A BRIEF REIGN
Ill can he rule the great, that cannot reach the small.
The Faerie Queene
Those words, from one of A. Bartlett Giamatti's favorite works of literature, say a great deal about the promise he held as baseball's commissioner. Giamatti was able to reach the small, the fan, of the game precisely because he was, first and foremost, a fan. He was not the owners' commissioner, he was not the accountants' commissioner, he was baseball's commissioner, and the responsibility he felt to his position came from his abiding love of the game.
Last Friday afternoon the 51-year-old Giamatti died of a heart attack at his vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, Mass. His death came only nine days after he had announced a lifetime suspension for Pete Rose and only five months after he had assumed the office of commissioner. Giamatti had brought baseball through a difficult period and, in the process, strengthened its integrity.
Those in the game who knew him will miss him, not only because of his personality and intellect, but also because of the possibilities of his stewardship. Said Baltimore Oriole president Larry Lucchino, "To quote Edward Bennett Williams, 'He got to the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.' He would have been a great commissioner." St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, who had a close relationship with Giamatti, said, "For being book smart, he had an awful lot of street smarts. He would have been an outstanding commissioner."
The night before he died, Giamatti called Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig, a close friend. "We just talked baseball for an hour," Selig told SI's Peter Gammons. "At one point the name Al Zarilla came up in the conversation, and Bart said, 'You know, Zeke Zarilla is what being a baseball fan is all about.' " Zarilla was an outfielder and folk hero in Boston in the 1950s.
Giamatti grew up a passionate Red Sox fan in South Hadley, Mass., and even as an English professor at Yale, and later as the president of Yale, he wore that ardor on his sleeve. In June 1986 he was elected president of the National League, but that October he found his beloved Red Sox in the World Series against the New York Mets. As Gammons recalls, "I rode down with him in the elevator after Game 6, and he was livid. Here was the National League president swearing at [Boston manager] John McNamara and saying, 'How could he leave Buckner in the game?' "
Giamatti never let his allegiance color his decisions. In his two years as NL president and half a year as commissioner, he sought to improve the game on almost every level. He cracked down on players who doctored baseballs. He punished Rose for bumping an umpire, and then barred him for life for his gambling activities. Even Giamatti's ill-advised attempt to revise the balk rule came out of a sense of higher purpose.
Yet he always had the fan in mind. He once wrote: "If you cannot park and be sure you or your car will be safe; or if you are ignored by ushers or unable to find a decent or thug-free rest room; or if you cannot watch a contest free from the constant assault of obscene language or a mindlessly insistent scoreboard, seemingly run by people who dare not let the contest speak for itself; or if your child cannot watch without passively ingesting marijuana clouds; or if there are fights in the stands and on the field or arena of play that subtly and insidiously fuel and feed off each other—then you begin to wonder why you came."
Deputy commissioner Fay Vincent was appointed interim commissioner on Saturday and appears the likely successor to Giamatti. The next commissioner must face the end of the collective bargaining agreement with the players and a possible strike or lockout next spring. It is a challenge to which Giamatti appeared equal.
Whoever the next commissioner is, he might keep in mind these words from Dante, another of Giamatti's favorites: "All men whom the higher Nature has imbued with a love of truth should feel impelled to work for the benefit of future generations, whom they will thereby enrich just as they themselves have been enriched by the labours of their ancestors."
DID I SAY THAT?
Jim Rooker just couldn't help himself. When the Pirates jumped to a 10-0 first-inning lead over the Phillies at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia in June, Rooker, a Pittsburgh broadcaster, said over the air, "If we don't win this one, I don't think I'd want to be on that plane ride home. As a matter of fact, if we don't win, I'll walk back to Pittsburgh." Naturally, the Pirates fell apart and lost 15-11.
Rooker, the radio station and the Pirates have received so many calls and letters concerning his promise that Rooker, a former big league pitcher, has decided to follow through. On Oct. 5, four days after the regular season ends, he will begin the 300-mile trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Until then, he's soliciting donations for Rook's Unintentional Walk, which will benefit various charities.
Shortly after the 15-11 debacle, the Pirates took a 10-0 lead in St. Louis. Lanny Frattare, Rooker's broadcast partner, looked over and said, "And if we lose this game?"
"If we lose this game," replied Rooker, "then our road record will be 11-23."
With a severity of tone that should have fooled no one, the NFL announced on Aug. 29 that 13 players had tested positive for anabolic steroids and would be suspended for 30 days. While the Unclean 13 are probably not the only NFLers "on juice," they are certainly the most moronic.
A full five months earlier, all players had been notified that they would be tested for steroids at training camp. A player with even a rudimentary understanding of steroids knows that if he stops taking the drugs about a month before a test, he probably will escape detection. Because the league conducts no further testing during the season, a player could resume his steroid cycle after training camp.
During a Monday Night Football telecast on the eve of the league's announcement of the suspensions, ABC broadcaster and former All-Pro lineman Dan Dierdorf said that the small number of positive tests disproved those critics who contend that the NFL is suffering from a steroid epidemic. One of those critics is Atlanta Falcon offensive guard Bill Fralic, a four-year NFL vet, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May that 75% of the linemen in the league use steroids. Also appearing at the same hearings was NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who said, "Candidly, I cannot guarantee that our testing has detected, or will detect, every steroid user in the NFL."
The 13 players busted last week either didn't get the memo in March informing them of the tests or made mistakes in dosage or timing. As unaware as the Unclean 13 may have been, they're no less ignorant than anyone who contends that this latest round of tests accurately reflects the rate of steroid use in the NFL.
EVERYONE INTO THE POOL
In a letter in the Sept. 1 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, Fritz R. Dixon, M.D., of Boise, Idaho, unveiled a novel approach to testing for banned substances. Wrote Dixon: "[Have] all athletes, coaches, and other persons who appear on behalf of the winning team...contribute a urine sample immediately after winning a competition. Portions from each sample could be mixed, and the combination tested for drugs of abuse. If the sample is positive, the team loses the competition."
TAKING NO CHANCES
In Los Angeles in June, Cincinnati Reds rookie pitcher Scott Scudder was summoned by Reds general manager Murray Cook and informed that he was being demoted to Triple A Nashville. As Cook imparted the bad news, a mild earthquake shook the Los Angeles area (SI, June 26). Deadpanned Scudder, "Does it always shake like this when you send somebody out?"
Two months later, Scudder had been recalled and was with the Reds in San Francisco. In the wee hours of the morning, another earthquake struck. Scudder, who was in bed in his hotel room, rolled over and took the phone off the hook.
Here are a couple of interesting tidbits from California Angel reliever Bryan Harvey's personal file, as flashed on the scoreboard at Anaheim Stadium recently:
WISH—TO END ALL THE KILLING IN THE WORLD.
HOBBIES—HUNTING AND FISHING.
First and foremost, the commissioner was a fan.
THEY SAID IT
•Nate Newton, 320-or-so-pound Dallas Cowboy guard, on his quest to attain a leaner state: "Every night I tell myself, 'I'm going to dream about my girl, I'm going to dream about my girl.' But it's always ham hocks."