In 2003 ESPN staged “Pete Rose: On Trial”, a mock court to decide if baseball’s all-time hits leader, banned for life for allegedly betting on games he managed, should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. JOHNIE COCHRAN, lead counsel for Rose, lead off with three credible, albeit uninspiring, character witnesses before unveiling his cleanup hitter.
Cochran: The defense calls Hank Aaron.
Henry Aaron made his way to the stand as did, in honor, the entire gallery. No more dignified figure in sports, he began his testimony recalling a more surprising ovation.
Aaron: 1999, All-Century Team, ‘lanta, Jawja. All the greats are bein’ introduced, but most folks ‘spected me to get the biggest cheers ‘cuz I played so many years there. And they treated me great, don’t get me wrong. But Pete Rose got the best cheers that night. Pete never played in Atlanta!
Cochran: What do you think the people were saying?
Aaron: ‘Put Pete in the Hall.’ And that’s why I come here today. So I could say put Pete in the Hall.
Cochran holds up his hand, muffling the incipient applause from the pro Pete gallery.
Cochran: Was Pete Rose a gambler?
Aaron: Oh sure, lotta guys were back then. Horses, cards – wadn’t my flavor, ya understand, but I was around ’em, I saw it.
Cochran: Did you ever witness Pete Rose bet on baseball?
Aaron: No sir, never.
Cochran: Not one time?
Aaron: Not one time. And we was together ‘fore most games.
Cochran: Thank you very kindly, Mr. Aaron, no further questions.
ALAN DERSHOWITZ rises for the cross. After rhetorically knocking out the previous character witnesses, he wisely approached the distinguished slugger with kid gloves.
Dershowitz: Henry Aaron. “Hammerin’ Hank.” One of the great nicknames in the history of sports.
He turns to the jury.
Not only does it befit the all-time home run king, it also describes the way he swung the bat – downward, like a hammer.
Fist over fist, Dershowitz mimes a short, downward swing as Henry frowns, impressed.
Dershowitz: No one questions your loyalty to a friend and former teammate. <genial> But surely Mr. Aaron you would agree, if you saw betting slips with Pete Rose’s fingerprints, might you change your opinion?
Henry scowls, giving it careful consideration.
Aaron: I suppose it would.
Dershowitz: And surely Mr. Aaron you would agree…(talking over the LAUGHTER in the courtroom)…if you overheard phone conversations of Pete Rose placing bets on baseball games, might you have to reconsider your position?
Henry is now deeply troubled.
Aaron: Oh I might have to think that some, yessir.
Dershowitz: Thank you Mr. Aaron, no further questions.
Mercifully, Dershowitz hammered Hank with two swift, clean blows and that was it. But the damage had been done. Henry was made to look the fool, naïve enough to listen to the question…think about it…and give an honest answer. It is impossible to quantify how much our discourse would benefit if more of us were like Mr. Aaron…surely you would agree.