Some gamblers are likable, but Pete Rose isn’t one of them

Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions appeared on NBC News’ “Huntley-Brinkley Report” on January 16, 1963. “Yes, I have bet on ballgames,” Karras said. On games in which you were playing? he was asked. “Yes, I have.”

That same month, Paul Hornung was called into the league offices to answer questions about whether he, too, had gambled on football. Hornung even submitted to a lie-detector test. “The Golden Boy,” mere days after Green Bay’s second consecutive championship, at first denied the allegations but soon admitted to an NFL investigator that yes, he had placed bets on Packers games.

As ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” uncovered last week written evidence that Pete Rose bet on baseball while still a player — a violation he had denied for decades — comparisons were made to the Hornung-Karras gambling scandal that rocked the National Football League half a century ago. The question is raised: Why has Rose been a baseball pariah for 26 years, while Hornung is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Karras, who died in 2012, is remembered fondly?

The answer goes beyond the differences in the ways baseball and football are perceived by the fans and presented by the media. Simply put, Hornung and Karras are a lot more likable than Rose in the court of public opinion — mainly because they were honest.

They paid for that honesty, too.

Hornung, the versatile halfback who had been league MVP in 1961, and Karras, a standout defensive tackle later named to the league’s All-Decade Team, were suspended for the entire 1963 season by NFL czar Pete Rozelle. Having met the good-behavior requirements set forth by the commissioner, Hornung and Karras resumed their playing careers in 1964 after Rozelle reinstated them.

Hornung placed his bets through Bernard (Barney) Shapiro, a businessman whom he had befriended at the end of his senior season at Notre Dame. Shapiro split his time between San Francisco and Las Vegas, where his investments included a pinball and slot company called United Coin Machine. After Hornung joined Green Bay in 1956, Shapiro would call him to ask: How do you think the Packers will do this week? By 1959, Hornung was both giving information to help Shapiro with his own bets and asking Shapiro to place bets for him. Shapiro, however, was not a bookie, and Hornung’s wagers were often on the Packers. “Not once did I ever bet against us,” Hornung said.

The wagers were made in Vegas, so they weren’t illegal — except that they violated the terms and conditions of an NFL player’s contract. “I did wrong,” Hornung said at the time. “I should be penalized.”

Sportswriter Dick Schaap recalled that he witnessed Hornung placing a bet on the Packers; when Green Bay covered the point spread, Hornung’s payoff was just $100. And Packers teammate Ron Kramer, likewise reasoning that Hornung’s bets were harmless, had implored Hornung not to incriminate himself at the NFL’s interrogation. “Why he did, I don’t know,” Kramer said. “I guess because he’s an honorable man.”

The same cannot be said of Pete Rose. As columnist Rick Reilly put it in Sports Illustrated in 1993, “Born without shame, Rose does not spend a whole lot of time with regret.”

He’s certainly had more than his share of regrettable moments. In 1990, a year after he was banned from baseball for life by commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, Rose tarnished his image even more and damaged his standing in baseball circles even further when he pleaded guilty to tax evasion. Pete served five months in a federal prison camp, but his issues with the IRS didn’t stop there. In 2004, he was hit with a nearly $1 million lien for unpaid back taxes.

Rose also has associated with a convicted drug dealer and other characters so shady that when Rose managed the Reds, his own players felt uncomfortable around them. Ted Power, a pitcher on Rose’s Reds teams, said he “thought they were Pete’s bodyguards.” And despite a directive from the commissioner prohibiting anyone except club personnel and accredited media from entering a major-league clubhouse, Rose routinely invited his posse behind closed doors. As another former Reds player put it, “I was scared. I didn’t like the kind of people Pete had around him. You would think that a guy of his reputation and stature would be more careful who he’s friends with. But Pete didn’t care.”

Not until 2004 did Rose admit to gambling on baseball, and even then he did so on his own terms. He said he did it only as a manager, and he made the “confession” within the pages of his autobiography. That’s Pete “Charlie Hustle” for you — he’ll tell you the truth, but he wants you to shell out 25 bucks for the hardcover version of it.

Published in 2004, Rose’s book is titled My Prison Without Bars. Karras has written an autobiography, too. Its title: Even Big Guys Cry. It was published in 1978, three years after Karras played George Zaharias, husband of Babe Didrikson Zaharias, in the made-for-TV movie “Babe.” Karras fell in love with the actress who played the title role, Susan Clark, and soon life was imitating art. The couple married, and from 1983 to ’89, they starred together in the situation comedy “Webster,” about a retired football player who adopts a black child, the orphaned young son of a former teammate.

Karras’ most memorable screen role, however, was as Mongo — “only pawn in game of life” — punching a horse in the 1974 Mel Brooks western spoof “Blazing Saddles.” Karras in the mid-’70s also became a commentator in the “Monday Night Football” booth, where he made Howard Cosell chuckle by singing a capella and remarked that Otis Sistrunk, a defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders whose head was completely shaven, looked as if he had played college ball at “the University of Mars.”

Alex Karras made people laugh. Pete Rose makes them groan.

When Karras starred with his real-life wife on “Webster,” he was considered a “lovable TV dad” and the series lasted six years. When Rose appeared with his fiancee in “Pete Rose: Hits and Mrs.” in 2013, the reality show was largely ignored and bombed after just six episodes.

Rose, then 71, co-starred with model Kiana Kim, a buxom beauty roughly half his age who has posed nude for Playboy. One episode deals with Kim’s breast reduction — “It’s no problem. She’s still bigger than most girls,” Rose says, trying to hide his disappointment. In another episode, Kim and her two children, ages 14 and 11, are visiting Cooperstown with Pete, and when they ask whether he’ll join them as they enter the Hall of Fame, Rose says he won’t unless he’s invited. As Pete is left standing on the sidewalk, Kim says, “Because he is this tough guy, he just can’t show to the rest of the world how much it’s hurting. And … it hurts.”

A weak attempt at sympathy if ever there was one. Just another reason why “Charlie Hustle,” in sharp contrast to “The Golden Boy” and “Mongo,” is a very difficult gambler to like.

Filed June 28, 2015

Bibliography

Books:

America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation, by Michael MacCambridge, Anchor Books (2005).

Paper Lion, by George Plimpton, Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster (1966, 1967)

Sunday’s Heroes: NFL Legends Talk About the Times of Their Lives, by Richard Whittingham, Triumph Books (2003, 2004).

When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster (1999).

Magazine articles:

“Rose’s Grim Vigil” by Craig Neff and Jill Lieber, Sports Illustrated, April 3, 1989.

“A Rose Is a Rose” by Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated, Aug. 16, 1993.

Other sources:

CNN.com; thebiglead.com; bleacherreport.com; talkoffamenetwork.com; The Associated Press.

’Hawks’ ‘dynasty’ ushers in Chicago’s greatest hockey era

As commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the crowd Monday night at United Center, he spoke a word that has not been associated with the NHL in a long, long time. “Well, Chicago,” Bettman said, “that’s three Cups in six seasons. I’d say you have a dynasty.”

The Blackhawks clinched this championship — also their second in three years — with a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. As it had in 2010 and again in 2013, Chicago needed six games to finish the job in the Stanley Cup Final. But unlike their two previous championships in this run, the Blackhawks did not need a shocking, dramatic finish to pull Game 6 out of the fire. Workhorse defenseman Duncan Keith, who logged 30:19 of ice time, erased what little suspense there was about who would be named MVP of the playoffs by following up his own shot and knocking in the rebound for the lead in the second period. On a 3-on-2 break in the third, Brad Richards looked toward goal as if to shoot and made a perfect pass across the slot to Patrick Kane, who fired it into a wide-open net for the insurance goal. Corey Crawford, in a last-ditch effort to unseat Keith as Conn Smythe Trophy winner, made 25 saves for the shutout.

Kane gave Chicago the only two-goal lead for either team in the series, as this title set came up just 5:14 short of being the first Stanley Cup Final without a single multi-goal lead. As it was, Game 6 turned out to be the only game of the series that did not have the winning goal break a tie in the third period. None of the six games went to overtime, but Tampa Bay-Chicago was a closely contested series nonetheless.

Tampa Bay’s top scoring threat, Steven Stamkos, hit the crossbar with a shot in the first period, which was scoreless despite the Blackhawks’ huge 13-4 edge in shots on goal. The Lightning came out flying at the start of the second period, a stretch during which Stamkos was again frustrated; a pass sent him skating in alone on Crawford, but he couldn’t lift the shot over the goalie’s leg pad because the puck was rolling on its edge. Chicago went more than 10 minutes without a shot on goal as Tampa Bay kept applying the pressure.

Take this scenario and apply it to another team and it likely would lead to defeat. If the Islanders, for example, failed to finish their scoring chances in the first period and allowed their opponents to buzz around the Isles’ net in the second, I’d be worried. Not with these Blackhawks. At no time during Tampa Bay’s push did I think Chicago would lose. And with Tampa Bay looking to make a line change as the second period neared its conclusion, the Blackhawks pounced. Richards passed through center ice to Kane, who passed to Keith, who fired a shot as he streaked into the zone, then beat Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette to the rebound and knocked it past goalie Ben Bishop.

In Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final at Philadelphia, Kane clinched the ’Hawks Cup with a stunning overtime winner that went over the goal line but disappeared from view under the base of the net — the red light did not go on, and Kane danced around as if he were the only person in the building who realized he had scored. Against Tampa Bay, however, Kane’s goal was much easier to see, and it prompted the crowd of 22,424 to start the celebration. For the first time since 1938, the Blackhawks were winning the Stanley Cup in front of their own fans.

The Blackhawks have been around since 1926, and this current period must rank as the most successful era the club has ever enjoyed. Three of the franchise’s six NHL championships have come in the last six seasons. Bobby Hull was feared for his powerful slap shot and — helped by teammate Stan Mikita — had five 50-goal seasons for Chicago. But the era of Hull and Mikita, which began in the final years of the NHL’s “Original Six” period, brought only one Stanley Cup party to Chicago. After winning the Cup in 1961, the Black Hawks (two words back then) endured a series of disappointments, losing Stanley Cup Finals in 1962, ’65, ’71 and ’73. Of the four, the hardest defeat to swallow had to be the ’71 Final — they led the series against the underdog Canadiens 3-2 before losing Game 6 in Montreal and Game 7 in Chicago. The Blackhawks of Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour had some good years, too, but their only appearance in a Cup Final resulted in a four-game sweep for Pittsburgh in 1992.

Now those difficult times are merely steps the Blackhawks had to take in their climb to hockey’s pinnacle.

Much of the credit for building the Chicago machine belongs to general manager Stan Bowman. Born in Montreal when his father — the legendary Scotty Bowman — was coaching the Canadiens’ dynasty of the 1970s, Stan in 2010 became the youngest GM to put together a Stanley Cup-winning team. The 1995 graduate of Notre Dame joined the Blackhawks’ organization in 2000 as special assistant to the general manager, and the rise of his team has paralleled his ascendancy up the decision-making ladder.

The Blackhawks’ website acclaims Bowman as “the first GM to win two titles in the salary cap era.” He has done this by avoiding sentimental attachments and correctly assessing which players are must-haves and which are expendable.

When the Blackhawks won the Cup in 2010, Antti Niemi was their goaltender. But the playoff hero from Finland became a free agent soon thereafter, and Blackhawks management allowed him to sign with the San Jose Sharks that September. It must have been difficult to part with the goalie who ended Chicago’s 49-year Stanley Cup drought, especially since Niemi was just 26 years old at the time. But Bowman saw potential in Crawford, who played only one game in 2009-10 but took over as the ’Hawks’ starting goalie the following season.

Forwards Troy Brouwer and Andrew Ladd and defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Brian Campbell also played roles during Chicago’s 2010 title run — and all of them were traded. Brouwer’s size and toughness fit the Washington Capitals’ physical style of play. Ladd and Byfuglien (traded by Chicago in separate deals a week apart) have remained teammates through stops in Atlanta and Winnipeg, as the Thrashers relocated and became the Jets. Campbell won the Lady Byng Trophy as a veteran All-Star for the Florida Panthers.

All quality players, yet within three weeks of the ticker-tape parade in Chicago, none of them were Blackhawks anymore.

Three years later, when the playoffs went deeper into June because of the lockout, Bowman had even less time to determine who should stay and who should go. In Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at Boston, Bryan Bickell scored the tying goal with Crawford pulled for an extra attacker and Dave Bolland scored the winner just 17 seconds later. In a stunning turn of events, the scenario went from headed to Chicago for Game 7, to headed for overtime, to the Blackhawks have won the championship.

That was June 24. On June 30 — less than a week after scoring a Stanley Cup-winning goal — Bolland was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It sounds cold and impersonal, but such is life as an NHL general manager in a salary-cap system. Builders of past NHL dynasties, such as Bill Torrey of the four-time champion 1980s Islanders, didn’t face such collectively bargained financial restrictions.

“We were like, ‘Boy, we could stay here forever and keep this thing going,’ ” Islanders great Bryan Trottier told NHL.com. “The trend now is free agency, movement, the salary cap, and Chicago has been capable of keeping it together.”

Mere days before the regular season started last October, Bowman sent defenseman Nick Leddy to the Islanders for three prospects in what was clearly a salary dump. With Keith, two-time champion Johnny Oduya and three-time champions Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Bowman knew his blue-line crew would be strong even without Leddy, who had been a key player during the 2013 Cup run. The Islanders signed Leddy to a seven-year, $38.5 million contract in February, preventing the 24-year-old from becoming a free agent this summer. Bowman couldn’t match those numbers, but taking Leddy off the payroll made it easier for the Blackhawks to absorb the twin eight-year extensions given last July to star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, each of whom earns $10.5 million per season.

One thing Bowman has not changed is his man behind the bench. Now Joel Quenneville has more championships as a coach than Mario Lemieux won as a player.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Quenneville said. “Once you do it once, you can’t wait to do it again.”

Only Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Islanders dynasty coach Al Arbour (782) have more regular-season coaching wins than Quenneville (754). So the Blackhawks have Toews and Kane, a clutch goalie in Crawford, a Hall of Fame-bound coach, and a set of four tireless defensemen who can do the work of six. Chicago has so much depth on its forward lines that Bickell, a Cup hero in the 2013 finale, was a healthy scratch for Game 6 against Tampa Bay.

This is the greatest era in Chicago’s hockey history — an era when the commissioner isn’t the only mover and shaker proclaiming the Blackhawks a dynasty. Two days after the Cup clincher, in announcing a parade that has become a biennial event in the Windy City, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined the chorus.

“The City of Chicago is so proud of the Blackhawks,” he said, “which is why we are going to throw them a celebration that only Chicago can throw, a celebration worthy of a hockey dynasty.”

Filed June 16, 2015, updated June 17, 2015

Sources: Total Stanley Cup: The Official Encyclopedia of the Stanley Cup; The Associated Press; Hockey Hall of Fame; hockey-reference.com; NHL.com; NBC Sports.