Remembering Bart Giamatti

Bart Giamatti

Editor's note: Marcus Giamatti, an actor, writer and musician, is the eldest child of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former Major League Baseball commissioner who died of a heart attack on Sept. 1, 1989, eight days after announcing Pete Rose's ban from baseball.

Monday marks the 25th anniversary of the passing of my father, Bart Giamatti, at the age of 51. The world has changed quite a bit since that crisp September afternoon. There are those who remember him, those who have forgotten him and those who never had the pleasure to know him. So it seems appropriate on this anniversary to remind us who Bart Giamatti was and what he stood for.

My father was a man of great humor. Not a day passed for him without a warm conversation on the street with a police officer or cab driver. He was a man of great insight and heart. A man from Italian immigrants and Yankee stock. A scholar. A poet. A teacher. A husband and father of three children. A baseball fan. A leader.

But most importantly, my father had genuine convictions. He stood by them -- with courage and without apology. He was a man who acted and did what he felt was right and true in his heart, not what was popular, hip or trendy. He understood his responsibility to respect and uphold the principles and laws of whatever institution he had been tapped to steward, whether it was a classroom, a university or Major League Baseball, and he did so with integrity. My father believed in his soul, unequivocally, that this function was his moral duty. For him there was no greater honor than to be entrusted with this responsibility because these institutions mattered. They were worthy guideposts. When properly managed, they had the power to set examples for us so we might conduct our lives in a more productive, honest way.

Major League Baseball is an institution built on the back of a simple game, one constructed on failure, with all its Zen riddles, poetry and tradition, a game of equal opportunity for all shapes, sizes and colors. For my father, baseball provided the perfect mirror, one reflecting what was good, and what needed tweaking, in our modern society. There is emptiness without him today, especially in the world of sports where his voice is sorely missed. His voice served as a reminder about the simple value of good citizenry and fair play.

With the debate over Pete Rose's ban rekindled recently, I have been asked what my father might say if he were alive today. No doubt he would applaud law men such as John Dowd and Fay Vincent who provided solid proof why Rose should remain on MLB's ineligible list permanently, excluding him from Hall of Fame induction.

But regarding Rose's banishment on a different level -- a moral one -- my father might add that Rose does not deserve a second chance without earning it first. Rose has done nothing to earn his way back into baseball. He vehemently denied his actions for 15 years, blaming others for his plight. Then when it was suddenly convenient for him (Rose published an autobiography in 2004), he comically did an about-face, sort of confessed and expected to be coddled.

My father would seek true remorse, which would lead to the reconfiguration of one's life. It would mean making the effort and having the courage to get help and turn a mistake into something positive, such as spreading the word to kids about the dangers of a gambling addiction. Instead, Rose and those who stand with him seem oblivious to the principles and standards of good citizenry that my father held so sacred.

The Rose dilemma isn't about how great a player he was. It also has nothing to do with today's steroid debacle or Rose's opinion about whether those accused of using performance-enhancing drugs belong in the Hall of Fame more or less than he does. It's about a broken rule. It's about arrogance. It's about stomping on the heart of baseball by committing its cardinal sin -- betting on the game -- and then somehow believing you should be given a pass. My father treated Rose, the all-time hits leader, with the same force he would have treated a small-time rookie. And he proved to Rose and everyone else that one player was not bigger than the game he loved.

Drawing closer to the end of another baseball season, we can honor my father's legacy by recognizing the beauty and poetry that he believed made baseball so special. He would encourage us to focus on the hope of baseball, on the possibilities that each season, each game, each pitch and each trip to the plate embody, and on making it a positive part of our daily lives.

But perhaps the best way to honor my father's legacy is to attend a baseball game. When you do, celebrate that which binds us together, the connection that is unique to baseball, one my father knew was a fundamental part of the American experience. A connection spanning generations. From boyhood to adulthood. From fathers to sons and daughters to grandmothers. From cities to familiar places. To simpler times.

Honor him by remembering that fair play and treating people with respect matter. After all, Bart Giamatti was an idealist who loved a human game with all its imperfections. A game that reflects our vulnerability. A game, like life, capable of great joy and redemption. A game, always and in every way, designed to break your heart.

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