Giamatti Will Have to Learn Numbers Game in Commissioner Position

Associated Press

As a teacher and administrator at Yale, Angelo Bartlett Giamatti was a man of letters. Now, as the next commissioner of baseball, his concerns will be more with numbers.

Giamatti was elected Thursday as the seventh commissioner of baseball during an owners meeting in Montreal. He will succeed Peter Ueberroth next April 1, nine months before the expiration of baseballl’s collective bargaining agreement. The contract expires Dec. 31, 1989, and the main issues figure to be free agency, salary arbitration and pension money.

Giamatti, president of Yale for eight years, was selected president of the National League on June 10, 1986, and the decision came as a surprise to his associates in academia.

“One group thought it was nifty, the other thought it was the ultimate proof of my essential unsoundness. They fell into the camps I would have predicted,” Giamatti said earlier this season in an interview with The Associated Press.


“There were some interesting similarities to where I had been, in the sense that both cultures are very historically oriented and in some ways retrospective. And both were fairly closed, in terms of how people come up the ranks,” Giamatti said.

Giamatti, born April 4, 1938 in Boston, was Yale’s second choice for the university’s 19th president, but most people on campus were strong in their praise for his leadership, which ended June 30, 1986.

Giamatti taught at Princeton and New York University before joining the Yale faculty in the English department in 1967. He has published at least five books, including three while president of Yale. He is married and has three grown children.

When Giamatti moved into the president’s chair at Yale, he immediately began a program of cutbacks as the school had a budget deficit then of $2 million. The budget was balanced in four years.

As commissioner of baseball, Giamatti will be faced with labor problems, not a situation he’s unfamiliar with.

At Yale in 1984 more than 2,600 clerical and technical workers went out on a bitter 10-week strike. About another 1,000 blue-collar workers, including food service employees and janitors, refused to cross the picket lines.

Anti-apartheid demonstrations marked Giamatti’s last months on campus. City and campus police made 322 arrests of both students and community leaders who protested Yale’s $400 million in stocks in companies that do business in South Africa.

Giamatti, who spent a relatively quiet first year as president of the NL, made headlines this season when he suspended Cincinnati manager Pete Rose for 30 days for shoving umpire Dave Pallone.

Some baseball officials and players compared Giamatti to a “dean of discipline” or a self-styled Eliot Ness.

“Order without freedom is repressive and freedom without order is anarchy,” Giamatti said in describing his thought process.

Giamatti came to office as a wide-eyed fan and has had to learn the various intricacies of baseball law.

While president of Yale, Giamatti was sometimes seen around the Ivy League campus toting a transitor radio tuned into a Boston Red Sox game.

When Giamatti was announced as league president he made it clear that he had no grand illusions of changing the game he loves.

“I think in general, one tampers with baseball as little as humanly possible,” he said. “The fundamental grid, the geometric beauty of baseball ought to be altered gingerly.” Giamatti says his job was made much easier by the help he got from former NL president Chub Feeney.

“I was blessed,” Giamatti said. “My predecessor was gracious, knowledgeable and wonderfully forthcoming. I spent from July 1st to December 10th (1986) as the president-elect. I listened, learned and watched.

“There’s an enormous amount of baseball law, regulations, policies written and established from past practices that I as a fan had no grasp of. That has taken a long time to acquire and I still don’t pretend to control all of that,” he said.

The issues that have been the concern of Ueberroth, advancements in minorities in baseball and monitoring substance abuse, are also priorities with Giamatti.

He also is very aware of an orderly ambiance at parks and installing programs to to curb alcohol abuse by fans. Giamatti is particularly concerned about fan rowdiness and considers it a threat to the future of spectator sports in the United States.

In an article he authored for the Boston Globe last year, Giamatti wrote: “I believe that at the heart of the deteriorating environment is excessive drinking. It must be stopped. Those who wish to enter a contest already drunk must be turned away; those who come only to drink in the stands and disrupt must be controlled or ejected. ...” Giamatti says he is “against prohibition” at the ballparks but wants better monitoring.

He says there have been “fruitful, sensitive, insightful and productive discussions” with the clubs concerning alcohol abuse.

“If the ambiance for the sporting event is not considered crucial by management, there is no reason to believe that fans will leave home and come out; there is no reason to believe that families will subject themselves to goons and call it fun; there is no reason to believe that in 10 years’ time the vast majority of those who care about the sport will see it anywhere but on a (TV) screen,” Giamatti wrote.

Giamatti is a Renaissance scholar and a gifted conversationalist who somehow seems out of place dealing with baseball’s procedural problems and trivial controversies.

Much has been said of the various umpiring incidents this season but Giamatii isn’t overly concerned.

“Due to a variety of causes mostly due to television and replay and baseball’s sacred right to second guess, the umpires are more visibly on the spot,” Giamatti said. “That’t not a terrible thing because it’s part of the world we live.”