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Baseball Czar Giamatti Dies of Heart Attack

September 02, 1989|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

Vincent, a longtime friend of Giamatti's, is an attorney who formerly was chairman and chief executive officer of Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., as well as senior vice president of the Coca-Cola Company and president and chief executive officer of Coca-Cola's entertainment business section. He served as a liaison to Giamatti on the Rose case and heads the commissioner's corporate, licensing and broadcasting divisions.

Strong Ties to Boston

Angelo Bartlett Giamatti was born in Boston on April 4, 1938. His father, Valentine, was a literature professor at Mt. Holyoke College and an avid Red Sox fan, Giamatti recalled in an interview.

"I was probably 7 or 8 years old when my father and uncle took me to my first baseball game," he said. "I'd been listening on the radio often enough, but going to Fenway Park, I just was astonished at the whole thing."

The memory and the loyalty stayed with him. He often wore a Red Sox cap and carried a transistor to listen to the team's games while serving as Yale president. He grew up with the romantic's view that baseball is best played on grass in the afternoon, but he lacked the talent to play it himself and gravitated to literature like his father.

He received a bachelor of arts degree in English from Yale in 1960 and a Ph.D. in comparative literature in 1964. He taught Italian and comparative literature at Princeton before returning to Yale in 1966. He became a full professor there at 33 and director of the Division of Humanities at 37.

He was elected president of the university in 1978--the youngest in two centuries--and served for nine years, providing Yale with its first balanced budget in a decade and ultimately healing the wounds of his hardline stance in the face of a 1984 strike by clerical and technical workers.

"He gave of himself magnificently as a teacher, scholar and leader," Benno C. Schmidt Jr., Giamatti's successor at Yale, said Friday. "This university will be a better place because of his service. He will never be forgotten here."

He wrote a number of books, essays and articles on Renaissance literature, but he also wrote about baseball, which attracted the attention of the game's owners and executives. He became the 12th president of the National League on Dec. 11, 1986, and said:

"Dante would have been delighted."

He added at the time that "people of letters have always gravitated to sport" and that he had long found baseball to be "the most satisfying and nourishing of games--outside of literature, of course."

2 Schools of Thought

Asked what his colleagues at Yale thought about his decision to become a baseball executive, Giamatti laughed and said: "One group thought it was nifty. The other thought it was the ultimate proof of my essential unsoundness."

In a sport that holds the lexicon of the clubhouse sacred, Giamatti displayed wit, literacy and a youth's affection for the game.

"The prism through which I see things is the prism that understands baseball is an enormously important American institution with long and deep roots whose purpose is to provide pleasure and fun for the American people, and whose integrity and authenticity are essential in order to provide that pleasure," he said in a recent interview.

"The pace of the game allows for rumination even at the moment instead of just in retrospect," he added. "And it is a game with a history and mythology so intimately connected to America that in some idealized and mythological sense it is virtually synonymous with America."

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