When Daniel Boorstin wrote in 1961′s “The Image” about “pseudo-events“- i.e., events that take place solely for the purpose of being reported- the sort of thing he had in mind for the future was likely the “mock trial” of Pete Rose that aired Thursday night on ESPN. Despite its status as an exercise that was produced and put together from its very conception by the network, the “trial” was nonetheless treated by ESPN’s news operation as though it were a legitimate sports happening; other outlets even treated it as actual news when the “jury” ultimately determined that Rose does indeed belong in the Hall, despite agreeing in 1989 to a lifetime banishment from baseball after it came to light that he had likely placed bets on the Cincinnati Reds while he was their manager.
Ostensibly a “trial,” the show was more a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate between celebrity jurists/Dream Teamers Johnnie Cochran (arguing for Rose in the Hall of Fame) and Alan Dershowitz (arguing against). Indeed, the third star of the proceeding was an elephant in the room by the name of O.J.- whether it was the presence of those two lawyers, the “trial” of a retired superstar athlete, the question of whether off-field misdeeds should affect a player’s historical standing, or the athlete refusing to admit any wrongdoing despite nearly insurmountable evidence of his guilt, the Long National Nightmare of the Simpson trial was never far from the surface, even if it was only mentioned at the end.
At any rate, the trial took place at Harvard Law School, and was apparently the brainchild of Dershowitz’s son, an ESPN producer. And that was part of the problem- nearly every aspect of the trial was complete make-believe, from the goofy music, to the absense of such key figures as Rose himself and ex-commissioner Fay Vincent, to the inclusion of witnesses (like the funny ex-pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, and legendary statman Bill James, whose stubborn defense of Rose is really the one and only blind spot in all of his writings) who have little to nothing to do with the case, to Dershowitz’s un-Dersh-like demuring of practically everything he said (something Cochran didn’t do, though both lawyers were clearly on autopilot), to Judge/CourtTV anchor Catherine Crier actually calling for a “recess” (read: commercial break) right as the verdict was about to be read- an “American Idol”-like copout that not even “The Practice” has stooped to. I was surprised the lawyers and witnesses didn’t get up and all take a bow at the show’s end.
Despite sitting through the entire three-hour trial (which consisted, honestly, of about one hour total of worthwhile material), and extra hour of “post-game,” I don’t feel I learned anything new about the Rose case, except that Bill Lee thinks there’s a evil baseball conspiracy. The conventional wisdom has long been that Rose will be reinstated the day he admits that he bet on baseball and apologizes for the act itself and the 15 years of lies; I agree with and endorse this supposition provided Rose never be allowed to manage or otherwise work in baseball again. But since we all know how gutless Commissioner Bud is, I’m guessing we’ll see Pete get an unconditional pardon, sooner rather than later, and he’ll be managing the Reds again by this time next year.
My friend Jeremy Wahlman was there, and got to “breathe the same air as Bill James”; check out his report.