MOCK TRIAL? YES, IT WAS
No reality TV show in memory has provided us such a spectacle as last Thursday’s Pete Rose on Trial on ESPN. The mock trial, under the auspices of Harvard Law School, asked a jury and viewers at home to decide the question “Should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame?” Alan Dershowitz was the prosecutor while Johnnie Cochran defended the absent Rose. The proceedings were friendly until, a little more than an hour into the show, Dershowitz attacked baseball analyst Bill James for being skeptical of the credibility of testimony in the Dowd Report, in which the major case for banning Rose from baseball for gambling on the game was presented.
Angered by The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, in which James questioned the reliability of witnesses against Rose, Dershowitz pointed his finger and yelled at James, “You made that up!” referring to the results of a lie detector test taken by the girlfriend of a former Rose flunky. “I have made a great many serious mistakes,” James calmly replied, “but I do not believe this is one of them.”
Dershowitz had no case to present outside of the flimsy circumstantial evidence included in the Dowd Report, which James exposed as a “prosecutor’s brief” that revealed then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti‘s bias against Rose.
Ultimately, what Pete Rose On Trial highlighted was the obvious fact that Rose has never had his day in court. (Since MLB is legally self-governing, Rose would stand virtually no chance of even being granted a trial.) Given the weakness of MLB’s evidence against Rose, we now know why. By the way, Rose was “admitted” into the Hall of Fame by eight of the 12 jurors and by 80 percent of the fans voting by phone and online. —Allen Barra
TREATIN’ HER LIKE A (RHYMES WITH ‘PITCH’)
Blonder than Lou Piniella, faster than a Jamie Moyer changeup, able to leap David Eckstein in a single bound—terrifying Valkyrie/softball pitcher Jennie Finch is everywhere these days, from the ESPYs to the All-Star Game. The telegenic six-foot ace (dubbed “the Anna Kournikova of softball” by the Associated Press) became the first-ever female correspondent on This Week in Baseball in May, but legions of pre-teen Finchettes already worshiped her. At the University of Arizona she set the NCAA record for consecutive wins (60), whiffed 366 in 273 1/3 innings senior year (with an 0.97 ERA), and was the MVP of the softball College World Series. (Experts consider the 22-year-old a lock to make the 2004 Olympic team.)
Finch strives to be more role model than supermodel—she conducts charity camps and turned down a Playboy shoot—but her TWIB spots send a mixed message. The show’s condescending attitude as she interviews various players starts with the announcer’s intro: “Anything they can do, she just might do better!” Clad in a cute little jersey and short-shorts, Finch talks shop with a big-leaguer in full uniform who coaches her through a fielding or hitting drill, dutifully lauding her athleticism—as if she hasn’t been playing ball since the age of five—then takes a few at-bats against her on a softball diamond. None of the guys has managed a hit off her yet. Cue laughter from onlookers as their teammate gets struck out by a girl. (A-Rod chickened out of even trying.) Ostensibly having hired Finch for her baseball cred, TWIB‘s producers end up treating her like eye candy. Ever heard the one about the road to hell? —J.Y. Yeh
Armando Benitez came to the Yankees all smiles last week, and why not? He’s the setup man rather than the closer, he’s got Mariano Rivera ready to bail him out, he has a good shot at a championship ring, and he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. (Some team will want him—there’s a baseball owner born every minute.) Still, even though he’s 30 and has nearly a decade in the bigs, Benitez remains a thrower, not a pitcher. Even at 97 mph, his fastballs have zero movement. His greatest strength—machismo—is also his biggest weakness; Paul O’Neill‘s pivotal at-bat against him in the 2000 World Series was only one of scores of times we’ve seen him throw the same exact pitch over and over, unable to believe that a batter is actually hitting it. We’ll always remember when he blew a game at Shea earlier this year and, as usual, complained that the media wanted to talk to him only when he did badly. “But, Armando,” someone said, “when we cover the Yankees, we don’t talk to Mariano when he gets the save. It’s news when he doesn’t.” The thick-headed hurler just stared blankly and said, “That’s the Yankees. We’re the Mets.” Not anymore, big guy. —Billy Altman
THE MORALS TO THE STORY
“Adultery” as a defense for Kobe Bean Bryant against what amounts to a charge of forcible rape at a Rocky Mountain resort? That defense probably won’t get him much rhythm from Colorado officials. D.A. Mark Hurlbert, ex-varsity skier at Dartmouth, interned for then-Senator Bill Armstrong, a wealthy Colorado GOP moralist, who pours money into nationwide “family values,” abstinence, and anti-abortion campaigns. Sex as fun? Armstrong once publicly railed about “the self-created miseries of pleasure-addicted gays.” Hurlbert was appointed to his elective D.A. post by Governor Bill Owens, another religious conservative. —Ward Harkavy