What concerns Giamatti most particularly are two interrelated trends that he thinks threaten spectator entertainment. The first is a derivative of the new arrogance of the individual, a grubby American quality that Giamatti raised the alarum about when he addressed the incoming freshman class at Yale in 1982. Examining that selfish drift in terms of baseball, Giamatti perceives a decline in people's need (even in their inclination) to congregate. "I take very seriously the public taking of public pleasure, and that sense of shared community that goes with it," he says. "Whenever that is threatened or eroded, then I can see that ultimately the whole institution will wither, die."
Spectator sports are vulnerable to start with. Despite the publicity they receive, the fact is that they account for only $5.4 billion of the $21.4 billion spent on sports entertainment in this country. "The individual, who is sacred under our laws, is now narcissistic," Giamatti says. "The threat to this country, and to baseball, is to privatize everything. For me in the last 15 years, the most frightening image of the privatization of leisure is that solitary, androgynous jogger—symbolic of that $16 billion related to sport that hasn't anything to do with public pleasure in public places.
"If this antisocial impulse, this kind of twilight-of-the-'60s narcissism, continues and is fed by those who have every right to feed it with designer shoes and boats and recreational vehicles and stuff, or if it is fed all the more by that thing over there [he points derisively to a television set across the room], which allows you to tailor your visual leisure to yourself, then, whether you stage indoor or outdoor sports or concerts or lectures or whatever, you had better make the most strenuous effort to keep alive the principle of going out, as opposed to staying in—in groups, as opposed to alone. Because all of the cultural, legal and financial incentives are moving in the other direction."
Moreover, those who would buck the flow and go to the stadiums are being repulsed by uncivil crowd behavior—much of it inflicted by young and disaffected white males, the same sorts who have already driven older men, women and families away from soccer games in England and on the Continent. Giamatti has, of course, thought about this, too. "I think this game embodies certain standards of behavior," he says, "and the fellow sitting in Section 37 is part of the game, too. He's not alone there, of course. He's part of a happy, loud, boisterous, lovely crowd, and they're all screaming, arguing. Fine. I'm not looking for a..."
"No, no, I said that once, and all the ministers came down on me. You have to be careful. I'm not a prohibitionist, so I see in many columns that I'm therefore not only the toady of the owners but a wholly owned subsidiary of the beer companies.
"No, I'm only looking for someone to enjoy the game to the fullest and to respect the right of those on either side of him. I seek a community of enjoyment. I am not going to sit passively by, just because somebody thinks I'm a scold, and watch as women and children and other men decide that going out to the park is simply not worth the candle.
"When they stay home, then baseball is the loser—and not just the loser of revenue. Baseball is the loser of their public support, of their faith and of their belief that this is an enduring American institution."
It appears most likely that no commissioner since Landis (and possibly not even he) has come to the office more concerned than Giamatti with baseball in all its parts—its spirit and its relevance to the republic.
Because no single formal religion can embrace a people who hold so many faiths, including no particular formal faith at all, sports and politics are the civil surrogates...for [an America] ever in quest for a covenant.
Address to incoming Yale freshmen, 1984