Pete Rose Trial: 1990

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Pete Rose Trial: 1990

Defendant: Pete Rose
Crime Charged: Filing false tax returns
Chief Defense Lawyers: Reuven Katz, Roger J. Makley, and Robert Pitcairn, Jr.
Chief Prosecutors: G. Michael Crites and William E. Hunt
Judge: S. Arthur Spiegel
Place: Cincinnati, Ohio
Date of Trial: April 20, 1990
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: 5 months' imprisonment, 3 months in a community treatment center or halfway house, $50,000 fine, and 1,000 hours of community service

SIGNIFICANCE: This case revealed how a spectacular career as a nationally admired, recordbreaking athlete can be ruined by an addiction to gambling. It also demonstrated that even national heroes face prison when they stiffarm the Internal Revenue Service.

On August 23, 1989, long-time Cincinnati Reds player-manager Pete Rose was banished forever from the game of baseball by Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. Rose, who held the record for more career hits and games played than any other player in baseball history, admitted that he had bet on football and basketball games. His behavior, said the commissioner, had "stained" the game. The evidence before the commissioner led him and, almost immediately, the American public to the conclusion that Rose was a compulsive gambler.

Six months later, a federal grand jury was investigating whether Rose might owe taxes on income from cash he earned at baseball card and memorabilia shows. One newspaper quoted "sources" as saying that the beloved ballplayer had failed to report to the Internal Revenue Service at least $250,000 in income between 1985 and 1987. Witnesses were reported to have seen Rose take cash earned at baseball card showswhere he signed hundreds and hundreds of autographs at $8 eachand stuff it into suitcases and sacks. The implication was that Rose used the huge amounts of cash to support his costly gambling habit.

By mid-April, the news was confirmed. Pete Rose and his lawyers had worked out a plea bargain. He would plead guilty in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati to two felony counts of filing false federal income-tax returns. The bargain was that Rose would not be charged with failing to report income from gambling, despite the fact that one of his associates had been convicted only months earlier of conspiring to defraud the IRS by claiming one of the ballplayer's winning racetrack tickets as his own.

On April 21, Rose appeared before Judge S. Arthur Spiegel. Confirming charges that he had knowingly failed to reveal income of more than $300,000 in 1985 and 1987, he pleaded guilty to the two felony counts. The Statement of Facts, a court document signed by Rose and his attorneys, described him as a "chronic gambler during the years 1984 through 1988, betting substantial amounts of money at horse and dog racetracks, as well as with illegal bookmakers." Said Assistant U.S. Attorney William E. Hunt, who presented the government's case:

Rose received $129,000 from an individual who purchased his "4,192' bat [the bat with which he broke Ty Cobb's record for career hits] by requesting and receiving [as partial payment] 11 checks for $9,000 and one check for $5,000. These checks were cashed at the bank on separate days in order to avoid the filing of currency transaction reports.

Even more was revealed in the courtroom. In 1987, Rose had filed amended tax returns for the years in question. But they were still false, for he failed to report $51,800 in 1984, $95,168 in 1985, $30,659 in 1986, and $171,552.60 in 1987.

Some Losses Greater than Winnings

Rose's diehard fans were astonished to learn still more. By entering into partnerships on Pick-6 horse-track bets on 10 occasions between 1984 and 1987, an activity that Rose had previously denied, he had won $136,945.30. But the irony was that, while gross income amounts as high as $59,788.40 (in 1984) were not reported, he was not liable for failure to report the figures because his losses were greater than his winnings.

In a jam-packed courtroom on July 19, Judge Spiegel handed down Rose's sentence:

We must recognize that there are two people here: Pete Rose, the living legend, the all-time hit leader, and the idol of millions, and, Pete Rose, the individual who appears today convicted of two counts of cheating on his taxes. Today, we are not dealing with the legend. History and the tincture of time will decide his place among the all-time greats of baseball. With regard to Pete Rose, the individual, he has broken the law, admitted his guilt, and stands ready to pay the penalty.

The judge then sentenced Pete Rose to five months in a federal correctional institution, to be followed by three months in a community treatment center or halfway house. In addition, he would pay a $50,000 fine and serve 1,000 hours of community service.

Rose said he would not appeal. "I accept my punishment," he said. "I will serve my sentence, pay my debt to society, and get on with my life." The sentence did not permit any parole.

Rose served his five months at the Southern Illinois Prison Camp at Marion. His days were spent in the prison machine shop, where he earned 11 cents an hour fabricating and welding metal. "He gets in there and works just as hard as the rest of them," said the assistant warden.

When released January 7, 1991, Rose began his 1,000 hours of community service, working as an assistant in physical-education programs in five Cincinnati public schools and at recreational centers in the city's lower-income areas.

On January 10, the board of directors of baseball's Hall of Fame voted unanimously that anyone on baseball's permanently ineligible list could not be eligible for the Hall of Fame. The rules change effectively barred Pete Rose, who would have become eligible for election into the hall by the Baseball Writers' Association of America the following December.

However, Rose's popularity with baseball fans gained momentum as the 1990s came to an close. In 1999, he was voted to the All-Century Teama team of the greatest baseball players of the 20th centuryby fans and baseball writers. Despite his ban from baseball, Commissioner Bud Selig allowed Rose to be a part of the ceremony honoring the team at the 1999 All-Star Game in Boston. When Rose was introduced, he received the loudest and longest ovation of any player honored.

Immediately following the ceremony, Rose was interviewed on live television by NBC's Jim Gray. Gray's seemingly antagonistic questions about Rose's gambling problems upset many fans and players, prompting further sympathy from his fans for Rose's continuing quest to once again be part of Major League Baseball. However, at the start of the 2000 baseball season, that dream remained as elusive as ever.

Bernard Ryan, Jr. and

Ron Formica

Suggestions for Further Reading

Andrews, A.E. "Bittersweet Homecoming." U.S. News & World Report (January 14, 1991): 14.

Callahan, T. "Justice for a Baseball Felon." U.S. News & World Report (July 23, 1990): 15.

Corelli, R. "The Fall of a Titan." Maclean's (July 30, 1990): 38.

Goodman, M.S. "Pete Rose Longs to Rise Again." People Weekly (September 2, 1991): 47.

Leerhsen, C. "All is Not Lost in Cincinnati." Newsweek (July 30, 1990): 61-62.

Lieber, J. and S. Wulf. "Sad Ending for a Hero." Sports Illustrated (July 30, 1990): 22-25.

Reston, James, Jr. Collision at Home Plate: The Lives of Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Rose, Pete, and Roger Kahn. Pete Rose: My Story. New York: Macmillan Co., 1989.