Pete Rose files federal defamation lawsuit against John Dowd

Pete Rose filed a federal defamation lawsuit today against John Dowd, who oversaw the investigation that led to Rose's ban from baseball, for claims Dowd made last summer that Rose had underage girls delivered to him at spring training and that he committed statutory rape.

The complaint was filed today in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. It cites a radio interview last summer with a station in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in which Dowd said, "Michael Bertolini, you know, told us that he not only ran bets but ran young girls down at spring training, ages 12 to 14. Isn't that lovely? So that's statutory rape every time you do that."

Bertolini was a memorabilia merchant whose taped conversations and other information about Rose's gambling were central to Rose receiving a permanent ban in 1989.

The lawsuit also cites an interview with CBS Radio in which Dowd said, "He has Bertolini running young women down in Florida for his satisfaction, so you know he's just not worthy of consideration or to be part of the game. This is not what we want to be in the game of baseball."

Rose denied Dowd's accusations. Bertolini has said he never made such claims. Former commissioner Fay Vincent, who was deputy commissioner at the time of Rose's ban, has said that he did not remember such allegations.

The suit also disputes Dowd's claim that Rose bet against the Reds, for whom he played and managed. It notes that while the Dowd Report expressly states that "no evidence was discovered that Rose bet against the Cincinnati Reds," Dowd told the New York Post in 2002 that he had reliable evidence that Rose did bet against his team. According to the filing, these "direct contradictions by Dowd on the very same subject matter are evidence that Dowd would lie when his personal animus toward Rose overcame him. Dowd's statement that he had reliable evidence that Rose bet against the Reds was maliciously false and reckless and intended to harm Rose."

At the time of the interviews last summer, commissioner Rob Manfred was considering Rose's request for reinstatement. Dowd had appeared on the shows to discuss that topic, and to talk about whether Rose should be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Manfred ultimately denied Rose's request.

According to the suit, "Ever since Dowd investigated Rose in 1989 and Rose was placed on the Ineligible List, Dowd actively sought to prevent Rose from ever being reinstated by MLB or elected to the Hall of Fame, and he ultimately made maliciously false and reckless claims against Rose."

Dowd, 75, who was a longtime partner in the Washington law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, had "no comment" when contacted by ESPN.

Rose is represented by noted First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus, who has represented Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Lenny Bruce and Don Imus, among others.

The suit does not specify damages except to say that the amount exceeds the jurisdictional minimum of $75,000. It maintains that Rose lost at least two commercial endorsements because of the claims.