Pete Rose. (Photo: stocklight/Shutterstock.com)
A federal court in Pennsylvania has trimmed the claims that former baseball star Pete Rose can bring against the man who investigated him for betting in the 1980s. That man, attorney John Dowd, had acted as special counsel to Major League Baseball, and gave a 2015 radio interview in which, Rose alleged, the lawyer said the ex-player committed statutory rape.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled that, although Rose sufficiently pleaded a claim for defamation per se, he failed to properly outline a case for a standard defamation, or show that Dowd tortiously interfered with a sponsorship contract Rose had with the Skechers shoe brand.
Judge Petrese Tucker, who issued the ruling in an 11-page opinion July 14, said Rose failed to show he suffered “special harm” in connection with his defamation claim. Turning to Rose’s count of tortious interference with a contract, the baseball player’s claim that Dowd’s statement caused Skechers to drop its endorsement contract with the baseball star also wasn’t plausible, Tucker said.
“The court cannot give credence to such a threadbare recital of an element,” Tucker said. “Additionally, Rose failed to allege sufficient facts to demonstrate a causal connection between his damages, purportedly the compensation to which he would have been entitled had Sketchers renewed its endorsement contract with Rose, and Dowd’s conduct.”
Rose’s attorney, August Ober of West Chester, referred comment to Rose’s spokesman, Ray Genco, who is a Boston-based attorney with the Genco Law Firm. Genco said the decision to toss the tortious interference claims was “nothing unexpected.”
“We’re very, very happy that we’re able to proceed and Dowd has to answer to the defamation and defamation pro se claims,” he said.
Amy Ginensky of Pepper Hamilton, who is representing Dowd, declined to comment Monday morning.
According to Tucker, Dowd had been hired by the MLB in 1989 to act as special counsel in a confidential investigation of Rose over betting allegations. Dowd documented the investigation in what came to be known as the “Dowd Report” later that year. The report accused Rose of betting on games between 1985 and 1987, when he was a player and later a manager for the Cincinnati Reds. According to Tucker, the investigation ended with a confidential agreement between Rose and the MLB, in which Rose accepted a disciplinary sanction.
The crux of Rose’s claims stem from West Chester-based radio broadcaster Bill Werndl’s July 2015 interview with Dowd. According to Tucker’s opinion, Dowd said, “Michael Bertolini, you know, told us that he not only ran bets but he ran young girls for him down at spring training, ages 12 to 14. Isn’t that lovely. So that’s statutory rape every time you do that.”
Dowd had interviewed Bertolini as part of his investigation in 1989.
A little more than a year before that interview took place, Rose had agreed to do an ad campaign with Sketchers that was set to expire in December 2015. Rose contended that the campaign, which included a commercial that aired during the 2015 Super Bowl, was successful, but Skechers decided not to extend the contract—a move Rose said cost him at least $250,000.
Along with seeking to toss the claims, Dowd also sought to have the court apply Nevada law regarding the defamation claims. Tucker, however, determined that Pennsylvania and Nevada defamation laws are substantially the same, and said the law of Pennsylvania, the forum state, should apply.
As a baseball player with the Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, among other MLB teams, Rose set the record for most base hits in a career with 4,256. He is one of only two major leaguers to amass more than 4,000 hits.