'The Last Dance' for baseball: Whose career warrants the full documentary treatment?

Yahoo Sports Staff
·11-min read

As ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary series unspools educational, amusing and controversial tales of Michael Jordan’s legendary basketball career, we here at Yahoo Sports couldn’t help but wonder which baseball player’s career was most worthy of a rollicking, all-encompassing retrospective.

So if any ambitious filmmakers out there are looking for inspiration, here are some of the players whose MLB exploits might make for similarly scintillating television.

Pete Rose

No sport's history runs deeper and features more fascinating individuals with complex stories than baseball. The potential options for an epic, personality-driven documentary here are endless. To pick just one is a seemingly impossible task, but there might not be a single player whose story would elicit as much passion, and resonate with as many generations, quite like that of Pete Rose.

Major League Baseball's all-time hit king has always been a lightning rod for controversy. The stories behind those controversies, the perceptions they created, and the outcomes they led to, open the possibility for multiple deep dives that would undoubtedly engage an audience beyond those who typically watch baseball. I mean, if you thought Michael Jordan betting on the Denver Broncos to upset the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII was a fun sidebar in "The Last Dance," just imagine what we could learn if those closest to Rose opened up on his gambling adventures.

The supporting players in Rose's story would create compelling content as well. The "Big Red Machine" Cincinnati Reds teams from the 1970s featured some big personalities that were able to win together on the field, but sometimes clashed off the field. The feud between Rose and Hall of Fame teammate Johnny Bench continued adding layers as recently as 2019.

Several chapters could be based around Rose’s hard-nosed style of play and his “Charlie Hustle” moniker. Rose's ability and willingness to move around the diamond was a big reason the Reds were able to sustain success and a bigger reason he was able to last for 24 seasons. His transition to player-manager and then manager could be an episode. The gambling investigation, his lifetime banishment and his Hall of Fame crusade are all episodes.

And what about his life after baseball? I would watch an entire documentary just based around Rose’s autograph sessions in Las Vegas and Cooperstown, or on his multiple ventures into professional wrestling.

Granted, the cringe factor would undoubtedly be high throughout a Pete Rose documentary. But the thought of unlocking vintage footage we might not know exists and hearing those who know or knew Rose best opening up would be too good to pass up. - Mark Townsend

Ichiro Suzuki

Over the past 20 years, no player has had a bigger impact on baseball than Ichiro Suzuki. The way he changed the game, both in the United States and in Japan, is worth exploring. While Suzuki wasn’t the first player from the Japanese league to play in the majors, his success paved the way for countless other players.

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 01:  Former Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, now an instructor with the team, waves from the dugout during a moment of acknowledgement from the team during the second inning against the Chicago Cubs at T-Mobile Park on May 1, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
Ichiro, who joined the Mariners staff as an instructor after playing his final games, is still beloved in Seattle. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

If the pressure to succeed weighed on Suzuki, it didn’t show during the season. Perhaps things were more difficult behind the scenes, and hearing Suzuki talk about that experience would make for compelling content. On top of that, Suzuki had a unique approach at the plate. He was one of the best hitters in the game, but he was unlike every other player in the majors. Hearing him talk about his hitting style — and listening to pitchers talk about facing him — could be an entire episode.

Above all, though, it would give baseball fans more insight into two of the biggest mysteries of Suzuki’s career. While Suzuki was never a power hitter, many who played with him swore he could win the Home Run Derby if he wanted. He reportedly put on power clinics when taking batting practice. Stories about his power would play well. The same can be said for Suzuki’s expletive-heavy All-Star Game speeches. Maybe we’ll finally know exactly what Suzuki said to rally the American League team all those years.

It helps that Suzuki is one of the more entertaining personalities to play the game in the past two decades. An entire episode about his favorite (NSFW) American expressions or the fact that he didn’t know a thing about Tom Brady would be a lot of fun. - Chris Cwik

Tim Lincecum

In January 2011, CSN Bay Area made a three-part video following Tim Lincecum around his offseason hometown of Seattle for the day. He plays a lot of video games and doesn’t have any art on the wall of his palatial apartment. He eats Chinese food near where he went to high school in Redmond, Washington. It’s not compelling content at all. The 27-year-old was already a two-time Cy Young Award winner and reigning World Series champion. But Lincecum’s life and career have gotten a lot more interesting.

In nearly a decade since then, Lincecum has collected two more World Series rings, two no-hitters, and two failed attempts to regain the brilliance of his earlier career on new teams. He is out of baseball, having pitched 38 1/3 innings as a 32-year-old in 2016 and never again at the big league level. He has also all but disappeared from public view — rarely even showing up to take a curtain call or a glory lap alongside the other members of that Giants dynasty. What happened to The Freak remains largely a mystery.

Personally, I prefer vérité follow docs to historical footage or talking heads. This is a tough sell (literally, in terms of getting a production budget) since you can’t know when someone will do something interesting the same way you can create a narrative around an already compelling completed story. But a documentary about Lincecum would allow you to do both. His career ascendance is already assured, prime for reliving in newfound detail that takes time to delve into the secondary characters from the championship Giants teams. The seemingly sudden loss of his era-defining ability deserves digging into, and certainly leaves room for exploration of similar generational talents gone too soon.

And I would watch at least an episode on what he’s doing now — even if it’s still playing video games and eating Chinese food. Do I think Lincecum’s story could fill 10 hours? Probably not. But maybe 10 20-minute episodes. - Hannah Keyser

Alex Rodriguez

“The Last Dance” has set the bar extremely high for whatever docu-series comes next. Baseball has plenty of fascinating characters, but if we’re talking about 10 episodes, untold stories, beef that still hasn’t died years later and spicy quotes, then there’s only one man for the job.

Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez.

All at once, A-Rod is one of baseball’s biggest stars (still!), one of its biggest villains, perhaps the best image rehab story we’ve seen in sports (ever!). Plus, there are enough untold stories, gossiped-about rumors and jilted ex-teammates and lovers to make this thing not just a sports doc, but a pop culture event.

US singer and actress Jennifer Lopez (R) and husband baseball player Alex Rodriguez arrive for the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
Alex Rodriguez's life in the spotlight has been a roller coaster ride — from prodigal baseball stardom to PED controversy to a refreshed image in retirement. Engaged to Jennifer Lopez, he has found success as a television analyst and personality. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

His story starts as one we know well and identify with — a kid raised by a single mother who grows to be a prodigious sports star. He becomes the best player in baseball, the type of star whose every move makes the back page. Like the time Cameron Diaz fed him popcorn at the Super Bowl. He fought with the Red Sox — literally. He was one of the early victims of the pundits-screaming-on-TV-era when he had lackluster production in the postseason.

There could be an entire episode about his relationship with Derek Jeter. Another about his PED suspension and subsequent battle with both the Yankees and MLB. Remember that he once sued both the Yankees and Major League Baseball. Now he may get more TV time than anyone in baseball with gigs at ESPN and Fox Sports, and he’s engaged to J-Lo — each of those things are probably their own episodes.

Plus there are unanswered questions to examine: Who is the real A-Rod? The young star who wanted to please everyone? The current A-Rod who calls his former self a “jackass?”

It has all the makings of a story that could be just as good as “The Last Dance.” - Mike Oz

Lenny Dykstra

I have no idea what Lenny Dykstra is up to these days, what Uber driver he’s terrorizing or what neighbor he’s pissing off or what creative financing he’s schemed of, but I’d pour out some popcorn to find out.

One of the problems with sports documentaries, and why many are flat unwatchable, is they insist on turning athletes into mythological creatures. As though they never made an out, never lacked the courage to be great, never stubbed their toe on a fold of carpet.

On their worst days, they were merely resting up for the next tiny miracle of perfection.

Lenny Dykstra is what’s on the cutting-room floor. He is what happens when the reflexes and then the game go away, and of course the money, and when time (and bills) come due. When nobody believes the con anymore, not even the con man. When they all play their parts but more out of habit.

It would all be so terribly sad, too, mostly for his victims, and yet he also was this amazing ballplayer who played on — and in some ways symbolized — iconic baseball teams in bright-light cities. So it’s not just a fat-cheeked, chin-stained Nails we’re looking at, but the Philadelphia Phillies of John Kruk and Darren Daulton and Mitch Williams and Curt Schilling, the New York Mets of Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden and Kevin Mitchell and Keith Hernandez, what they did, how they did it.

So, yeah, I’d watch and love the baseball and after that root for none of the stuff that happened to happen. It wouldn’t turn out any different, of course, but there’d be no doubt how real it was. - Tim Brown

Mickey Mantle

Here’s the thing about people who win seven World Series rings, 20 All-Star nods, three MVP awards and inner-circle Hall of Famer status: It’s hard to imagine their careers being any better.

And yet, the tragic truth about Mickey Mantle is he could have been so, so much better.

Between his aforementioned credentials, mythical power and speed, Triple Crown, Gold Glove and batting title, there is a case to be made that Mantle is the most talented player in baseball history — the actual answer to, “What would happen if you dropped Mike Trout into the 1950s?”

And he did it all despite playing on half a leg for nearly his entire career and battling a case of alcoholism that stood out even in those days.

I’m imagining a documentary centered around the 1964 World Series, the last gasp of the Yankees’ era of dominance. Basically, “The Last Dance,” but about the series that birthed David Halberstam’s “October 1964.” You could also call it something mirroring Buster Olney’s “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty,” but four decades earlier.

Imagine the world learning about Mantle nearly losing his leg as a teenager and only keeping it because of the recent invention of penicillin. Seeing an entire episode built around the 1961 home run chase. Hearing tales of the New York nightlife. Discussing his rocky relationship with Joe DiMaggio (who would also see plenty of screen time). Experiencing all things Yogi Berra.

We’re talking about a guy who assumed throughout his career that he would die young, just as his father and grandfather had (not realizing that coal mining inhalants played a part in their deaths). Who may or may not have played 17 years on a never-treated torn ACL. Whose liver was visually compared to a doorstop when he finally checked into rehab.

And still, inner-circle Hall of Famer.

That is a person whose life story I went to see in detail, even if Father Time means we will never get a “Last Dance” style documentary. A baseball player whose career featured nearly limitless success, and a man whose inner turmoil was almost as limitless. - Jack Baer

More from Yahoo Sports: