Fairfax’s John Dowd, investigated Pete Rose in 1989, responds to Sports Illustrated push for Rose


John M. Dowd in a 1989 file photo. In response to a new book about Pete Rose, the leader of the investigation into Rose’s gambling still believes that Rose should not be in the Baseball Hall of Fame or readmitted to pro baseball. (Fred Sweets/The Washington Post)

To baseball fans, “The Dowd Report” remains one of the seminal documents in the sport’s history. It was the result of an investigation by lawyer John M. Dowd, a longtime Fairfax County resident, which proved conclusively that Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose bet on baseball games, and on the Reds, while he was playing and managing, and it led to Rose’s expulsion from baseball and from consideration for the Hall of Fame.

That was 25 years ago, but some wounds don’t heal. Many feel that Rose has done his time, and should at least be admitted to the Hall of Fame as the all-time hits leader. Now Sports Illustrated has taken up the cause, publishing a book entitled “Pete Rose: An American Dilemma,” which was excerpted this week in a cover story which declared, “It’s Time to Rethink Pete Rose.” I’m not sure why it’s time now and Sports Illustrated doesn’t explain that, other than to say a lot of fans show up for his autograph signings, which appear to be his primary source of income. The excerpt also lightly touches on the fact that for 15 years after the Dowd Report, Rose vehemently denied betting on baseball and the Reds with a righteousness that made Lance Armstrong look like a mewling puppy. When that didn’t work, Rose in 2004 published a book which said, Well yeah, I guess I did do all those things Dowd said, without ever apologizing to Dowd or the commissioners who banished him from the sport, Bart Giamatti and Fay Vincent.

None of this much bothered Dowd, who remains a top-drawer attorney at the Akin Gump firm downtown and lives outside of Reston. But I thought it would be interesting to see if he thought it was “Time to Rethink Pete Rose,” 25 years after his report.

The short answer: No. Dowd still does not think Rose should be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame or allowed to coach or otherwise work in pro baseball. He said that most Hall of Famers agree with him and cited Johnny Bench as an example. Bench, Rose’s former teammate on the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, gets visibly angry whenever anyone asks him about it, as various videos such as this one show. Dowd doesn’t get angry, but he has some pretty entertaining insights on the Rose case to this day.

Here’s a brief recap: In February 1989, Major League Baseball heard reports that Rose had been betting on the Reds as their player-manager. Dowd, a high profile criminal defense lawyer and former federal organized crime prosecutor, was hired as special counsel to the commissioner by then-Commissioner Peter Ueberroth. Ueberroth retired during Dowd’s investigation and Giamatti took office.

This is the Major League rule in question. It is not vague, and it is well known to all players and coaches:

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

Pete Rose, also in a file photo from June 1989, after The Dowd Report was released but before his permanent ban from baseball was imposed. (Rob Burns/Associated Press) Pete Rose, also in a file photo from June 1989, after The Dowd Report was released but before his permanent ban from baseball was imposed. (Rob Burns/Associated Press)

Dowd collected gambling ledgers, bank and phone records and court documents. He took depositions from Rose’s friends who placed bets for him, from one of his bookies, from Rose himself. He found that Rose was betting five to 10 games a day, every day, in basketball, football, hockey and baseball, at about $2,000 a game. In one month, Rose lost more than $67,000, and he was deeply in debt to the bookies, including $200,000 in the hole at one point to a Staten Island bookie linked to the Mafia. He refused to pay substantial debts to his bookies at various times, witnesses told Dowd, and that can get a guy in a heap of trouble.

Rose lied repeatedly in his deposition. Dowd would ask him, for example, if he’d been at a racetrack on a certain date. Rose, under oath, would deny it. Dowd would show him documents proving he was there that day. Rose would admit it. Rose denied knowing people whom he’d written checks to, left tickets for, who had testified extensively about hanging out with him. At his peak, Rose’s top salary was $1 million a year (he played from 1963 to 1986, before the big money arrived), so losing $67,000 in a month was not pocket change. Dowd showed Rose his own betting records, in his own handwriting, and he denied they were his. Rose regularly bet on the Reds, the team he was managing, but never apparently against them. The full report is here, and the exhibits are here.

Dowd turned over his report to Giamatti in May 1989, and the commissioner scheduled a hearing for Rose to respond to the vast evidence against him. The “Hit King” did not respond at all. Instead, Rose voluntarily accepted a permanent ban from baseball, with the ability to apply for reinstatement after one year. He applied in 1999, when Bud Selig had taken over as commissioner, but Selig has never ruled.

Now Sports Illustrated has published a book by reporter Kostya Kennedy, excerpted in the current issue. The excerpt notes that for 15 years after his 1989 ban, Rose shamelessly lied about betting on baseball and the Reds. Kennedy also explores how a manager could put his own interests ahead of his team’s when betting on them, such as overusing pitchers to win particular games, rather than thinking about the impact on the team’s season. The prospect that Rose was betting on games he played in the years before 1986, when Dowd began documenting Rose’s wagering, is not discussed, though he clearly was a very experienced and deeply addicted gambler by 1986.

Dowd said Kennedy interviewed him, and that “based on the questions, it was clear he was carrying the water for Selig and these guys who wanted Rose in [baseball] for years.” He said Selig has long wanted to reinstate Rose but was reluctant to reverse Giamatti’s ban because he had helped install Giamatti in the first place. He said Selig filed a bar complaint against Dowd for discussing the case publicly, which was thrown out, and he said Selig hired a law firm to reinvestigate Dowd’s report, and found no holes. Selig has announced he will be retiring in January 2015, which has led some to speculate he may reinstate Rose before stepping down.

Dowd said that both former player Lenny Dykstra and manager Don Zimmer told him that the Rose investigation caused them to stop gambling. He said Zimmer told him, “You saved me thousands of dollars.” Dowd said, “I know other guys who gambled. It’s a disease, it’s a terrible thing. For that reason, he should not be allowed back. He shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.” He knows that some raise the case of folks such as Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, Hall of Famers who were not stellar private citizens, but they were not investigated. Rose was, was given a chance to fight the evidence, and declined.

He said the players backed him. “The day we threw him out,” Dowd said, “Nolan Ryan called Bart (Giamatti). He said, ‘On behalf of 2,300 ballplayers we want to thank you, because we all follow the rules.” He said Ted Williams, a former client, and Bob Feller, a longtime acquaintance, also opposed Rose’s reinstatement.

In the Sports Illustrated article, Rose is quoted as saying he “finally understood what it meant to ‘reconfigure’ his life.'” Dowd said apologizing to his former teammates “is not reconfiguring your life. He still plays the ponies, and goes to the casinos. What Bart [Giamatti] wanted was model citizens for youngsters.” He said the “no gambling” edict was “a perfect rule and important to the integrity of the game.”

Dowd also noted that “for 15 years he called me and Bart and Fay [Vincent, who succeeded Giamatti as commissioner] corrupt and dishonest. We were crooks, thieves, liars, perjurers. You talk about defaming the [expletive] out of us. I’m sorry but we weren’t corrupt and dishonest.”

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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Tom Jackman · March 7, 2014