Dec 142002

Let’s briefly review the obvious. Baseball’s Rule 21, of which Pete Rose was acutely aware, states that any player who bets on a baseball game will be banned for one year, and if he bets on a game in which he has a duty to perform he will be banned for life. The rules of the Hall of Fame state that any ineligible player cannot be elected. Therefore, if you believe that Pete Rose bet on Reds games while managing the Reds, you are obliged to conclude a) that Rose should not to be reinstated or elected; or b) that Rule 21 must be changed. Nobody seems to be arguing for b), so everyone must buy into a), right?

Wrong. Instead we hear:

1. Rose should be reinstated, but only if he apologizes. This, the grand prize winner for senselessness, is — surprise! — the line that major league baseball appears to be pursuing. If Rose bet on Reds games, “I’m sorry” makes no difference, sorry. There’s no contrition exemption in Rule 21. If he didn’t bet on baseball at all, of course, he has nothing to apologize for. And if he bet on baseball but not on Reds games, then he’s served the one-year suspension that the offense warrants, plus twelve. No apology necessary; and none desired, frankly. I know therapy is practically a duty these days, but could we, this one time, just do without closure?

2. Gambling is no big deal. Gambling is no big deal if you bet on Reds games; no big deal if I bet on Reds games. A rather big deal if the manager of the Reds bets on Reds games.

A closely related view is that pipeheads like Howe and Strawberry, who did worse things than Rose, got second, third and eighth chances. Other guys in the Hall of Fame, like Cobb and Hornsby, were far bigger creeps than Rose. But the comparative argument is a red herring. We’re discussing Rose: judgments of other cases, for other offenses, can never be dispositive. You want to talk about Howe and Strawberry, be my guest.

This is a not very subtle form of context-shifting. Strawberry’s drug use, which destroyed his talent, is “worse” for him. It does not follow that it is “worse” for baseball to use drugs than to bet on games in which you participate, and it is this second sense of “worse” that we are supposed to be considering.

3. Gambling is OK, as long as you don’t bet against your own team. First, betting on your own team violates a well-known rule. Rules have to be drawn somewhere, and here is as good a place as any. Second, the potential for corruption is very large, as Gerald Posner says:

The possibility exists that decisions won’t be made in the team’s best interests, but rather because of the money riding on the game. If a manager bets on a game, he may bring a player off injured reserves sooner than he should in order to win, or he may pitch a reliever without enough rest, not caring that he won’t be able to pitch for several extra days. If a betting manager gets in large debt to bookies, he can clear his account by merely revealing inside information about the team. The opportunity for corruption is greatly increased. This is not to suggest that Rose compromised the Reds in any way. The chance that such impropriety could result is the reason for such a strict taboo on betting baseball.

4. Rose was a great player. For most of his career Rose was a great player. For the last third he was a serious liability, hanging on only to break the hits record. But Rose certainly merits election on his playing record. If he didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. There is very little sense in debating the Hall-of-Fame eligibility of someone who wouldn’t be elected if he were eligible. The contrary argument, more rarely but occasionally heard, that Rose wasn’t really a great player, suffers from the same logical deficiencies, along with factual inaccuracy.

5. Nobody is entitled to an opinion about Rose’s gambling who hasn’t read the Dowd Report. Well, I haven’t read Newton’s Principia either: am I entitled to an opinion about gravity? I will remain among the sluggards who haven’t read the whole report; it runs to hundreds of dull pages and I cannot interest myself sufficiently in the matter. But I have read the sections excerpted in an admirable article by Derek Zumsteg six weeks ago. Several witnesses with nothing to gain said Rose bet on the Reds, including one of his bookies, Ron Peters, who says he took bets from Rose directly. The betting slips indicate that Rose bet on the Reds. Bill James’ famous defense of Rose is tendentious at best, dishonest at worst. Zumsteg sticks to the evidence and it is devastating. The people who have read the Dowd Report and box the ears of the rest of us have had plenty of time to refute Zumsteg. No one has. In any case, it is not too much to ask, I think, that discussion of Pete Rose be confined to the question of whether he bet on Reds games.

Still, in some company even our editorialists look good. In a recent ESPN Internet poll more than 60% of the voters supported Rose’s reinstatement even if it can be shown that he bet against the Reds. Not on the Reds, mind you: against the Reds. Even after correcting for sample bias, we can safely conclude that at least 60% of the voters in a particular Internet poll are moral, not to say mental, defectives.

John Perricone comments. I asked John to refute Derek Zumsteg’s piece on Rose. This he declines to do, arguing instead that major league baseball wouldn’t have demanded that Rose sign an agreement if it had had compelling evidence that Rose bet on the Reds. Of course this cuts both ways: if Rose was innocent, or even if he bet on baseball but not the Reds, why would he sign this extremely punitive agreement instead of taking his one-year suspension? Rule 21 allows, as John points out, for bans “in the best interest of baseball,” but let’s face it, nobody’s gonna be suspended, let alone Rose, for betting on college basketball and tax trouble.

Mike Carminati comments. He’s had a pretty good crack at the Dowd Report.

  10 Responses to “Bad Argument Clinic: Pete Rose”

  1. This is related to your fine Rose essay only by the subject of baseball, but I and all your other roto-geek readers would (or should) love to hear you weigh on on Ron Shandler’s new stat, xBA, "expected batting average." For several years, while Shandler acolytes like myself have been studying batters’ Eye ratio for clues to his future BA performance, the Great Haspel has been arguing that Eye has less predictive value than Shandler claimed. Now, with the recently published ’03 Baseball Prospectus, Shandler and his army of sabermetricians have acknowledged that Eye has less casuality than they previously claimed, and have devised xBA, a complicated formula (deliniated in detail in the book and, probably, on their website) which they say has stronger casual predictive value for future batting average. From what I could understand on first reading, it has to do with turning the simplest formula for BA — hits/ABs — into hits/balls in play X balls in play/ABs, and going from there. It’s complicated. I need God’oM to tell me whether to believe it this spring.

  2. I haven’t looked at the formula, but the useful heuristic to beware complexity applies here. If one has to complicate one’s formula to make it "work out" the problem nearly always lies with the concept in the first place. What Shandler is doing, it sounds like, is akin to Ptolemy adding epicycles.

    I objected to Shandler 1.0 on the grounds that one of the key elements of his formula, strikeouts, is simply not very important to the success of a hitter. So far as I can tell this still applies to Shandler 2.0; but I will do some research and opine in more detail.

  3. No, actually, his xBA doesn’t seem to have anything to do with walks or strikeouts. It has to do with how often a batter puts the ball in play, combined with his isolated power and speed…for instance, Soriano has a terrible Eye ratio, but surprising power for a speedy middle infielder, hence a higher BA than might be expected for a guy with a bad eye…or so I understand it.

  4. Michael, what does a batter do when he doesn’t put the ball in play? He strikes out or walks, doesn’t he?

  5. Free Pete !!

    Charley Hustle has served 13 years in exile
    The fans want to forgive him and move on

  6. Hi Aaron,

    I agree with a great of what you argue here. However, I am actually in favor of Rose’s reinstatement because I don’t feel that MLB made a good case proving Rose bet on baseball or the Reds. I find the evidence to be contradictory and not the least bit compelling. Oh, and I have read the Dowd Report (actually more than once).

    The evidence is basically enlarged copies of slips of paper that may be in Rose’s hand, that were acquired by someone (Paul Janszen) with whom Rose had a falling out, that do not state any figures for baseball games (and therefore, may not be in actuality bets on those games), and that contain erroneous data (the April 9 slip contains three baseball games that never were played on the same day in the 1987 season let alone on April 9).

    The rest of the evidence is based on Rose’s runner Paul Janszen’s and his erstwhile bookie Ron Peters’ testimony. Peters rarley meets with Rose directly, and bases most of what he says on Janszen. Both of these men had reason to tell Dowd what he wanted to hear (revenge, the authorities, etc.). Janszen actually claims to have paid off Rose’s gambling debts himself and to have guaranteed that Rose would be protected from authorities if he be paid a certain amount of money. Dowd takes Janszen’s ludicrous statements at face value (isn’t it more believable that Janszen was covering his own debt and that he was tring to extort money from Rose for "protection").

    By the way, Derek Zumsteg is refuting the wrong Bill James article. James mentions some of the more idiosyncratic points in the New Historical Abstract, but he did a thorough nitpicking back in his 1990 Baseball Book. Most of Zumsteg’s criticism’s would not hold water where the 1990 article is concerned.

    I just wanted to point that out. Keep up the good work.

    Take Care,

  7. Aaron,

    Mike Carminati has done a real good job of putting the situation in perspective.

    I too feel that MLB has done a pretty woeful job of proving that Rose bet on the game, and that, given he is the all-time hits leader, they need to do far more than continue to assert that they know he did. They don’t know it, they believe it, and that’s not the same thing. No matter how hard you look, they haven’t even come close to proving it.

    Come visit again soon,

    John J Perricone
    Only Baseball Matters

  8. Thanks, John and Mike, for your sane and thoughtful remarks. You are both far better versed in the facts of the case than I, but we can all at least agree that the only relevant question is whether Rose bet on baseball in general and the Reds in particular.

    I must take issue with John’s implication that, because Rose is the all-time hit leader, an especially high standard of proof is required. Does he mean that ordinary players can be barred on less evidence than superstars? More generally, I am curious what both of you think the standard of proof ought to be. I don’t think "beyond a reasonable doubt" applies here; this is not, so far as baseball is concerned, a criminal matter. I should think "preponderance of evidence" would suffice, which is another way of saying that belief, not knowledge, is enough. Whether the evidence indicates that Rose bet on the Reds is of course another question.

    I continue to find Zumsteg’s article convincing, even against the 1990 Bill James piece that Mike refers to and that I’m familiar with. The betting amounts are suggestive, Peters’ and Janszen’s testimony dovetails in important respects, and although a couple of games on the betting slips don’t match the dates most of them do. I would very much look forward to a point by point refutation of Zumsteg by either or both of you.

  9. Hi Aaron,

    I actually have already done this. Well, I bypassed Zumsteg and went to the source, Dowd. It was part of Only Baseball Matters’ Rose series about a month ago. It’s in my archive here ( scroll to "The Plaintive Plaintiff"). It’s a staged trial as refutation of the Dowd Report. Be forewarned that it is long and, I’m told, self-indulgent (I liked it though).

    I find no credible evidence whatsoever in the Dowd Report, not the witness testimony, not the phone logs, not Janszen’s or Peters’ betting logs, and not Rose’s alleged betting slips.

    Zumsteg seems to have a real Jones for James on the issue though (esp. any mention of April 8th). Zumsteg seems more bent on believing every piece of evidence that is against Rose than Dowd did. I actually read the Zumsteg piece before the Dowd Report and was convinced that it was a rock-solid piece of investigatory work. Its not, not by a long shot. It did more to convince that Roses guilt in the matter cannot be determined from the evidence available that any article even the ones by James.

    As far as Zumstegs statements, there are a number of inaccuracies. He incorrectly states that the betting slips are accurate. The 4/9 one lists two baseball games that didn’t happen and three games that never happened on the same night the entire season. The fact that the Janszen log matches the betting slips he uses to buttress his argument. However, if Paul Janszen fabricated the slips or used the slips to fabricate his log, then they would match, wouldn’t they? The slips are ludicrous as pieces of physical evidence. First, they are xeroxed copies and they are enlarged. Second, they were delivered to MLB by Janszen, a man who clearly had an axe to grind with Rose and who admitted to extorting money from Rose’s attorney (as a thinly veiled promise to protect him). Third, they are in block letters–who can say with any degree of accuracy they are Rose’s. They contain inaccurate baseball information (the 4/9 one). Zumsteg indicates that the basketball bets are wrong, too. There is no way to know if any actually pertain to real bets (Janszen’s log notwithstanding). There are no amounts (I see no "5 Dimes" on the copies at The Baseball Archive). Furthermore, there is no way to tell if they are bets, which ones truly are and which are Rose writing down scores he overheard on the sports line.

    Speaking of the sports line, Zumsteg seems to agree with Dowd that they are meaningful. However, there are many days according to Janszen’s log on which numerous calls to the sports lines and to their various lowlife friends, however, no bets are placed. They cannot be used to even indicate betting is actually happening, let alone baseball or Reds betting. There is a ton more, but it’s basically in the link above.

    Take Care,

    Mike’s Baseball Rants

  10. <<>>>

    Oh, don’t tell us again — we know:
    Drugs are crimes against SOCIETY — NOT BASEBALL, right?

    Weeeelll, welcome to 2009*

    All time HR* Kings;
    All Time Cy Young Winner*
    Need I go on?
    Oh, but drugs are STILL perfectly acceptable, aren’t they? NO COMPARISON when it comes to the “Intergit –..”
    Gonna go play my numbers now. But hey, that Hall of Fame Voting SURE is something else these days, isn’t it?

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