepted a permanent ban from baseball, as per the rules of the game. In 1991, the Baseball Hall of Fame officially codified a long-standing, unwritten rule that barred players on the permanently ineligible list, like Rose, from induction.
Going to jail for tax evasion
In 1990, Rose pleaded guilty to two counts of filing false income tax returns after failing to declare income from memorabilia sales and horse racing winnings and was sentenced to five months in prison and fined $50,000. He was released in January 1991 after paying more than $350,000 in back taxes.
Statutory rape allegations
The biggest reason for the uproar over Rose’s return to the field in Philadelphia had less to do with his ban for gambling and more to do with the accusations of statutory rape that surfaced as part of testimony in federal court in 2017. That testimony only surfaced because Rose had filed a defamation suit against Dowd in 2015 following an interview on WCHE-AM (1520) in West Chester in which Dowd said a former associate of Rose told him that Rose had sex with underage girls “ages 12 to 14.”
“Michael Bertolini, you know, told us that he not only ran bets but he ran young girls for him down at spring training, ages 12 to 14,” Dowd said. “Isn’t that lovely? So that’s statutory rape every time you do that.”
Rose denied the allegations, adding that Dowd’s remarks were “entirely false in every respect.”
But as part of the defamation suit that followed against Dowd, new testimony suggested that Rose had a years-long relationship with an underage girl in Cincinnati during the 1970s after first meeting in 1973.
“Sometime after that, Pete Rose and I began meeting at a house in Cincinnati,” the woman said in a statement first obtained by ESPN. “It was at that house where, before my 16th birthday, Pete Rose began a sexual relationship with me. This sexual relationship lasted for several years. Pete Rose also met me in locations outside of Ohio where we had sex.”
Rose admitted in court filings that he had sex with the woman in question but believed that she was 16 at the time their relationship began “sometime in 1975,” when Rose was 34 years old and married with two children.
Because of the statute of limitations, Rose could not be charged with a crime.
First Phillies invitation
In April 2017, before the allegations of statutory rape came to light, the Phillies announced that they would be enshrining Rose on their Wall of Fame. Despite Rose facing a lifetime ban for gambling on the game, the team decided he was worthy of a place on the wall for the role he played in helping the organization to win its first World Series.
But a couple of weeks before Rose was set to appear, ESPN reported on the testimony from the Dowd defamation suit, and outrage quickly led to the Phillies reversing course and instead opting to honor former Phillies catcher Darren Daulton, who had just died from cancer a week earlier.
Here’s what columnist Bob Ford wrote at the time about the Phillies’ decision to first honor Rose, and then cancel his appearance:
Phillies’ second invitation and Sunday’s appearance
That’s why it came as a surprise earlier this summer when the Phillies announced that Rose, 81, would be in attendance when the Phillies honored their 1980 team, a ceremony that was two years in the making after the pandemic ruined the original plans to honor the champions on their 40th anniversary in 2020.
That ceremony, everyone agreed, was one that needed to be done. But Rose’s inclusion, especially in light of the accusations from five years earlier, sent the wrong message to many. “There are multiple reasons why Pete Rose shouldn’t be allowed near this, or any, major league ballpark for the foreseeable future,” Ethan Witte wrote in an op-ed for The Inquirer last week.
But the Phillies went ahead with Rose’s appearance — and ensuing media availability — and it went about as well as detractors were expecting, when Rose dismissed the statutory rape allegations.
“No, I’m not here to talk about that,” Rose said when asked by a female reporter for The Inquirer. “Sorry about that. It was 55 years ago, babe.”
Even after those comments, the Phillies allowed Rose to go into the broadcast both, curse on live television, and give some seriously cringeworthy answers, which left Inquirer columnist David Murphy wondering who is really to blame in this whole fiasco.
Now, in the aftermath of Rose’s appearance, all the talk has been about his comments, rather than the entire team that the Phillies originally planned to honor.