Some of the men who played for Pete Rose when he managed the Cincinnati Reds from 1984 to 1989 have the same conflicted feelings about Rose's admission that he bet on baseball as fans do.
Dave Parker, Dave Collins, Nick Esasky, Todd Benzinger and Tom Browning all said they had never witnessed Rose placing a baseball bet from the Reds' clubhouse, but none would be surprised if he had.
All knew Rose was a serious gambler, but none worried about Rose's probable addiction at the time or ever thought Rose might be managing games in any way that compromised baseball's integrity.
Benzinger, 40, grew up in the Cincinnati area and idolized Rose as a player. He said he wanted to play as hard as Rose, care as much about the game as Rose and ached to love the game as much as Rose. Yet Benzinger said Wednesday from his Cincinnati home: "No, I am not convinced Pete wouldn't have thrown a baseball game."
Benzinger played in the majors for nine years -- one under Rose -- and now coaches a girls' high school basketball team. He understands how young athletes look up to pro athletes. He is puzzled by Rose.
"Some things don't make sense," he said. "For 14 years Pete stuck to a story even though it kept him out of baseball. Now he admits to gambling on baseball and the Reds, which the rules say should keep him out of baseball, and this statement gets him back into baseball? Now he admits he deserves a lifetime ban so he can get out of his lifetime ban? Who knows what to believe?"
Benzinger's father had worked at Cincinnati-area horse racing tracks and came home one night excited to tell a story of Rose's winning $52,000 that afternoon.
"But I didn't think anything of that," Benzinger said. "All I knew was what I saw on the field. Pete was magical to be around and sometimes those who didn't know Pete can't understand why anybody defends the guy. But Pete is such a people person, he had so much charisma and so much love of baseball.
"Pete played the game in a way nobody has played it before. All out. If people now want baseball to rebound, before every baseball game they should show a three-minute video of Pete Rose playing baseball and compare that to the kind of baseball fans will see in the next three hours. Maybe some of today's players will look up there and understand. That's what fans get into.
"But what Pete will be remembered for was that he was a gambler. Should he get into the Hall of Fame? Yes. Should he be allowed to manage again? No. How could you believe anything he says?"
Browning, 43, who pitched for manager Rose in Cincinnati (including a perfect game in 1988 against the Dodgers) and still lives less than 10 miles from where Riverfront Stadium once was, said he knew Rose bet on horse racing, basketball and football but also said, "It never crossed our minds as players that Pete would bet on baseball." And now that Rose has admitted to that? "So what?" Browning said.
If Rose was betting on the Reds, if the manager might even have placed bets from the clubhouse, "So what?" Parker said.
Life's a gamble every day you get out of bed. That's what Collins thinks. And if you gamble, Collins said, "doesn't it make sense to gamble on what you know best?" So Pete Rose bet on baseball, Collins said. "So what?"
Esasky said he "didn't have a lot of respect for Rose as a manager," called Rose "self-centered," and said Rose "was always quite busy with his own particular situations and couldn't take the time to communicate with young guys like me."
A first-round draft choice of the Reds, Esasky felt stymied under Rose, who often put himself into games at first base and consigned Esasky to the bench. It wasn't until Esasky went to Boston, where he had a breakout season in 1989, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 108 runs before losing his career because of a severe case of vertigo, that Esasky found baseball fulfillment.
"Am I surprised Pete has now admitted to gambling on baseball and the Reds? Not at all," Esasky, 43, said from his Las Vegas home. "Of course we knew he gambled. He was a very driven, very competitive man and when I played for him he often seemed distracted. To be a manager takes total concentration and commitment and, to me, Pete was not able to pull that off. Was it his outside activities that caused that? Who knows?"
Browning knows that not betting on baseball "was kind of a cardinal rule and of course Pete shouldn't have done it." But Browning also argued vehemently that to compare what Rose did to the 1919 Black Sox scandal is wrong-headed and unfair.
"The 1919 Black Sox went on the field and purposely threw baseball games," Browning said. "There is not a chance Pete Rose ever did that, as a player or a manager. It was just gambling to Pete. Gambling was gambling, whatever sport he was gambling on. To compare him to 1919, that's just wrong. It's hard for me to correlate the two."