Spelling Out the Problems--to the Letter


All right, Ms. B., I think I feel an attack of unsolicited advice coming on. It overtakes columnists from time to time. Please take a letter to A. Bartlett Giamatti, the commissioner of all baseball. Please watch out for the punctuation and grammar and spelling. This guy used to be president of Yale.

Dear Commissioner:

Well, you have taken over probably the second-most thankless task in the republic as of April 1. That’s a very good date to take over the commissionership of baseball. The only other fitting day for it would be Halloween.

There are a number of areas in which baseball finds itself at a crossroad. I think our mutual friend Peter Ueberroth did an outstanding job and really elevated the position of commissioner to a status it has not enjoyed since Judge Landis when he headed off the strike, but the murky issue of collusion raised a whole new specter. However, free agency seems to be something we can live with. So long as television is footing the bill, of course.


But, in order, here are some of the things I would hope you would address, Commissioner:

--The Pete Rose issue. I think here, Commissioner, you either have to hang him or cut him down. You can’t leave Pete turning, turning in the wind.

His reputation has probably been irreparably damaged by the half-stories, whispers, leaks, overheards and just plain gossip that has washed over this case. He comes into focus like a combination of Al Capone and Billy the Kid. Half hero, half hoodlum.

Can’t we confront him with whatever evidence there is, if any, and put this behind us? I mean, even Goering got a trial at Nuremberg.

You don’t need to wait for any federal findings. Don’t forget, baseball’s first commissioner, a federal judge, no less, banned the eight Black Sox from baseball even though a state court had acquitted them of wrongdoing. Judge Landis had served on the federal district bench long enough to know that the law sometimes had very little to do with justice and his reaction to the acquittal was one of superb disdain.

“Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball,” he said. Period.

Landis also threw Benny Kauff out of the game for theft and receiving stolen property, as well as pitcher Phil Douglas for threatening to leave the Giants so they would lose the pennant. And as late as 1943, he threw out an owner, William Cox of the Philadelphia Phillies, for betting on baseball. When they called Landis, Czar, they weren’t using the term loosely.

--The designated hitter. I think it’s time to come to a uniform decision on this indelicate matter. I mean, either a team is the home nine or it’s the home 10. Baseball cannot continue its schizophrenic existence with the rules of the game varying by ballpark or by year, which league’s turn it is to call the rules for the World Series.

I don’t like the designated-hitter rule myself. Baseball has always been a game that thrived on controversy and this rule deprives it of of one of its best--should the manager have left the pitcher in or lifted him for a pinch-hitter?

I can remember the 1981 World Series that might have been decided by Yankee Manager Bob Lemon’s lifting pitcher Tommy John for pinch-hitter Bobby Murcer. That’s the way it should be. That’s what made baseball great. That’s what bred the Hot Stove League and kept the game alive over the long winter.

But I am willing to see compromise. Perhaps you can restrict a manager to one free use of a designated hitter a game for one at-bat. I think the evidence is overwhelming that being only a designated hitter ruins a ballplayer. It for sure ruins a game.

--The crowd. If anything will ruin a game as a spectator sport, it is an unruly crowd. I am not sure what a commissioner can do about this, but I notice part of your announced agenda calls for a drive “to improve the environment of (ball)parks at the major league level to make it even more attractive for the fan.”

I applaud. I think it was Alexander Hamilton who once opined that “the public is a great beast.” I don’t know about that, but the spectacle of spectators drowning out signals in football, throwing knives at players in baseball or turning a ballpark into a waterfront saloon is repugnant. Baseball has a long history of fair play to the visiting team, even ovations for enemy pitchers who excel, and it is to be hoped it can be kept that way.

--Drugs and alcohol. OK, alcohol is a drug. There is this difference: alcohol is legal, cocaine is not.

Until, or unless, society outlaws alcohol again--or legalizes cocaine--you have a perfect right--and moral duty--to crack down hard on drug abusers. It’s not hard at all. Simply tell the user he has one slip, and only one, coming to him. He has to choose--either cocaine or career.

You have the law on your side. I mean, if a guy robs banks or is a serial murderer, you can kick him out. If he uses cocaine, he’s a lawbreaker. If he sells it, he’s a serial murderer. In either case, he doesn’t belong in baseball, he belongs in jail.

--A strike. Your mandate is clear: Head it off. Peter did it. Don’t listen to the hard-liners who think they can win it. The only way you win a strike is by not having it.

I have never seen a strike in any business that shouldn’t have been short-circuited by a surge of common sense. I have always had great difficulty identifying the winners in a strike. I never had any trouble finding the losers. Usually, everybody.

--Inter-league play. I’m against it. Baseball is the only sport whose championship game or series is sure to be played between teams that have not played each other in regular-season play. Let’s keep it that way.

Well, Commissioner, that’s about all the free advice--and worth every penny--I have time for today. Feel free to call on me if you have a problem. My office hours are flexible. And we do have a lot in common. I didn’t go to Yale. But, like you, I love baseball.