John Dowd knows all about Pete Rose. In 1989, his investigation into the legend’s betting habits got Rose thrown out of baseball. Yet when you ask Dowd for a story about a baseball legend, he doesn’t mention the Reds great.
“I had this glorious year and a half hanging out with Ted Williams,” he says. “I get goose bumps every time I think about it.”
Dowd, who heads the criminal litigation group at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, almost missed his chance. Twice in the mid-’90s he turned down requests from the Splendid Splinter to go after a man who’d swindled him out of nearly $1 million. So Williams, impressed by Dowd’s work on the Rose investigation, showed up one day and simply declared, “You’re going to represent me.”
While they worked on the case, Dowd stayed at Williams’ Florida home. Dowd recalls how the retired star, then in his 70s, would get up at 5:30 and cook what he called a “Ted Williams breakfast”: bacon, sausage, grits, potatoes, toast and biscuits.
“He’d bang on the door at 10 [minutes] to 6 and shout, ‘What the hell, are you going to sleep all day?’” Dowd says. “We’d get up and he’d have this enormous breakfast [ready]. If you didn’t eat it all, he’d say, ‘Well, goddammit, don’t you like it?’”
Dowd recovered nearly $700,000, and had a blast with Williams—fishing, golfing, watching baseball. Investigating Rose wasn’t as fun.
“Once we got inside his inner circle, we saw that Pete was a much rougher character than anybody knew,” he says.
Dowd submitted a report to Major League Baseball detailing Rose’s betting. It was clear that Rose was guilty; still, Dowd and commissioner Bart Giamatti offered him a way to stay in the game. They asked him to admit he bet on baseball and speak to groups about the perils of gambling. Had he agreed, Dowd believes Rose would have been reinstated and elected to the Hall of Fame. Rose refused.
While he considers it a tragedy that gambling brought down Rose, Dowd doesn’t dwell on his role. He has cheerier things to contemplate: spending time with Carole, his wife of 41 years; playing with his 10 grandchildren; lowering his golf score.
And remembering what it was like to be served breakfast by Teddy Ballgame.