New National League president A. Bartlett Giamatti's kitchen was hotter than usual on Friday afternoon, the day before the first game of the World Series. "My older son calls me Benedict Arnold," said Giamatti, "and my younger son looks at me and says, 'One should always put honor before duty.' My pragmatist daughter in the middle is planning to wear her Mets cap to the game."
The vilification Giamatti received from his sons has everything to do with hats. For the first game itself, played in New England-ish 51° temperatures, the NL president-elect's elegant brown suede was an easy selection. More onerous was the decision of the former president of Yale to wear the hat of his new office. For years Giamatti enjoyed a reputation as academe's biggest Red Sox fan, and now as the NL's leader, he must root for his league's representative in the World Series. Says Giamatti, "It's terribly difficult, and I didn't expect to be presented with what people perceive as a dilemma. But I'm wholeheartedly behind the Mets, as I would have been wholeheartedly behind the Astros."
While his children railed at him, the 48-year-old Giamatti considered his position. Growing up in Massachusetts he had listened faithfully to radio broadcasts from Fenway Park. As president of Yale he drove around New Haven in a battered yellow Volkswagen with a frayed Red Sox bumper sticker on the rear. Why, just beyond the kitchen, in his study, sits a Red Sox hat given to Giamatti by the late Smokey Joe Wood, the star pitcher of the 1912 World Series champions and a habituè of Yale baseball games.
But now Giamatti must abandon the hat, abandon Smokey Joe, abandon New England, abandon his sons and root for the Mets. Never mind that ex-Yalie Ron Darling would be pitching for the New Yorkers. This was treason. Or was it?
"You never forget the first girl you fall in love with," says Giamatti. "But passions change and mature." He cherishes baseball as an art, so quite naturally he explains his fresh loyalties in aesthetic terms. "You might come to love art, portraiture through Velàzquez. And then you discover Ingres and become a devotee of his work. But what you really love is portraiture, painting, art."
What Giamatti really loves, more passionately than ever, is baseball. "I came to my deep and abiding love of baseball through the Boston Red Sox," he says. "Anybody who comes to baseball comes to it through a particular team. But it doesn't stop there. You expand. Baseball becomes not simply a team, but a way of life. I care about the National League and am proud to be its president. And while I do care about the Red Sox, it won't be wrenching or difficult to root for the Mets. Baseball, that's the deep and abiding love."
Later, in the warmth of a hospitality room at Shea, Giamatti smiled at a longtime friend and said, "That was a great game." But as his National League predecessor, Chub Feeney, approached, Giamatti quickly added, "To watch."
Outgoing NL prez Feeney and new CEO Giamatti (right) confer with umpires during a Shea rain delay.