07/18/2003 12:00AM

Panel majority: Put Pete in Hall


LAS VEGAS - ESPN devoted the majority of its Thursday night lineup to "Pete Rose on Trial," a made-for-television event at the Harvard Law School.

It was no surprise that the 12-person jury voted 8-4 in favor of making Rose eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. That was in line with most polls and, in fact, 79 percent of ESPN.com online voters during the show also answered in the affirmative.

From the perspective of someone covering sports betting in Las Vegas, I found it curious that prosecution witnesses Jim Palmer and Steve Garvey were asked about a manager's ability to influence the outcome of a game. Of course, they said that a manager sets the lineups, makes substitutions, etc. The inference was that managers can fix a game pretty easily, but Rose has never been accused of betting against his team.

That's an important distinction. Personally, I see nothing wrong with Rose betting on his own team. In horseracing, we have owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, and various other people betting on their own horses. When Las Vegas hosts major sporting events, boxers, golfers, and NASCAR drivers have been known to put money down on themselves.

Athletes with a competitive drive have always done that. Michael Jordan could be Exhibit A, though he did it on the golf course, which wasn't his best sport. But the point remains that that's the way it is, and there's nothing fundamentally wrong with it despite what moralists would have us believe.

This all brings to mind some public-service announcements the NCAA made a few years back. The NCAA persuaded student-athletes to make statements such as "Don't bet on me. You'll be throwing your money away."

When I was younger, I went to see some basketball games in downtown Chicago. There was some money changing hands, and I certainly don't recall any player saying, "Don't bet on me." It was the opposite. Any athlete with an iota of confidence in his own abilities is going to encourage people to bet on him.

Retired pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee was the star witness in the mock trial, making the strongest points for both sides.

For the defense, he said, "Every time I go out I'm betting on my team; I'm betting I'm going to beat you." He also made the unbiased, salient point, "I hate betting. I don't bet, and I don't condone betting, but I don't think it's the offense that it's cracked up to be."

Lee then played into the prosecution's hands when he said that Rose's "biggest sin" was when he didn't bet, because bookmakers would assume that Rose wasn't confident in his team that night and the money might go on the other team (yes, bookmakers have been known to place their own bets, too). But, when prosecutor Alan Dershowitz said that Rose was providing inside information to gamblers, and asked if the act was a pretty serious offense, Lee responded, "Not really."

Lee was again on the ball in pointing out that the "inside info" was negligible at best.

And Lee summed up the case better than defense attorney Johnnie Cochran when making the argument that the game of baseball encourages bending of the rules but hasn't cut Rose any slack when he said: "I see hypocrisy in life and on this planet. I think it's a lot in baseball. Hopefully we let Pete in. We've got to forgive and forget. Pete has got to admit he has a problem. He has to seek help. It's not a capital offense."

Vegas ties in Rose show

Rose sightings were reported earlier this year at the Palms and Bellagio race books, but that's not the only Vegas connection from Thursday's broadcast:

* Dershowitz, the famed Harvard law professor who was in the role of prosecutor, said during the telecast that he is more comfortable defending a client. He was before the Nevada Supreme Court recently and last Monday got the murder convictions of Rick Tabish and Sandy Murphy overturned. In May 2000, the two were sentenced to 25 and 22 years, respectively, for the 1998 murder of Ted Binion, the son of Binion's Horseshoe founder Benny Binion. The district attorney's office is preparing to retry the murder case.

* Cochran, who won the "trial" as Rose's appointed defense attorney, has reportedly sent an associate to Las Vegas to look into a case in which a Metro police officer shot and killed a robbery suspect.

* Arnie Wexler, a defense witness as a certified compulsive gambling counselor as well as a recovering compulsive gambler himself, during the broadcast said, "Next Saturday, I'll be speaking to 1,500 high school kids in Las Vegas at a convention of basketball." When reached Friday morning, Wexler said he would be doing several one-hour sessions for high school players and their parents at UNLV as part of the Las Vegas Summer Classic, a tournament for 95 boys' and girls' varsity teams that runs from July 26-30.

Hoopsters hoping for Big Time

The biggest high school basketball tournament in the world is taking place this upcoming Tuesday through Saturday at 15 Las Vegas high schools. The ninth annual Adidas Big Time tournament will feature 400 high school boys basketball teams - about 5,500 athletes - playing in a total of 996 games. Teams are coming from 42 states, plus Washington, D.C., the Virgin Islands, and Canada.

Tournament co-founder Larry McKay said instead of speakers talking about gambling, he will have a video shown to all players, in compliance with NCAA rules for high school tournaments.

College and NBA scouts will also be on hand to check out the stars of tomorrow. Daily tickets are $10 and include admission to all games at all sites. The championship games in all four divisions (including the open division of the top teams) will be Saturday at Green Valley High School, the headquarters for the tournament and where most of the top teams will play during the week.

Complete details can be found at www.adidasbigtime.com.