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He Judges Rose--From Experience : Denny McLain Is Saddened by Testimony on Gambling

Times Staff Writer

Denny McLain, ex-pitcher and ex-con, spoke from the heart Friday when discussing Pete Rose, the embattled Cincinnati Reds manager who faces a possible lifetime ban from baseball for allegedly betting on his team.

Nineteen years ago, as a member of the Detroit Tigers, McLain was suspended by Bowie Kuhn, the then-rookie baseball commissioner, for associating with gamblers. Later, he served 29 months of a 23-year prison sentence for racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and cocaine possession.

“It’s very difficult for us to be judgmental, especially me,” McLain says softly, “but if he’s done what everyone says he has, he’ll have to face the consequences. He’s in serious trouble.

“It’s such a tragedy. I am terribly concerned for him, but I feel even worse for his family. They are suffering in silence. It is time to get this over with. Enough is enough.”

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McLain, in town to do the Pat Sajak Show, has become something of a spokesman on gambling, doing several interviews a day and appearing on Nightline twice last week.

McLain was suspended from Feb. 19 until July 1, 1970, after a 40-minute conversation with Kuhn, during which he admitted he had bet on basketball, hockey and football. He denies ever betting on baseball. It’s too tough a sport to bet on accurately, he says.

Asked what Rose’s chances would be if he had to appear before Kuhn, McLain’s response is as sharp and hard as one of his fastballs. “Chopped liver,” he says.

McLain is not a close friend of Rose and hasn’t seen him since the day before the 1988 Super Bowl. They had dinner together, along with Paul Janszen and Mike Bertolini, who are principle accusers of Rose in Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s investigation.

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The dinner, mentioned in a report by John M. Dowd, who conducted the investigation for the commissioner’s office, was also mentioned in a phone call between Janszen and Bertolini, taped by Janszen. McLain said the dinner conversation included speculation about the Super Bowl but not about gambling. McLain did say, however, that he talked about some of his prison experiences with Rose.

McLain, the last 30-game winner in the major leagues (in 1968), does not question the credibility of Janszen, Bertolini or Ron Peters, another Rose accuser.

“Credibility isn’t the question,’ McLain says. “It’s the voluminous amount of testimony. Take out those guys and there are 10 more willing to testify. Of course, he (the commissioner) would love to have a Father O’Reilly testify, but those guys (Peters and Janszen) hate each other and still tell the same story. Peters was set up by Janszen in a cocaine deal and they still gave the same testimony.”

McLain, host of a radio show in Detroit, has skimmed through about 900 pages of the complete 2,000-page report on Rose (the 225-page report is a condensed version) and says that the evidence is “overwhelming” and “unbelievable.”

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He is asked if he questions Rose’s intelligence. “He was probably the greatest player ever to play the game,” McLain says, leaving it at that.

According to McLain, “there is no question” Rose will get some sort of suspension, but he declined to speculate as to length. He says he is almost certain that Rose will stay out of the commissioner’s office through a plea bargain, but adds that “baseball is the least of his problems. They’ve got a huge federal grand jury in Cincinnati looking into income-tax evasion.”

McLain believes that baseball fans aren’t too concerned about that. They want to know if Rose bet on baseball, or worse, if he bet on his team.

“I hope not,” McLain says, shaking his head slowly. “I hope not, but why would so many people go out of their way to nail him if it wasn’t true?”

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That is a question he cannot answer.


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