The late, great Commissioner of Baseball, Bart Giamatti, while serving as President of Yale, said: “All I ever wanted to be president of was the American League.”
He ended up heading the National League and somehow – what were baseball owners thinking – they made this brilliant, big hearted man of unflinching integrity the boss of baseball in 1989.
Giamatti, a real commissioner back when baseball owners fleetingly thought they wanted a real commissioner, had a writer’s sensibility and a fan’s devotion to the great game. A Renaissance literature scholar, Giamatti was also a street smart ethicist who knew Pete Rose had to be the example of baseball’s zero tolerance for a lack of integrity. I have often wondered how as Commissioner Giamatti would have dealt with the drug scandals of recent years. I think I know. The owners wouldn’t have liked it.
Shortly after his very premature death after just a few months as Commissioner, Joe Garagiola, the broadcaster and one-time backup catcher, summed up the Commissioner: “One thing you can be sure of, you’ll never hear anyone say I knew someone exactly like Bart Giamatti.”
Giamatti’s little book – A Great and Glorious Game – contains some of the best writing ever about baseball.
At this time of year, with the World Series decided, with NFL and college football dominating the sports page, with the warmth and green of another spring a far distant thought, I always think of Giamatti and his superb, poetic little essay The Green Fields of the Mind.
“The game begins in the spring,” he wrote, “when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
Put another log on the fire. It will be a damn long winter. I hope I can wait until once again those glorious words are spoken in the spring: “pitchers and catchers report.”