New York, NY — On April 20, 1990, legendary baseball superstar Pete Rose, then 49, pleaded guilty to two charges of income tax evasion.
The once-beloved, record-smashing player and manager who had been revered at the height of his career as “Charlie Hustle” was soon to find himself — in a very real sense — out of the game.
At issue with the IRS was $300,000 in earnings from 1985 and 1987 that Rose reportedly “hid” from the government. Mostly it was cash Rose picked up from peddling autographs and memorabilia, as well as some big scores he made betting on horses.
Oh, yes — gambling. Pete Rose had already been called foul on that topic.Related: Barbara Walters Presents — “Queen of Mean,” Leona Helmsley
In August 1989, Major League Baseball permanently banned Rose from all its organizations and activities following an investigation that concluded he had bet between $2,000 and $10,000 a day on games while he actively managed the Cincinnati Reds.
To be sure, “moneyball” would never prove to be Pete Rose’s game of strength.
After the tax plea, it was unclear whether Rose would actually have to serve jail time. On July 19, 1990, U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel made it abundantly clear: He would. Rose got five months behind bars. He would have to pay a $50,000 fine on top of the money he already owed, and perform 1,000 hours of community service.
In sentencing Rose, the judge stated:
“Foremost, 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.”
Rose, upon accepting his fate, choked back tears as he said:
“Your honor, I’d like to say I’m very sorry, very shameful to be here today in front of you…. I have no excuses because it’s all my fault. I lost my dignity, I lost my self respect, and I almost lost a lot of dear friends…. My five-year-old son told my wife, ‘Daddy is a jailbird.’”
From there, Pete Rose served his time in the medium-security Prison Camp at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. He eventually shelled out more than $366,000 in back taxes and fines. Rose got out on January 7, 1991.
In the decades since, Rose has repeatedly attempted to get reinstated in Major League Baseball. So far, he’s always struck out.
Rose spent years denying, unequivocally and with great passion, that he ever bet on baseball games. Then the fallen giant admitted he did bet “every day” — albeit claiming he only ever put money on the Reds to win — in his 2004 memoir, My Prison Without Bars. MLB officials seemed especially incensed that Rose only came clean when had a book to sell.
More controversially, Rose’s financial chicanery has rendered him ineligible to be included in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
As a player, Rose’s statistics are staggering. He holds no fewer than 17 individual record highs in all of the game’s history, including the most career hits (4,256), most career games played (3,562), and most career runs by a switch hitter (2,165).
Citing those numbers (and many others), even many baseball fans who decry Rose’s gambling and tax issues believe he should be recognized by the Hall of Fame. Chief among them, still, is Pete Rose himself.
Main photo: Pete Rose [WikiMedia Commons]