Investigative Docuseries Backstory Returns Jan. 19 with “Banned for Life*”

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Investigative Docuseries Backstory Returns Jan. 19 with “Banned for Life*”

ESPN Pulitzer Prize-Winning Reporter Don Van Natta, Jr., Explores, Connects Lifetime Baseball Bans of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Pete Rose

With 2020 Hall of Fame Class Voting Results to be Revealed Jan. 21, Rose Makes Impassioned Case for Reinstatement in New Interview

The legacy of Major League Baseball’s punishments of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose is examined in the thought-provoking and revelatory second episode of Backstory, the ESPN documentary series featuring the investigative reporting of three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Don Van Natta, Jr.

“Banned for Life*” premieres Sunday, Jan. 19, at 8 p.m. GMT on ESPN Player, and will be available on-demand. Driven by Van Natta’s incisive voice as a reporter, Backstory takes viewers on a personal, journalistic journey as the lives of the two former baseball stars are connected.

With the Baseball Hall of Fame voting reveal coming up on Jan. 21, and in the wake of the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series that led to Jackson’s lifetime ban, and 30 years after Rose was banned for betting on baseball, Backstory revisits the stories with new reporting and fresh interviews. Van Natta explores what happened then, what has happened since and what some feel should happen now.

In a wide-ranging, sometimes combative interview with Van Natta, Rose makes an impassioned, emotional case for reinstatement by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

“Is taking money to throw a World Series game the same as betting on your own team to win? It is very different,” Rose said in the interview, which was shot at a casino in Las Vegas where he works signing memorabilia. “I’m the one who’s lost 30 years. Just to take baseball out of my heart penalized me more than you could imagine.”

In his reporting, Van Natta interviewed former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent, who as deputy commissioner led the investigation when Rose was banned in 1989, and former MLB special counsel John Dowd, who was involved in a 1989 re-opening of the Jackson case by the commissioner’s office and wrote the 225-page “Dowd Report” during the Rose investigation.

Van Natta found that Rose’s lawyer told Rose that if he signed the agreement banning him from baseball, he’d likely be reinstated after only one year. Dowd says it was a lie, and Vincent explains, “Later, his lawyer admitted to me… he said to me, ‘Fay, I had to tell Pete some things that I believe were necessary as his friend and his counselor and his lawyer to get him to sign an agreement. I think was a great agreement for him.”

Van Natta’s reporting took him to multiple locations, among them Jackson’s hometown of Greenville, S.C., the Chicago History Museum for a review of its collection of Black Sox documents, and the “Field of Dreams” site in Iowa where MLB plans to hold a regular season game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox in August.

Among others interviewed:

  • Charles Fountain, author of The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball.
  • Arlene Marclay, founder of the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville, S.C.
  • Jacob Pomrenke, Director of Editorial Content, Society for American Baseball Research.
  • John Sayles, director and writer of the 1988 movie Eight Men Out about the Black Sox scandal.

“The stories of Jackson and Rose are even more relevant when considering recent choices by Major League Baseball to embrace legalized sports wagering through sponsorships and other strategies,” said Van Natta. “And with the elections to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for 2020 to be announced on January 21st, their ineligibility for election is again in the spotlight.”

Backstory’s debut episode “Serena vs. The Umpire,” launched the series in August. Subjects and airdates for additional episodes of Backstory will be announced later.

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Oliver Clarke

Ollie first joined ESPN in 2016 from the University of Birmingham. Ollie looks after all things direct-to-consumer in EMEA. This includes, but not limited to, customer acquisition and retention, programming, customer life cycle management and communications.
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