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Pete Rose’s All-Star Game home plate collision, IN THRILLING BLACK & WHITE – Baseball Superstars Comics #4

July 10, 2012

It’s that time a year again, when countless sports radio shows dredge up the infamous Pete Rose/Ray Fosse collision in the 1970 MLB All-Star Game as the paragon of either A) sublime hustle or B) stupid overkill. It’s become a tired sportstalk trope, an artifact from a decades old exhibition that refuses to die — much like the infinite “Does Pete Rose belong in the Hall of Fame” debates. They’re both worn but inescapable rites of summertime.

Which makes this as good a time as any to dredge up a hastily assembled, whimsically hagiographic biocomic of Mr. Rose.

Revolutionary Comics published a number of these baseball-themed books in the 1990s to go along with the rest of their “unauthorized” biographical accounts of celebrities, rock groups, politicians, etc. (An R.E.M. book was featured in a melancholy post here on the day that that band broke up.) They’re all of varying — but mostly terrible — quality. They all have a slapdash feel to them, like those scandal books you’d find at the checkout aisle in a Wal-Mart while said scandal is still fresh. JonBenet Ramsey: Now the Truth Can Be Told. Crap like that.

Most of the time the comics took on the sunshiney p.o.v. of hagiography, embracing wholeheartedly the tack that everyone is the hero of their own story. All well and good for most, but in Rose’s case it’s a bit harder. He’s spent time in the hoosegow. He never passed up a chance to make a quick buck hawking useless junk (the American Way, but still…). He has a lifetime ban from baseball. He was never a model of virtue. And these are the things that were established before this comic’s publication date. Now there are two more decades of embarrassing crap, from his appearances in pro wrestling to his rather pathetic baseball signing habits. It’s a tough retro sell to convince any reader that Rose is a marble model, a hero for our times. But here this comic stands, a varnished and very stilted take on the life and times of Charlie Hustle.

The story (Script: Mitsuko Herrera, Art: Greg Fox) starts on maybe the most awkward note I’ve ever encountered in a comic book:

What do I take away from those two panels? That Pete Rose is somehow responsible for both the Lincoln assassination and the sinking of the Titanic, that’s what. PLAY BALL!

The story begins with Rose’s birth, travels through the fits and starts of his athletic career, up through the minors and into the bright lights and big cities of the big leagues. All the big names (like Mickey Mantle and Johnny Bench) and all the highlights are in there, including the aforementioned Midsummer Classic collision:

I’m sure Fosse was fine with Rose going all out, but it would nice of there was more perspective in here. The point and counterpoint leaves a little objectivity to be desired. “It’s fine.” “Yeah, it’s fine.” Okay then.

Here’s the moment when the all-time hit record of Ty Cobb (another subject of comic book biography) was broken — note the OMINOUS GAMBLING FORESHADOWING:

It was the betting that undid Pete, leading to both his exile from the game he was so skilled at as well as some time in prison (it looks like the late William Rehnquist was the jurist who sent him there):

And that’s pretty much where it ends.

The book reads like a third-grader’s book report. This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened… It’s numbing in that regard. The art, while at times looking sharp (like the “hit record” panels above), isn’t enough to pull it out of the dive. There are sequences where the storytelling is horrendously bad. The death of Rose’s father is so stilted, I found myself laughing out loud. Which made me feel bad, because it’s talking about a guy’s Dad passing on. Which made me dislike this book, WHICH MADE ME DO IT.

It doesn’t help that the comic trips over itself to praise. It makes itself look foolish, devoting a significant amount of time to make the point the PETE ROSE NEVER BET ON BASEBALL, which rings doubly false since Rose finally admitted to that in recent years. That’s hindsight, but it’s unavoidable. Posterity’s a bitch.

I’ve always — in between eye rolls — felt great waves of sympathy for Rose, a man born to play a child’s game, but someone who never seemed to settle into the human thing called life. But whatever inclinations one has towards Mr. Hustle’s cause (and I have very few, just that sympathy thing), this comic will do nothing to further them.

Enjoy the game tonight. For once, my home town Washington Nationals are good and don’t have a single token “we have to have one rep from these dogs” player on the National League roster, but actual STARS like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, so I’ll watch closely for the first time in years. And hopefully no one will get their bells rung at the plate.

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