Sat, Sep 11, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Docudrama from ESPN illustrates downfall of Rose


In every way, it appears that Major League Baseball endorsed -- or did not stand in the way of -- the making of ESPN's new docudrama, Hustle, about the three years leading to Pete Rose's banishment by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, who died within days of his ruling in 1989.

The film, which will have its premiere on Sept. 25, is far from a love note to baseball. As directed by Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon), there is little baseball action. But there are scenes showing Rose, as the Reds' manager, in the clubhouse planning his bets and in the dugout, ignoring the game to seek out his accomplice Paul Janszen's hand signals that told him how his wagers were faring.

The film follows the smarmy downfall of Rose (played as a con man, with manic intensity, by Tom Sizemore), his obsession with cash, his betrayal of those around him, and his denials about betting on baseball.

It's not Pride of the Yankees, but Hustle is a cautionary tale MLB may have wanted told:

-- The players wear official Cincinnati Reds uniforms, and the names of players and coaches are used (although the name of Rose's lead bookmaker, Ron Peters, is changed). The film is being marketed with Sizemore in a Reds uniform, and men dressed like Reds greeted attendees at Wednesday night's screening at the Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan.

-- Footage of Rose playing is used liberally at the beginning and end of the film, most notably when he stroked the single that broke Ty Cobb's career-hits record.

-- The script, according to ESPN, uses some of the damning evidence uncovered in baseball's investigation by John Dowd to make its case that Rose bet on his team.

But baseball did not approve the script or cooperate with the producers, said Bob DuPuy, president of Major League Baseball. He said baseball did not grant ESPN permission to use the Reds' uniforms or the team's logo, trademarks, and colors in the film, or to use them in promoting the film.

"We didn't like the script," DuPuy said on Thursday. "We like things that celebrate the game, not those that denigrate it. We told them we didn't like the script and wouldn't authorize the use of our marks."

DuPuy objected to how the script dredged up the sour Rose story at a time of interest in the positive stories like Barry Bonds' drive for 700 home runs and beyond.

Yet Rose's campaign for reinstatement, and his hope of one day being eligible for the Hall of Fame, has kept the tale alive. And his admission that he bet on baseball, in his recent autobiography and in various television and print interviews, gave ESPN the impetus to make the film.

George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN, said: "We've kept baseball abreast throughout the development of the project. We believe that we are within our rights to the marks in the film, and we're not aware of any issues, and if there are, I'm confident given our relationship with baseball, that we'll resolve them quickly."

ESPN might have the right to use video footage of Rose and the Reds because of its existing deal to carry major league games. But clearance to use the footage for a docudrama might not have been contemplated.

DuPuy stopped short of saying whether baseball would take any action against ESPN. "Whether it's a violation is up to whoever makes that determination," he said.

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