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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 42

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This is the grave of A. Bartlett Giamatti.

2016-05-07 11.49.07

Giamatti was born in 1935 and became an literature professor at Yale. In 1978, he became president of Yale, serving in that role until 1986. His tenure as president was marked by a bitter strike among Yale employees and his refusal to divest Yale investments from South Africa. He left Yale in 1986 to become president of the National League and then replaced Peter Uberroth in 1988 as commissioner because of strong reputation as a unionbuster while at Yale. He is also responsible for the crazy jump in balks in 1988. Giamatti, a heavy smoker, would die of a heart attack a year later, but before he did, he made his largest contribution to the game, which was banning Pete Rose for life.

Bart Giamatti is buried in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.

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  • Dilan Esper

    Father of Paul Giamatti, who is a very good actor.

    • junker

      I never knew that, thanks for the tidbit.

      • CrunchyFrog

        Should have guessed. A large number of famous movie actors got their chance via nepotism.

        • calling all toasters

          Yale professors run the movies?

          • Todd

            It’s posthumous nepotism, as his father died a year before Paul ever landed a tv or film role. In acting circles it’s called the reverse Hamlet.

            • The Temporary Name

              He did manage an MFA from Yale after his father was gone, and that’s a pretty decent start for an actor.

          • FridayNext

            Well, it certainly helped him get into Yale as a drama major. Yale’s drama department is regularly ranked among the best drama departments in America. So there’s that.

        • SIWOTI

          While what you say is true about nepotism, Paul Giamatti’s acting career only really started after his father died (his first tv or film credit is in 1990). And he spent years working in bit parts before he really got a breakthrough in 1998 when he appeared in three movies (Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show, and The Negotiator). It was five more years until his first leading role in 2003’s American Splendor. He’s not the poster child for nepotism.

          • CrunchyFrog

            I wouldn’t say he was the poster child. And it’s certainly possible that he got opportunities and breaks without any help from his late father’s connections – but I doubt it. In fact, it’s more likely that after his father died a connection in Hollywood set up Giamatti’s initial acting opportunities in memory of his father.

            No, the poster child for nepotism is probably Tori Spellman. But it doesn’t take very much time scanning the lineage of leading Hollywood actors to realize that opportunities are given to those with connections, just like NASCAR. Beyond that, there are those who don’t have connections but whom some higher-up takes a liking to and keeps pushing on directors to include in films, to the point of actually writing in parts for them – like Shia LaBeouf. It’s not even close to a meritocracy.

            • ScarletNumber

              Spelling, not Spellman.

          • ScarletNumber

            His big break was Private Parts.

            W-NNNNNNNNN-B-C

    • geniecoefficient

      He lives (lived?) in Brooklyn and I would spot him frequently. He was famous for glowering at passersby on the street as if to warn them off approaching (although I don’t recall being on the receiving end of any glowers). I understand not wanting your solitude interrupted by strangers, even by the friendliest of salutations or nods or waves.

      I guess this doesn’t have a lot to do with his gross-sounding, union-hostile dad.

      • Scott Lemieux

        I saw him the last time we were in Brooklyn…

  • elm

    In my youth I was a big Pete Rose fan. I remember hearing the news that Giamatti had died and running to find my father o tell him the news with a huge smile on my 12 year-old face. He chastised me for smiling at a man’s death and I lamely responded by saying it was a smile of surprise not joy.

    I was wrong not only for smiling but also about Pete Rose. And yet imy first thought on him is that Giamatti was a bad commissioner. I have no idea if that’s true or if it’s just lingering bias from my misbegotten youth.

    • I’m not sure that Giamatti was commissioner long enough to say whether he was good or bad, because basically all we have to judge it on is Rose and that’s a complex case. However, his balk campaign while NL president was stupid and his unionbusting history is completely forgotten, which is relevant because it’s the primary reason he was named commissioner.

      • EliHawk

        Of course, what’s funny about Giamatti as union buster is that the guy he picked as his right-hand-man (and ended up being his successor) was Fay Vincent, who told the Owners off over Collusion and intervened to short circuit their lockout in 1990, to the point they ran him out of the job in favor of Bud Selig.

        • True. Vincent was excellent.

          • CrunchyFrog

            Wasn’t one of the other beefs the owners had with Vincent when he edicted that the Chicago and St. Louis would move to the western division and Cincy and Atlanta to the east?

            • EliHawk

              To be fair, the fact that Atlanta teams ended up in the Western Division (in both baseball and football) made little sense even though it went on for about 30 years. You had them traveling 3000 miles to play ‘divisional rivals’ in LA and San Fran.

              • Bill Murray

                it probably won them the division in 1993, although they would have won the east and probably lost to the Giants

              • CrunchyFrog

                Yeah, those were two weird divisional alignments that happened at roughly the same time in two different sports. For baseball, the idea was that the Cubs and the Cards were two teams with big fan bases and they wanted them playing in the eastern time zone as much as possible as the national TV broadcasts (Saturday and, recently started in 1967, Monday night) were at the time a big source of revenue. (It’s hard to remember now, but in the late 1960s the Cubs were a very competitive team with a lot of talent, as was St. Louis as usual.)

                For football, the background was that the NFL had been shuffling division alignments pretty regularly starting with 1967 when they went to 4 divisions and geography was balanced against competitiveness. They’d created a Coastal division that had two teams from the east and two from the west already, so the precedent of non-geographic lineups was set. After the AFL merger reduced the NFC to 3 divisions, the owners simply could not come to agreement in the East and West division alignments (Central was considered obvious) so ultimately drew team names out of a vase. Hence Dallas and St Louis Cards in the east and N.O. and Atlanta in the West. At that particular instance in time that created a more competitive balance, as SF and LA Rams were both strong teams and Dallas was the best of the East. But long-term it created travel problems.

          • Phil Perspective

            I’m not sure he was excellent. At one point, he preferred going to ballgames at the various parks and being noticed. That pissed the owners off because they thought he should have been spending more time in NY. Basically, Vincent was more interested in good press and had less interest in being the owners pool boy.

            • Brien Jackson

              Everyone hated Vincent because he thought the job title made him the king of the realm and carried on like a petty tyrant in essentially every aspect of the job. I’ve got no idea why Erik would say he was an excellent commissioner, honestly, unless it’s just in comparison to Ueberroth. But it’s not like Vincent was even particularly well liked by the union, and most certainly not the way that Selig ultimately came to be, as he felt that his self-perceived dictatorial powers extended to player relations as well.

          • Brien Jackson

            Um…..not so much.

      • CrunchyFrog

        I always thought fondly of Giamatti, mostly because he wasn’t Uberroth, the worst commissioner of our lifetime. Didn’t know about the Yale thing or the balk thing – that definitely demotes him a lot from my view.

    • EliHawk

      I mean he was only Commissioner for half a season, so it’s hard to say whether he was good or not because of the sheer brevity. The Pete Rose decision was a huge crisis that he handled well if you agree with his decision and bad if you side with Rose. I suppose his second biggest decision would be hiring Fay Vincent as his right hand man (who ended up being his successor). So if you think he was bad, you might not (like the owners) like Vincent.

  • EliHawk

    What always amazes me about Giamatti is that a Renaissance literature professor and Ivy League President could end up commissioner of a Major League sport. In an age where your commissioners are all corporate lawyers or marketing executives who worked directly for the league. Giamatti’s the last commissioner where Baseball told itself its Commissioner was some independent, prestigious figure: Someone like Landis, Happy Chandler, or Peter Ueberroth that didn’t come from a corporate league background. The idea now that the President of Yale University could be, say, the successor to Roger Goodell would boggle the mind.

    • CrunchyFrog

      Ueberroth was picked because he had just managed the 1984 summer Olympics and made a profit doing so. That in and of itself had a complicated back story. As the commissioner of baseball he made every decision based entirely on expected profit, and the sport declined as a result. (Hint: in his first decision as commissioner he reached an agreement with the Umpires Union that resulted in sub-par Umpires staffing the 1985 playoffs. Yes, with a different commissioner you probably never have the infamous Don Denkinger call.)

      • Scott Lemieux

        Denkinger was a veteran umpire who had worked two World Series and multiple playoffs before 1985. He wasn’t perceived as a bad umpire ex ante.

        And allow me to add my obligatory note that the amount of whining the Cards and their fans do about that call is ridiculous. They still had a lead in the 9th inning, leading the series 3-2, with a runner on first and none out. They didn’t lose because of Denkinger. They lost because after one bad break they got outscored 13-0.

        • CrunchyFrog

          Agree on the call whining – I’m sure we’ve posted on this before. At the same time, using the playoff rating system for Umpires that was in place pre-Ueberroth Denkinger would not have worked that series.

          The problem was that playoff umpiring was fairly lucrative, and the union was upset because some umpires never or rarely were selected. (Joe Brinkman comes to mind.) The simple solution would have been to distribute the playoff payments broadly instead of just to the umpires who worked the playoffs that year. Or, if they REALLY HAD to let the weaker umpires be present at the playoffs, reserve the two outfield umpire slots that are created for the playoffs to be rotational while the umpires who score the best work the bases and home plate.

    • ASV

      There’s no reason to think a corporate lawyer or marketing executive couldn’t become president of Yale and then become a commissioner.

    • elm

      Condi Rice got serious consideration for Goodell’s job, right? She spent time in government in between, obviously, but she was (and technically still is) a political science professor.

      • EliHawk

        I think Condi Rice got consideration for that the same way she gets ‘consideration’ for VP every 4 years. Media’s interested and floats her name, because RESUME, but she’s not actually considered.

      • Pseudonym

        And she served as Stanford’s provost.

  • drwormphd

    Giamatti wrote a wonderfully readable book on Edmund Spenser–not an easy thing to do. But I acknowledge that doesn’t make up for the union-busting or balks.

  • N__B

    1. Speaking as a Bud Harrelson fan, fuck Pete Rose. Only a coward picks a fight with someone half his size.

    2. I still remember the looks on the faces of some snobbish cousins, who considered baseball fandom to be a sign of mental weakness in me, Pop__B, and Grandpa__B, when they found out that Bart Giamatti – OF YALE- was not only a fan but was commissioner.

  • Dennis Orphen

    When I heard he died his fingernails were the first thing I thought of.

    • Yes, this. I wrote my barely remembered 12-year-old memory below.

  • What percentage of cemeteries you visited were on Grove Street?

    • It’s a useful cemetery for this series, let’s just say that.

      • Was the last one in New Haven too? The newer old cemetery here is on Grove St. and a quick Google showed there were a lot of them, I may have misremembered. John Danforth, the Salem judge. and the sister of one of the executed women, died in Framingham, but their graves turn out to be unknown; Danforth was buried privately and Esty’s disappeared or was destroyed, I think.

  • I remember reporters and doctors pouring over a picture of him in the stands at a game, and…this, also, is the half-memory of a 12-year-old…noticing his “clubbed” fingers grasping his cigar and pontificating that his cigar smoking habit had caused his sudden heart attack.

    And then more reporters and fans poured over the picture in question and proved that it wasn’t his hand that people were looking at, and that a deceptive angle actually showed the hand of somebody else in the stands.

    At which point all of the reporters and doctors were like, “Well, whoever’s hand that is should go see his doctor ASAP.”

  • Thom

    I assume it is correct that he opposed SA divestment, but presumably the final decision rested with the board of directors (or equivalent), not the president. Still, the board might have been swayed the other way by a president who was for divestment.

  • Funkhauser

    “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. …”

    I do so like these lines, however. I return to them often, and thought of them even today at the ballpark.

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Bart Giamatti is also the only native Bostonian I’ve ever heard of who grew up a Boston Braves fan rather than a Red Sox fan (though there must have been a few others in his generation).

    • mikeSchilling

      Are you sure of that? Halberstam’s book Summer of ’49 says that Giamatti was a Red Sox fan and his hero was Bobby Doerr.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        I was pretty sure of that…but the Google isn’t producing anything, so maybe I’m just entirely misremembering.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Since Halberstam’s book is an absolute shit-show factwise, I wouldn’t put much stock in it.

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