Justice  /  Book Review

For Pete’s Sake

A new book traces "the rise and fall of Pete Rose, and the last glory days of baseball."

For all his on-field virtuosity, Pete Rose had a terrible off-field problem: He was a gambling addict, and this in a sport that professed zero tolerance for gambling. The game’s best pitcher, Denny McLain, had been suspended in 1970 for consorting with bookmakers. By then Major League Baseball was already investigating Rose. It proved hard, though, to develop a wide-ranging case against him.

Michael Sokolove, in his riveting 1990 account of Rose’s fall, Hustle, explained why Rose was easily caught in the 1980s for conduct that had been allowed to slide in the 1960s: Basically, he stiffed the people who took his bets. When Rose got on a string of losses, he would make only partial payments, or pay nothing at all, then move on to a new bookie. This was okay as long as he was betting with sports-loving Good-Time Charlies who had known his father on Cincinnati’s West Side. Rose even managed to avoid a comeuppance when, having worn out his hometown welcome, he turned to a Dayton bookie named Dick "The Skin Man" Skinner, who was tougher but scandal-averse. Eventually, though, he wound up dealing with people who were less stable and more desperate. A young gym rat from Massachusetts named Tommy Gioiosa placed his bets for a while, before Rose turned to Paul Janszen, the Cincinnati bodybuilder who was Gioiosa’s steroids dealer. This was the late 1980s, high point of the War on Drugs—and though Rose was not suspected of using steroids or other chemicals, his betting had drawn him willy-nilly into a drug investigation. When Gioiosa and Janszen were arrested, Janszen was in a dispute with Rose’s agent over $40,000 he said Rose owed him. The agent told Janszen Rose wouldn’t pay. That turned out to be a mistake: Janszen called Sports Illustrated.

O’Brien’s book cannot match Sokolove’s. There are not as many people around to interview as there were 35 years ago, memories are not as sharp, and O’Brien has focused his reporting on Rose associates who were young then—primarily Janszen and Gioiosa. The result is a familiar and zing-less story that often drifts to more contemporary preoccupations. What were those Big Red Machine teams like back in the day? "Cincinnati hardly had a reputation for diversity and inclusion," we learn.