Each and every hot stove season we induct another batch of legends into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. With the recent announcement of Barry Larkin’s selection to this year’s class, there is more reason than ever to consider Cooperstown. But when any Cincinnati Reds fan thinks of the Hall of Fame, there is an association he or she will almost always make. No Reds fan considers Cooperstown without harkening back to Charlie Hustle and his absence from those hallowed halls.
I consider myself a baseball junkie, and when I imagine the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I picture Cooperstown and the physical location. I think of the Museum, the various galleries, the Grandstand Theatre and the Records Room, among other things… But I also envision the players, managers, umpires, executives and pioneers who are enshrined there. If you think of the Hall, you must also think of the legends of baseball who form the foundation of the Hall. Without these men of fame, the Hall of Fame would be nothing.
When the discussion naturally evolves to history, statistics and the compelling arguments behind why certain people are honored and others are not, the discussion almost always takes another turn, at least for me, it turns to Pete Rose. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to bore you with my take on Pete Rose and his banishment from baseball. I won’t discuss gambling or the Dowd Report, it’s been covered a million times. I only intend to explain why I find Pete Rose on my mind at this time of year.
I have been thinking of Rose so much in fact, that I decided to do something I had refused to do for almost eight years. I decided to rent a 2004 made for television movie entitled “Hustle”. Yes, I’m certain you know the one. Widely considered the most pathetic attempt possible at portraying the life and times of Charlie Hustle. I had avoided this movie like the plague based largely on two facts; it was produced by ESPN and because somebody thought it was a good idea to cast Tom Sizemore as Pete Rose. Plus, it was a made for television movie and I knew it would be limited in scope and budget. With Sizemore as the lead, I knew Rose would take on the demeanor of either a moron or a mafia boss, neither of which is accurate.
I’d like to offer a short review of the movie “Hustle” and also discuss a more recent production, “4192 The Crowning of the Hit King”, a film that improves on the story, but still leaves something to be desired. Finally, I’ll offer my concept of a film that presents like “Moneyball” and a story that sells itself, if only somebody in Hollywood would simply do it right.
As for “Hustle”, what can I say, it lived up to the reputation it had earned from the various reviews I had read:
“Because I’m a sports fanatic and few athletes are better suited for a biography movie than Pete Rose, I was initially excited about seeing this movie. But I became skeptical when learning that it was made by ESPN. Although I generally enjoy that station, I was colossally disappointed in the only movie of theirs I’d previously seen, their debut, 2002’s “A Season on the Brink.” That movie is a painfully shallow and amateur adaptation of John Feinstein’s outstanding chronicle of Indiana University’s 1985-86 men’s basketball team.” – IMDB Review
“The theme of HUSTLE was to show what a superficial low-life Pete Rose was. This basic issue is illustrated relentlessly. Rose used his friends, he lied to everyone, and he never really felt any remorse about anything. Unfortunately, because of who Pete Rose was, and all the great Baseball players that he interacted with, it seems like no movie could have really done a credible job unless it had more substance and was much longer. There was so much substance missing from this movie that it just seemed very trite.” – IMDB Review
“The movie portrays a lot of truth but one has to wonder how much is actually embellished. It was interesting to get a behind the scenes look into how a gambling addiction can consume a person and destroy everything and everyone around them. For the most part this is just a made for T.V. movie and although interesting at times, I came away disappointed with it.” – Amazon.com Customer Review
I will agree with almost all of the reviews I have browsed for this film. The quality of the acting was poor, the dialogue and screenwriting was sloppy and the story was a caricature of the real Pete Rose. It was as if ESPN didn’t care at all about the accuracy of the portrayal, only that the portrayal was adequately damning of Rose. This fact became immediately evident when the movie opened with Rose already past his playing days and about to enter the downward spiral of his life in the mid-80’s as the Reds’ manager. It was apparent right away that this film was going to be the train wreck portion of Rose’s career only, any references to the glory days would be limited to the ramblings of Sizemore’s rendition of Rose.
It’s important to point out, I am not a proponent of ignoring the ugly facts. If a proper motion picture was to be made on the Great Pete Rose, I do believe the story should be told, in full. To ignore the gambling, the downward spiral and the eventual train wreck would be to gloss over reality. Just as ignoring everything that lead to Rose becoming the all-time Major League leader in hits would be a travesty. I knew heading in that “Hustle” was not going to be a fair portrayal, or even a quality portrayal of Pete Rose’s life.
The movie follows the facts of the Dowd Report to the letter, so it’s a factual rendering of the evidence detailed in that report, but the amount of creative license in regards to Rose’s personality and conduct as well as his private life and family life is excessive to the point of being absurd. Sizemore’s portrayal of Rose makes him out to be an imbecile, a stooge, and apparently a hunchback. There is, as would be expected from the Worldwide Leader, a fair amount of smear. The film only exists to tell the story of Pete Rose as manager of the Reds and degenerate gambler, not baseball legend. The fact that up until about a year ago, “Hustle” represented Hollywood’s lone piece of work on Pete Rose was a debacle of the highest order and reason enough for me to not waste a minute of my life watching it. Now, with the release of “4192 The Crowning of the Hit King”, that’s no longer the case. Now, “Hustle” can be viewed as one angle, but not the only angle.
I haven’t seen “4192” yet, but I do plan on seeing it as soon as possible. Unfortunately, “4192” is more of a documentary than a full length feature film. While I have no doubt “4192” paints a more honest picture of Pete Rose’s career and accomplishments, I am equally certain is focuses very little attention on Rose’s gambling or the events that took place after his playing days ended. It should be quite entertaining, but it won’t play to the crowd like “Moneyball”, and it won’t feature a cast of actors that bring the story to life the way Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill did for Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. This film is strictly a documentary.
Finally, I would like to present my idea for a proper Pete Rose film. The facts are already in place, the story has been written and there is very little work that should need to go into creating an epic film with the potential to rake at the box office while maintaining the integrity of Pete Rose’s legacy. I would select Matt Damon to play the role of Pete Rose. Damon would be my choice for multiple reasons, the least of which is his ability to pull off the athletic elements of this role. For starters, Damon is a huge baseball fan. Secondly, everything Matt Damon touches turns to gold. His connections to Ben Affleck/LivePlanet/Miramax Films are powerful enough to create something on a grand scale and attract other big name actors and actresses to fill out the cast. Affleck might even make for an excellent Paul Janszen, which would give Damon and Affleck an opportunity to work closely together again.
I believe any feature film on Rose should include a study of the Queen City. Much in the same way “Gone Baby Gone” paints a detailed portrait of South Boston, the viewer should be treated to a location piece and a time piece. The film should also feature other members of the Big Red Machine, the men that played with Rose, which was an element completely lost on ESPN’s version of the tale.
The attempt to tell Pete Rose’s story has been a microcosm of the story itself. Just as Rose’s career had two diametrically opposed aspects, so has the telling of his story. In “Hustle” we learn only of the degenerate gambler, in “4192 The Crowning of the Hit King”, I suspect we will be entertained strictly by the baseball accomplishments. Neither story seems complete. In Pete Rose the player, we have a man that is responsible for a 23-year baseball career that provided history altering moments for the sport of baseball, moments that would have made him a slam dunk Hall of Famer. This same man that gave everything he had to the game of baseball for over two decades then watched it crumble over the course of four years as a manager. The telling of this story must consist of both sides of that story. So far, I am afraid neither film presents the story in a form that does it justice.