Dennis Janson: What a difference a word made in the media coverage of the fall of Pete Rose

This is the second part of Dennis Janson's "2 Cents column,'' the recounted call from a tipster, an on-air congrats to former Reds manager Pete Rose and a surprise visit by the IRS.

You can read part one here.

CINCINNATI --  It was January 25th, 1989 and I capped off my Friday night sportscast for WCPO-TV with a story about former Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose and Turfway Park owner Jerry Carroll collaborating on the winning ticket for a large Pick 6 jackpot at the Northern Kentucky horse racing facility.

Among those who got wind of it, two IRS investigators who within days contacted me to determine if I had any additional information. I told them that all I knew was that a source called me from the VIP lounge at Turfway, attesting to the fact that “Pete and Jerry were doing handsprings…” over their good fortune.

Little did I know that the report would be more grist for the IRS mill, as investigators Leo Rolfes and Kent Marcum pursued a paper trail that eventually led to Rose.  Even as Major League Baseball had undertaken its own probe into the Hit Kings’ gambling associations and inclinations.

I started to get some inkling that the trail was warming when Enquirer Reds beat writer Mike Paolercio reported that Rose was absent from Plant City on February 20, 1989.  As this was in the opening days of camp, I called Paolercio.

“Do you think Pete could have been summoned to New York for a chat with the Commissioner?" 

Paolercio said Rose had been acting a little strange to that point. He assured me he would poke around to see what he could find out.

Then, I called Dick Wagner. By this time the former Reds President and General Manager was a special consultant to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, working out of MLB’s office in New York City. Shockingly, Wagner took my call.

“Mr. Wagner, sorry for the intrusion. Hope you are well. I have one quick question for you.”

“No problem,” Wagner replied, “what can I do for you Dennis?”

“Mr. Wagner, have you seen Pete Rose around the commissioner's office today?”

Mine and Mike Paolercio’s quest to break a big national story came to an ignominious end when Mr. Wagner replied tersely, “No.”

So much for that time and effort.

Dead end.

The next day brought a shocking call from Paolercio: “Murray Chass (legendary New York Times sports columnist) has a front page story that Pete met with Ueberroth yesterday.”

I felt stabbed both in the back and through the heart.

Wagner had obviously done me wrong.

This was not the first time ‘Daddy Wags’ and I jousted over Rose.

In 1984, I hosted a Friday night call in show on 700 WLW. The show, “Where Are They Now” was populated by one time Cincinnati sports luminaries who would come to the station's Fourth Street studios, subjecting themselves to my questions and those of callers.

The night Dick guested, the topic eventually got around to Rose, who he let walk as a free agent to Philadelphia in 1979.

During a break, I asked him what was really at the bottom of Rose’s departure? 

“Okay my friend”, he replied. “You’re a local guy. I’ll let you break the news to Rose’s fans about the pep pills, about the paternity suits we’ve kept off the radar and about the leg breakers he owes money to. Go ahead. Be my guest. I’ll let you pull Santa’s beard off!”


Needless to say I declined and continued along with who knows how many others, to occlude the painful truth about Rose.

As for Murray Chass beating Paolercio and me to the punch?

Before his death in 2006, I ran into Wagner at a Major League Baseball function. He was in declining health by then, the victim of a horrific auto accident in Florida. We caught up on cordialities since our last visit and then he dropped it on me.

“Dennis, do you remember when you called me to ask about Pete Rose meeting with the Commissioner?” 

I nodded. How could I forget his perceived treachery?

“Well, I kind of misled you on that. But then again you didn’t ask the right question.” 

“How’s that?” I queried.

“Well you asked me if I had seen Pete that day. Which I hadn’t. You should have asked if I knew whether or not Pete was meeting with Peter (Ueberroth). And I would have told you yes.”

Whereupon he stated the painfully obvious. “That would have been a nice little story for you wouldn’t it?”

Yes, Mr. Wagner, that would have been a nice little story.

But I think it makes an even more compelling yarn this many years later.

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