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Balls Out

By Brian Prisco | Film | July 9, 2010 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | July 9, 2010 |

This documentary is screening as part of the All Sports LA Film Festival and will be screening this Saturday. Information can be found on the website. In the interest of full disclosure, I was afforded press passes to attend this screening.

These days, Pete Rose looks like a Reno televangelist. Decked out in a striped dress shirt with “Hit King” embroidered on the collar (a design which he owns in several different color variations), unnaturally darkened hair, spangled boots, and a flashy gold watch, Rose and that famous gap-toothed grin weeps at adulation and preaches the gospel of baseball with fiery bluntness. He is not here to preach a loving and embracing sport but that of damnation and hellfire. Like a scarred and weathered Fred Flinstone, Rose is doing everything he can in his waning days, beseeching all who will listen to accept him into the hallowed gates of the Baseball Hall of Fame. And baseball refuses to listen, having denied his application for reinstatement until the cock crowed. Rose broke more Major League Baseball records than Maguire, Bonds, and Giambi broke blood vessels popping human growth hormones. Or Sammy Sosa did corked bats. Or like teamsters should have broken Jim Gray’s legs after ambushing Rose during his one moment of acceptance back in 1999. Charlie Hustle deserves his time to shine. You need look no further than 4192: The Crowning of the Hit King, which is less documentary and more a detailed pro-Rose propaganda infomercial, to see why. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Pete Rose is inarguably one of the toughest workhorses ever to don a jersey, and the fact that baseball continues to hold up the ban and besmirch his legacy is about as laughable as “Two and Half Men” isn’t.

4192 isn’t some sort of dyslexic ode to Christopher Columbus. It’s the moment when Pete Rose officially broke the record for most career hits. He finished his career with 4256, which is a number unlikely to be approached by modern players, due mostly to the fact that Rose accumulated them over 24 consecutive seasons of play. Which is also a record. He was the last player/manager ever to grace the field of baseball, finishing off his career where he started with the Cincinnati Reds. He is the winningest player EVER, in any sport, having participated in 1972 winning games. Like he breaks it down in the movie, imagine a player playing for 19 years and winning 100 games a season — which only one team has actually done ONCE in the past decade, the Yankees — and that player would still be 72 wins short. Rose accumulated three World Series victories, numerous batting awards, was voted Sportsman of the Year a bunch times, Sportsman of the DECADE for the 1970s. I mean, what’s the only thing missing? Oh, right. A plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I think Cooperstown’s even got the space allotted for it; they’re just waiting for the MLB to pull their fucking heads out of their asses.

Rose’s career was of course marred by controversy. Allegations were leveled at him about using a corked bat — you know, the same technique that Sosa used to break records — even though it’s been scientifically proven by the guys of “Mythbusters” (OK, its not science but fuck you) that corked bats don’t do shit. He was suspended for shoving an umpire during an argument. He admitted to using amphetamines during games and for weight loss. And most famously, he was banned from baseball for life by the William fucking Henry Harrison of Baseball Commissioners, A. Bartlett Giamatti, during his brief tenure for gambling on baseball.

Yes. Pete Rose gambled on baseball. He has openly admitted this fact. On his own team in fact. To win. Sure, as a player-manager, he was in a position to influence his team’s ability to win. BECAUSE THAT’S HIS FUCKING JOB. He’s supposed to win the goddamn game. So sure, maybe it’s a little shady that he gambled. But this is supposedly the most unforgivable mar against baseball?

Sports are terrible these days. Players are accused of gambling, attempted murders, dogfighting, chemical enhancement, and actual murders. And that’s just the Baltimore Ravens. Okay, it’s the Eagles, fuck you. The only records broken in baseball lately have been done by guys juicing like an overworked smoothie attendant. Where are the heroes in baseball? You’re telling me we’re supposed to root for Curt Schilling, Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Manny Ramirez? You’re out of your fucking mind. Pete Rose wasn’t one of the talented players. He was an animal, hitting the ball and getting on base, and playing like his kids were tied up in a dynamite shack, and if he didn’t win, KA-BOOM. He earned the nickname Charlie Hustle because he used to sprint to first on a walk. He was famous for sliding headfirst into the bags — whether he needed to or not. Even more famous, and probably the reason I love Rose the most, is during the All-Star Game when he came barreling into home to lay out catcher Ray Fosse. Fosse didn’t even have the ball. Rose separated Fosse’s shoulder and scored the winning run. Why I love Rose is that he checked to make sure Fosse was okay, but his response to the situation was, “If you see me coming, and you don’t have the ball, get the hell out of the way.”

Major League Baseball wants an apology before they’ll let Rose into the Hall of Fame. Otherwise, he’s banned for life. Where he joins Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, who were also banned for working as casino greeters. Of course, they were reinstated. Oh, and the owner he used to manage under, Marge Schott, who was banned from baseball for making anti-semitic and homophobic slurs. Of course, Marge was later reinstated. Because gambling on your own team to win is way worse than hate speech.

Pete Rose might be a thug (also famous for leveling a second-baseman with an elbow to the face) and definitely a gambler, and more than likely a pill-popper. But he’s also a phenomenal player. He turned teams around, notably the Philadelphia Phillies of the early ’80s. He’s also a bit of a whiner. He complained about having his consecutive hitting streak broken by Gene Garber when the pitcher struck him out in the 9th, which sounded like sour grapes. He’s definitely lied about the gambling, and he might be an asshole. But you can’t take away his decades worth of accomplishments because of one fucking mistake. Sean Penn repeatedly beat Robin Wright Penn, and we gave him an Oscar. So, forget all that other shit because Pete Rose is a fucking hell of a ball player.

And that’s what 4192 is about. It doesn’t acknowledge or address the gambling or drug use or the corked bats or any of that jazz. It’s simply about Rose’s legendary accomplishments. It’s hilarious to sit down and listen to Rose wax about his history. Some of the stories are gut-busting. And that’s most of the documentary — Rose himself, with appearances by a few other players like Mike Schmidt and Tony Perez, as well as a strange cameo kind of narrative by J.K. Simmons. I’m not sure if it was like the Chevy Chase roast — nobody came — or because the filmmakers were working on a limited budget and couldn’t get more interviews. Couple that with the complete rug-brushing of the controversy, and it comes off as a little more than a shoddy infomercial by a huckster preacher selling snake oil. But in actuality, I kind of like that about 4192. It’s just about the fucking baseball and how great Rose is, and how ridiculous it is that he’s not in the Hall of Fame. It’s got tons of wonderful moments, particularly when Rose hit the 4000th hit and ended up on first base with his longtime pal Tony Perez, now playing for the other team.

By the way, that 4191 record, set by the only other player to date to have broken 4000 hits? That would be none other than Ty Cobb, inarguably one of the finest players of baseball and another major record holder. Cobb was also an unapologetic racist who climbed into the stands during a game to beat the hell out of a jeering fan, crippled with no hands. Cobb repeatedly got into fights with black greensmen, bus operators, elevator operators, and sometimes their wives, who he used to choke if they got involved. Cobb also was accused of betting, but the allegations went away. And he once stabbed a black guy, who tried to break up a fight between Cobb and some of the hired help. That Ty Cobb. The first player voted into the Cooperstown Hall of Fame on practically every ballot.

Drop the fucking ban, you hypocrites.