A. Bartlett Giamatti, the National League president the past two seasons, was unanimously elected by baseball's owners last week to succeed Peter Ueberroth as the game's commissioner beginning April 1, 1989. Giamatti's love and appreciation for baseball are unquestioned. But this season he made two very controversial calls: 1) He suspended Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose for 30 days for bumping umpire Dave Pallone on April 30, and 2) he backed a strict interpretation of the balk rule that has resulted in a 160% increase in balks in the majors.
In retrospect, the Rose suspension was defensible because it delivered the message that an assault on an umpire is a very serious offense, especially when it incites riotous behavior by fans. But the sudden and strict enforcement of the balk rule was a mistake, even if the furor over it has largely died down. Not only were the results of some early-season games decided by untimely balks, but the crackdown also increased tension between players and umpires that may have contributed to the Rose-Pallone incident. In a profile of Giamatti by Roger Angell in The New Yorker, Giamatti compared his former career in academia with his new role. "Both jobs involve historically oriented, retrospective cultures, very slow to change," he is quoted as saying. He should have considered that before pushing balks.
In the press conference following his election, Giamatti said that one of his top priorities would be improved labor relations between players and owners. (The collective-bargaining agreement expires after the 1989 season.) At the same conference, though, he antagonized the players' union by saying he disagreed with the rulings by two arbitrators that the owners had acted in collusion to restrict the movement of free agents. Even though Giamatti was handpicked by the owners, the interests of baseball would best be served if he somehow remained in the middle. Angell's profile described Giamatti kibitzing at a Reds-Mets game with some fans from Brooklyn:
"You're a fan," one of the young men said.
"Thank you, sir," Giamatti said.
We hope he can keep that in mind.
A GOOD SKATE
On Saturday more than 1,000 hockey fans packed an arena outside Victoria, B.C., to watch Wayne Gretzky take his first skate with the Los Angeles Kings. Gretzky was mobbed by the cheering crowd when he entered the arena in which the Kings do their preseason training. "I was a little surprised," he said rather modestly. "I don't think they were here just to watch Wayne Gretzky. There are some other good hockey players on this team."
Sure. Some of them were there to see Wayne McBean.