YAM Notes: May/June 2008

By Rich Banbury

Previously in this column I made reference to Robert Moncreiff’s 2007 biography entitled Bart Giamatti, A Profile, published by Yale University Press.  Having now read this rather short volume of 200 pages, I thought a few comments might be warranted.  Moncreiff gives high marks to Bart as a scholar, teacher, and charismatic personality.  On the first day of his tenure as President of Yale, with a mirthful nod to Milton, Bart proclaimed in a circulated memo that “… henceforth, as a matter of University policy, evil is abolished and paradise is restored”.  From the author’s perspective, however, Bart’s old world values and hierarchical view of governance in a higher education setting did not match up well with the changing times during his reign as President from July 1, 1978 until July 1, 1986.  Bart and Yale went through a difficult time with labor relations resulting in prolonged battles for which Moncreiff believes  Bart was not well suited.  Bart’s taste and temperament served him well as President of the National League and then Commissioner of Baseball, a game which he greatly appreciated for its visual splendor and metaphorical message.  To him, baseball was a modern enactment of the literary and poetic epics in which the protagonist sets forth on a grand quest and returns home safely.  In this context one can visualize an heroic Jackie Robinson stealing home to the roar of the Brooklyn faithful.  Given Bart’s romantic and idealistic reverence for the sanctity of baseball, his banishment of the gambling and dissembling Pete Rose was clearly fated.

Although Robert Moncreiff gives Bart middling marks as Commissioner of Baseball, George Will has a different view.  The eminent columnist and inveterate Cubs fan made the following observations in his 1990 baseball treatise entitled Men at Work:  “Giamatti’s career (as Commissioner of Baseball) had the highest ratio of excellence to longevity ….  If his heart had been as healthy as his soul … Giamatti would one day have been ranked among Commissioners the way Walter John Johnson is ranked … among pitchers:  As the best, period”.  Referring to our classmate as “the designated metaphysician of American sport”, Will accepts and adopts Bart’s notion of baseball as an individual sport played as a team member.

The Moncreiff volume makes reference to the wise counsel of John Wilkinson, Secretary of Yale during the Giamatti administration, including John’s successful mediation involving the controversial shanties erected on Beinecke Plaza by anti-apartheid undergraduates.    The biography also recognizes Peter Knipe as instrumental in bringing Bart together with Fay Vincent, then CEO of Columbia pictures.  Vincent became Bart’s good friend and trusted adviser during his short term as Commissioner of Baseball and succeeded Bart in that position following his premature death at Martha’s Vineyard on September 1, 1989.

And wouldn’t Bart have been proud of his son Paul ’89, excelling in the title role of John Adams in the acclaimed television series adapted from David McCullough’s prize-winning biography.  Having studied his character, Paul referred to our second president as “more open, more human” than the other Founders, at the same time noting that Adams “was kind of a neurotic guy with horrible depressions – a complicated man”.  John Dwyer conveys yet another Bart vignette by way of his son Patrick, who works for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  When a senior manager at the Bank was asked during an interview who had influenced him most in his life he responded “Bart Giamatti, my professor at Yale”.

Fred Jacobson offers testimony in favor of prosthetic knees, having inserted a pair into his lower extremities prior to renewing a vigorous schedule hiking and guiding in the Swiss-Italian Alps.

History Professor Jay Winter will be the academic leader on a Yale Travel excursion to the Normandy coast in May of 2008.  The code name for the trip is Retracing D-Day, which is designed to capture the karma of June 5, 1944.  Charlie Weymouth encourages classmates to join him for this study of military history within the context of coastal French culture.

Dave Carls, our class treasurer, reports that we began the year with a balance of $82,000, a tidy sum as we turn the corner toward the festivities in 2010.

As an addendum to my last column I can report that, despite a bad game with Harvard, football is alive and well in New Haven, perhaps best illustrated by last fall’s dramatic triple-overtime victory at perennial powerhouse Penn.