Thursday, April 4, 2013

Quote of the Day (Bart Giamatti, on Baseball)

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, 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. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.”—A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind," in A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti, edited by Kenneth S. Robson (1998)

A. Bartlett Giamatti was born on this date 75 years ago in Boston. The passage above tells you everything you need to know about why this Renaissance scholar left a career in academe—capped by eight years as President of Yale University—to become President of the National League and, later, Commissioner of Baseball. It was in the latter role that he banned Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, for life for betting on games--including those involving his own team. Eight days after the announcement in August 1989, Giamatti, his heart taxed by this stress on top of his years of heavy smoking, died.

Rose denied the allegations at the time of the agreement he signed, and for more than a decade later, until it became clear that he would never have a chance of entering the Baseball Hall of Fame unless he owned up to his error.

When his confession came, in 2004, it was grudging and graceless, not to mention totally anticlimactic, the way that Joey Buttafuoco’s was when he admitted at last that yup, he had had sex with Amy Fisher. Even the book’s title, My Prison Without Bars, gave the game away about his lack of contrition. “Right or wrong, the punishment didn’t fit the crime—so I denied the crime.”

And then, this summary passage: “I’m sorry it happened….Let’s move on.” That said all you needed to know about transgressors’ desired moral outcome in our time: forgiveness without contrition. They deny, deny, deny; they put up every legal defense known to man; they incinerate the reputation of their accusers; when the weight of the evidence is finally too much, they say something to the effect of, "If I offended anyone, I apologize."  It’s the same script used by Buttafuoco, Lance Armstrong, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Mark Sanford…The list goes on and on.

Contrast that with Giamatti’s closing of the book on “Charlie Hustle”—old-fashioned, and all the more powerful and haunting for that: “The matter of Mr. Rose is now closed. It will be debated and discussed. Let no one think that it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the great glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game.”

Would that Giamatti—and his successor, Fay Vincent—had been around when baseball entered in earnest upon its steroid era. Performance-enhancing drugs spread like a contagion in Bud Selig’s reign as baseball commissioner. Thank God gambling didn’t after Giamatti acted against Rose. It hurt, as he said it had done, but nothing like how might have if Giamatti had played “see no evil.”

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