About midway through Pete Rose on Trial, which aired Thursday night on ESPN, a TV show broke out. For the first hour and a half, things were pretty tepid in the mock trial as Alan Dershowitz (prosecution) and Johnnie Cochran (defense) presented their cases for whether or not Pete Rose should be eligible for baseball's Hall of Fame.
You knew right off what kind of trial it would be when Judge Catherine Crier announced that procedure would follow "the spirit but not the minutiae of the law." (The spirit of whose law? The Rose issue has never come to court, and Rose wasn't even present Thursday.) Commentary was ineptly handled by ESPN's Bob Ley and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, both of whom seemed prepared to accept Major League Baseball's case against Rose and who appeared stunned at the end when the jury voted 8-4 in Rose's favor. More than 300,000 call-in and online votes went Rose's way by a margin of nearly 4-1.
Most of the "evidence" came in the form of testimony from former ballplayers such as Jim Palmer, Henry Aaron, Dave Parker, Steve Garvey, and Bill "Spaceman" Lee. The players commented on whether Rose's achievements as a player merited a plaque in Cooperstown (of course they do) or whether Rose's gambling activities (about which none of the former players knew anything specific) invalidated his claim to the HOF. Most notable among them was Lee, who admitted he thought Rose had bet on baseball but answered "not really" when asked whether or not Rose's alleged transgression merited a lifetime ban from baseball.
Dershowitz fouled out by comparing the accusations that Rose bet on baseball to Shoeless Joe Jackson's lifetime ban for conspiring to fix the 1919 World Series. Whether or not Jackson actually helped fix the games will always be open to question, but there is no question that he conspired and took the money. No one has ever claimed such a thing regarding Pete Rose, who has been accused of nothing more than betting on sports without a shred of hard evidence that he ever bet on a baseball game.
That's the crux of the matter. The beginning and end of all arguments that Rose bet on baseball come from the Dowd Report, which then-commissioner Bart Giamatti ordered in 1989. (The report is named for John Dowd, Giamatti's handpicked investigator.) This must have occurred to Alan Dershowitz, who, like so many lawyers who are passionate baseball fans, gets a little nuts on the topic of Pete Rose. On Thursday, Dershowitz got a little nuts with the writer Bill James, who has done more to point out the Dowd Report's fundamental flaws than anyone else.
Johnnie Cochran had already scored big when he coaxed James into testimony that called into question the prosecution's primary evidence:
JC: "And to the extent of relevance to these proceedings, can you describe that report for us and for this jury? What was in that Dowd Report?"
BJ: "The Dowd Report is a prosecutor's brief. It is my opinion that early on in the process of investigating the allegations against Pete Rose, Rose met with Dowd, and Rose told Dowd a number of lies. Dowd understandably became very angry, and he became convinced that Rose was guilty, and he wrote a prosecutor's brief intended to prove that Rose was guilty."
JC: "You've read that report, haven't you?"
BJ: "I have."
JC: "Now, there's never been any official finding by baseball that Pete Rose ever gambled on baseball. Is that correct?"
BJ: "That is correct."
If I were—and you'll please excuse the expression—a betting man, I would give odds that in an actual trial, those points, which have never been challenged by any of Rose's critics, would offer a surer chance of victory than Sandy Koufax pitching in a night game at home against the New York Mets the day after Rosh Hashanah. In fact, they have proved so irrefutable that they are the primary reason why MLB has never tried to make a legal case against Rose.
Dershowitz must have concluded that he couldn't put a dent in James' case against the Dowd Report, so in his cross examination he decided to undermine James' credibility. On the subject of Paul Janszen, the body builder and Rose flunky who had testified that Rose placed bets on baseball, James has written: "Janszen and his girlfriend both insist that these were Pete Rose's bets, and both took lie detector tests to prove it. And both failed. When Janszen failed his lie detector test, John Dowd arranged for him to be re-tested by a more sympathetic polygraph artist, and Janszen got by the second test. When his girlfriend bombed her test, Dowd just wrote her off as a lost cause, and failed to mention in the Dowd Report that she had ever taken the test."
Rather than dealing with the key point as to whether Janszen, who had several axes to grind with Rose at that point, was lying about who placed the baseball bets, Dershowitz chose to focus on Janszen's girlfriend, Danielle Markham. Dershowitz argued that there was no evidence that Markham had ever failed a lie detector test and asked James where he got his information.