It was 1989 when Pete Rose was banned from baseball, and it was evident the repercussions would never die, not as long as baseball exists.
That’s because of the taint and stain placed on the game and because of Rose’s Type A personality, a mentality that won’t let it die from his perspective.
His lifetime (and beyond) banishment for gambling on baseball was 29 years ago, but its poignancy continues, live and in living color at the Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton.
The Human Race Theatre Company’s “Banned From Baseball,” a play depicting Rose’s battle with then baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti and investigator John Dowd, is currently on a run through Sunday, Sept. 23.
Rose is played forcefully and accurately by Brian Dykstra, who not only resembles Rose on stage, but perfectly captures Rose’s arrogance, stubbornness, boastfulness and egotistical characteristics.
Those are characteristics that helped mold Rose into baseball’s all-time hits leader, The Hit King. They also are characteristics that led to his downfall as a man who believed because of his stature in the game that he was a Teflon ball player who could do whatever he pleased and suffer no consequences.
From the moment Dykstra walks on stage, it is evidence that writer Patricia O’Hara and director Margaret Perry did their homework.
Dykstra was wearing a gaudy plaid jacket, white shoes, tan slacks and a huge watch, a style Rose perpetuated. As one baseball official said when Rose applied for re-instatement, “I never met the man, but when he walked in the door dressed like a pimp, I instantly disliked him.”
Dykstra also affected accurately Rose’s mannerisms, body language and voice inflections. It was as if Rose was playing himself.
After he banished Rose, permitting him to walk away from the game without admitting he bet on the game, Giamatti, a heavy smoker, died eight days later of a heart attack.
Close friends and some baseball officials blamed the stress Rose put on Giamatti as the reason for his death. In one of the play’s best lines, Dykstra says, “I didn’t kill Bart Giamatti. Bart Giamatti killed me.”
O’Hara, the playwright, said the play draws no conclusions as to whether Rose did or did not bet on baseball. But by using all the evidence dug up by investigator John Dowd there is no doubt about the guilt.
Dykstra, though, does a perfect enactment of Rose’s attitude throughout the investigation — deny, deny, deny.
At one point, during a meeting with Dowd that actually took place at the Bergamo Center in Dayton, Dykstra points a finger at Dowd (played by K.L Storer) and says, “I did not bet on baseball. And I did not bet on the Cincinnati Reds.” While Dykstra is screaming, Storrer (Dowd) is waving the evidence in his face.
Throughout the play, Rose is given a chance to confess. His attorney, Reuven Katz (played by Marc Moritz) implores him to come clean and Giamatti would go easy on him, suspend him one year and he would be eligible for re-instatement. Dykstra belligerently, in Rose fashion, says his fans are behind him and won’t stand for any lifetime banishment.
Bart Giamatti was an erudite and sometimes pompous man, president of Yale University before becoming commissioner. His pomposity is portrayed admirably by Doug Mackenzie.
Giamatti was a baseball lover and an idealist, a man who idolized Rose the baseball player. And he didn’t want to believe Rose would be so foolish as to break baseball’s rule 21-d: “Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
Assistant commissioner Fay Vincent (played by Scott Hunt) is adamantly anti-Rose and implores Giamatti to banish Rose. Giamatti’s stance changes when Dowd presents the evidence and the commissioner wants to give Rose an out.
He says over and over that if Rose admits his guilt he would be suspended one year and one year only. But Rose continues to deny guilt to Giamatti and everybody else. Giamatti is left with no recourse and takes the ultimate action specified in rule 21-d.
In the final scene, Dykstra is seated at a table, selling his autograph, as Rose still does in Las Vegas and other venues. Dykstra says, “I’m still going to be in the Hall of Fame.”
No, he isn’t.
The play doesn’t address Rose’s confession in 2004, 15 years after he was banished. He did it in a book, “My Prison Without Bars,” for which he was paid a $1 million advance.
Whether you believe Rose has served his time or if you believe he remains a pariah to the game, “Banned From Baseball” is worth seeing and take that from a guy who lived it in 1989 as part of the Dayton Daily News’ mostly exclusive coverage of a fallen idol.
WANT TO GO?
What: “Banned from Baseball”
Where: Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton
When: Sept. 6-23; 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings; 7 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings; and 2 p.m. Sunday matinees.
Tickets: $37-$55 adults; $34-$48 for seniors; and $19.50-$27 for students. Prices vary depending on the day of the week and seating location. Group discounts available for parties of 10 or more.
More info: humanracetheatre.org