In a long-awaited meeting with a top Major League Baseball official, Pete Rose's lawyers yesterday argued that Rose was wrongly accused of betting on baseball and unfairly banished from the sport in 1989.
A lawyer for Rose told The Washington Post after the six-hour meeting in Dayton, Ohio, that he presented fingerprint and handwriting analyses to contradict some of the evidence used against Rose.
Attorney Gary Spicer said a forensics expert hired by Rose questioned the authenticity of betting records--allegedly written out by Rose--that baseball investigators obtained from a man who said he placed bets for Rose. Spicer said the expert, Bob Massie, challenged the finding that these records bear Rose's handwriting and fingerprints.
"The betting slips, I think they're bogus," Spicer said.
Spicer said he and another of Rose's lawyers, Roger Makley, and experts in gambling, forensics, tax law and criminal investigations met with baseball's general counsel, Robert DuPuy.
A baseball spokesman declined to comment. DuPuy and Commissioner Bud Selig declined to be interviewed.
"We had a very, very productive meeting," Spicer said. "We reviewed documents and Bob DuPuy requested additional information, which we will submit within 15 days. Our handwriting evidence clearly proves that [baseball's] information is inconclusive.
"We'll give Bob DuPuy time to present our information to Commissioner Selig and we will present to [DuPuy] information that he requested."
Spicer said he hoped to have a follow-up meeting with baseball officials within 45 days.
In an earlier interview with The Post, Spicer twice declined to say Rose had never bet on major league games--an assertion baseball's all-time career hits leader has been making since he was banned.
"All I'm saying is: I think it's a much better chance that he did not bet on baseball than he actually did bet on the game," said Spicer, a Detroit lawyer who was hired by Rose in 1995 to poke holes in baseball's case and overturn the lifetime suspension.
Baseball officials concluded Rose made hundreds of bets on major league games--including many on the team he managed, the Cincinnati Reds. Betting on one's own team is considered baseball's cardinal sin because it creates the impression that games can be fixed.
Rose applied for reinstatement in 1997 but baseball officials didn't agree until December to schedule a formal meeting.
Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who was deputy commissioner at the time of the Rose investigation, and John Dowd, the Washington lawyer who headed the probe, both stand by the authenticity of the betting records.
"That's Rose's handwriting," Dowd said. "There's no doubt about it."
Rose declined to be interviewed.
The 58-year-old baseball hero known as "Charlie Hustle" still retains a loyal following. Fans have named their babies after him. In 1997, an Ohio woman buried her husband in a Pete Rose fan club shirt. And President Clinton recently suggested that Rose be given a second chance because "God knows, he's paid a price."
Clinton's comment came after Rose's contentious interview with NBC reporter Jim Gray at the 1999 World Series in Atlanta. Many fans felt it was disrespectful for Gray to repeatedly ask Rose to admit that he had bet on baseball. Rose had just been honored as a member of baseball's All-Century team, and he had received a louder ovation than hometown hero Hank Aaron.
Vincent said Rose fans have overlooked a simple but compelling detail: He is a liar.
"People feel strongly about Rose because he was a terrific ballplayer," Vincent said. "It's a little bit like Clinton. You know, his performance is good and we don't really care if he lies. I think the country has got a skewed sense of what is right and wrong."
Vincent said Rose's toughest obstacle will be his own credibility.
"I don't think he has any," he said, "because he continues to lie publicly when he says he didn't bet on baseball. We know that he bet on baseball. There's no question about that."
Rose was known to be a large racetrack bettor--he and a friend once won $265,669 on a single Pik-Six wager at Kentucky's Turfway Park--when he was summoned to New York on Feb. 20, 1989, for a meeting with then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth, commissioner-elect Bart Giamatti and Vincent. Baseball officials wanted to ask about persistent rumors that Rose was betting on major league games, including ones played by the Reds. At the time, Rose was the Reds manager.
Vincent recalled: "Everybody was sort of chatting and I finally said to him: 'Mr. Rose, we've got to ask you the tough question: Have you ever bet on baseball?' And he said: 'No, I'm not that stupid.' "
Ueberroth hired Dowd to investigate. His probe uncovered Rose's alleged betting records, taped phone conversations between Rose's associates--recorded by one of the participants--and copies of 11 $8,000 checks to fictitious persons, reputedly written by Rose to settle--and conceal--gambling debts.
One of Rose's friends, a bodybuilder named Paul Janszen, told Dowd in a deposition that he had placed regular $2,000 bets for Rose on the Reds.
Baseball officials ultimately concluded that in 1987 alone Rose bet on 412 major league games--52 involving the Reds, always to win.
In April 1989, Dowd deposed Rose in secret for two days at a Catholic seminary near Dayton. "Do you know what that telephone traffic is all about?" Dowd asked Rose about the frequent pregame calls he received in 1987 from Janszen.
"Not to my knowledge," Rose responded.
Moments later, Rose told Dowd that Janszen often called the clubhouse to ask for tickets.
The next month, Dowd produced a 225-page report alleging Rose had bet on the Reds and other teams from 1985 through 1987.
Rose took Major League Baseball to court, seeking to block a formal hearing by then-commissioner Giamatti, a former president of Yale University.
The court challenge failed, and on Aug. 23, 1989, Rose agreed to the lifetime suspension. Rose neither admitted nor denied betting on baseball but he allowed that Giamatti had "a factual basis to impose the penalty." Giamatti died of a heart attack less than two weeks later.
Rose could have applied for reinstatement after one year but he held off, saying he could not get a fair hearing from Giamatti's friend and successor, Vincent.
In 1995, Rose hired Spicer to build his case for reinstatement.
"It took me 2 1/2 years to sort out what was real and what was fantasy" in the Dowd report, Spicer said.
Spicer said the report is "malicious, completely unbalanced and severely flawed" because it does not contain exculpatory evidence. He declined to elaborate.
Dowd said recently his report was "eminently fair." And Vincent said Rose turned down an opportunity to meet with Giamatti to defend himself.
"Look, Pete had very good lawyers at the time--the best that money could buy," Vincent said. "If there was a defense, they would have had a duty to put it forward. . . . Don't forget: With all his lawyers, Pete, in fact, sat down in the electric chair."
In a recent interview on a sports Web site he endorses, Rose said: "We'll present evidence that counters their evidence. We have experts, too. . . . Our experts will tell the truth and say the opposite of what they say."
Spicer wouldn't go that far. Asked about the pregame calls from Janszen, Spicer said: "The telephone traffic is, I think, more difficult."
Many believe Rose is his own worst enemy. In 1990, he pleaded guilty to income tax fraud and began serving five months in federal prison. Spicer said he gave DuPuy evidence yesterday that Rose "never should have been pursued criminally by the I.R.S. [because] Pete did not have any criminal intent."
In 1981, Rose was stopped by U.S. Customs Service agents when he returned from Japan after signing a $100,000 endorsement contract--paid in cash--with a sporting goods company. Rose failed to declare $46,197. He was fined $23,099.
"That one episode," Vincent said, "tells me all I need to know about Pete Rose and his attitude toward the law and toward his belief that he was just bigger than any citizen."
CAPTION: Pete Rose was banned from baseball in 1989. He applied for reinstatement in 1997.
CAPTION: Pete Rose acknowledges crowd at the World Series, when he was named to baseball's all-century team.