The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

With Pete Rose still banned from baseball, MLB walks fine line with DraftKings, daily fantasy leagues

Rob Manfred is presiding over his first All-Star Game as commissioner. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
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CINCINNATI – We are in Cincinnati, and the All-Star Game is Tuesday night, so there are certain things that are inescapable, Pete Rose foremost among them. Baseball’s hit king still resides squarely in baseball purgatory, his accomplishments etched in the record books even as he isn’t acknowledged in Cooperstown all because he committed what Major League Baseball has long regarded as an unforgivable sin: He bet on his own sport while in uniform.

And yet any of the participants in Tuesday’s All-Star Game could return to their clubs for the second half of the season and wager, legally, on their own performance – for or against — in a daily sports fantasy league that is in partnership with the same MLB that prohibits gambling. In April, MLB and DraftKings, one of several developing daily fantasy Web sites, extended and expanded a partnership that allows the site – which pays cash prizes to winners – to co-brand, with MLB, its daily baseball offerings, not to mention allowing DraftKings to partner with individual clubs to offer in-the-ballpark experiences to fans.

This relationship exists, and Pete Rose is banned from baseball? Some in the game are struck by the potential hypocrisy.

[Pete Rose: Still banned, still adored, still waiting]

“We are watching very closely,” Tony Clark, the president of the players’ union, said Tuesday as he addressed a meeting of the Baseball Writers Association of America. “As you might expect, considering where we’ve been and where we’re at, we’re walking a very delicate line, a very sensitive line that could be muddied very quickly depending on what words you use in a sentence. So it’s something that we’re paying a lot of attention to.”

Clark spoke Tuesday after Rob Manfred, presiding over his first All-Star Game as commissioner, had addressed the same group. It is Manfred and his staff who are pouring over the evidence in the Rose case, evidence that he bet on baseball as the manager of the Reds in the 1980s, and new evidence, revealed by an ESPN report, that he placed bets on the sport when he was a player, too.

“I frankly was surprised at how much material there was to be reviewed,” Manfred said. “We’re taking a fresh look at all of that. I remain committed to the idea that Mr. Rose deserves an opportunity to tell me in whatever format he feels most comfortable, whatever he wants me to know about the issues, and I’m sure there will be an in-person meeting.”

The meeting has not yet been scheduled, Manfred said. Rose and his representatives, though, surely will bring up baseball’s partnership with DraftKings. The thrust is easy to discern: You’re banning gamblers and promoting, if not gambling, then a more socially accepted way of making money off sporting performance?

Manfred said the league has addressed the issue with players.

“We’ve made absolutely clear to our players and to our front office personnel is that we do not believe that DraftKings is an appropriate – or any other daily fantasy – is an appropriate activity for them,” he said. “We see a very clear distinction between people who can affect the outcome of the game and fans who want to engage through daily fantasy.”

Yet on the placards that are posted on bulletin boards in every major league clubhouse, there is no mention of DraftKings or any other daily fantasy site. Rule 21, which covers “Misconduct” and hangs in every home and visiting clubhouse, addresses three elements of gambling – betting on a game a player, umpire or official is involved in, betting on a game a player, umpire or official is not involved in, and betting with illegal bookkeepers.

[Rose still beloved in hometown despite scandals]

The issue, at its worst, is easy to identify: What’s to prevent a hitter from drafting, on a given day, the pitcher he’s facing that night – and then striking out three times? What’s to prevent a pitcher from drafting, on a given night, a hitter he’s facing that night – and then grooving one to be launched out of the park?

Clark made clear that the union would continue to discuss the potential that the players are receiving mixed messages with the league.

“For right now, we can appreciate how it’s being navigated,” he said. “But rest assured, we won’t turn our attention away from it.”

Because even as Rose and his case draw attention because we’re in Cincinnati, it may be the secondary betting issue on baseball’s plate.