By Jennifer Johnson
Paul Janszen did not want to have dinner with a pastor.
Janszen is the successful owner of a fitness equipment company, a proud Cincinnatian—and the man who told Major League Baseball that Pete Rose had bet on the game. Today he’s also an active member at Whitewater Crossing Christian Church in Cleves, OH.
“I was in a dark place when I met Rose and began placing bets for him,” Janszen says. “I was an aggressive guy, always ready for a fight. My girlfriend Danita, who is now my wife, joined me on a trip to Florida with Rose for spring training, and I quickly discovered how compulsive and excessive his gambling addiction was. I loaned him some money to cover his debts, and he never paid it all back. I would love to say my decision to turn him in was solely based on the desire to do the right thing, but a big part of it was feeling vindictive.”
Major League Baseball contacted Janszen while he was serving time in a halfway house for tax evasion related to the sale of steroids. Janszen says he expected Rose to confess to the charges and move on, but as every faithful baseball fan knows, Rose continued to deny the gambling accusations for 15 years. Cincinnati’s hometown hero, and baseball’s all-time hits leader, accepted lifetime banishment from the game he loves in 1989. Janszen, meanwhile, faced years of criticism and anger from Cincinnatians.
“It was an ugly time,” he says. “I started a new business and isolated myself from other people and from God. I was pretty angry and spiritually empty. My biggest blessing during this time was Danita—she was my miracle. In some ways that relationship saved my life.”
In 2011, his friends Steve and Susan Humbert encouraged him to visit their new church.
“I kept saying no, and so they began pushing to have dinner at their home with the pastor and his wife,” Janszen says. “I told them, ‘I’m not coming to your house. The last person I want to have dinner with is a minister.’ But they’re persistent! After a couple of months, I agreed.”
David Vaughan, senior minister at Whitewater, laughs when he picks up the story.
“I agreed to attend the dinner along with my wife, although on our way there Donna was asking, ‘Who exactly is this guy and why do we have to meet him?’” he says. “But there are no regrets. We will always be glad we accepted that invitation.”
“I knew my life had changed forever after that night,” Janszen says. “We started going to church, attending a small group, and getting to know people. What I love about Whitewater is it’s not a place where Christian people high-five each other about how spiritual they are. It’s a place where everyone realizes they need God.”
Vaughan has enjoyed building a relationship with Janszen as a friend as well as a church member.
“Paul was a villain in our city for many years, and everything he said about Pete Rose has been credentialed and proven true,” he says. “In fact, I wrote the Cincinnati Enquirer and told them the real Hall of Famer should be Paul. So much of it is unfair and sad. But he has allowed Christ to redeem his story. Sometimes, as I study the Bible, I think you know you’re ready to be used by God when the scandal of your repentance is greater than the scandal of your sin. That was true of the Paul in the Bible and it’s true of my friend Paul.”
As for Janszen, he has moved on from his past and is eager to share about his new life; as of this writing the All-Star Game had just wrapped up in Cincinnati and Janszen had agreed to a 15-minute interview with radio personality Bill Cunningham if he was allowed to talk about his faith.
“Bill ended up giving it the whole hour,” Janszen says. “I don’t know what will happen with Pete Rose, but I have found some peace and I have found grace. I would love to talk with him someday about how he could experience the same thing. The eternal hall of fame means so much more.”