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Nonetheless, the assessment that the wry academic turned out to be more the technocrat, even a micromanager somewhat in the Jimmy Carter mold, still makes Giamatti bristle. (He is a more obvious bristler than a muser.) "I'm only a poet or a dreamer according to those—journalists especially—who think that if you taught English you must therefore be a poet or a dreamer," he says, bristling. "These positions—president and commissioner—are both management jobs, and if I must breathe down necks to accomplish goals, so be it."
By all accounts Giamatti has exhibited two noble qualities of the leader: forthrightness and accessibility. Bill Brainard, provost in Giamatti's last five years at Yale, says, "Bart is utterly consistent, and he never deals with any person in an ad hominem way." Even at the height of the clerical workers' strike, one that was both painful and rancorous, and which ran for 10 weeks in the fall of 1984. Giamatti would leave his office and purposely steer a course home that took him directly through the picket lines. As much as possible, as the two sides hardened and as he, the president, was pilloried for his stand, Giamatti would still talk to those workers who opposed him. He would be civil.
Even those who have disputed some of his edicts as president of the National League have been impressed by his willingness to visit the branch offices, meet with the principals and discuss the issues. Peter Gammons of this magazine was in Pittsburgh one September evening in 1987 when Giamatti happened to show up, flying out strictly to palaver with the managers in town, the home team's Jim Leyland and the visiting Cardinals' Whitey Herzog, on the subject of corked bats. Both generally approved of what Giamatti had to say, but what impressed Gammons was that, while neither manager is given to gushing, both were delighted that the league president had made the effort not only to seek them out but also to hear them out.
But civility has its limits. The strike at Yale was wounding to Giamatti. "Bart should not have involved himself as much as he did," May says. "He should have stayed more above the fray. But there is something in Bart that simply refuses to turn away from any responsibility."
Giamatti has a predilection, as Terry Holcombe, a Yale vice-president, says, "to take something on just for the sake of it, as long as he believes it's important, when others would run away from it." A cross section of examples:
1) Who in His Right Mind Could Come Out Against Polish Solidarity? When the Yale Glee Club was scheduled to sing the Solidarity anthem on the Voice of America in 1982, Giamatti raised the hackles of William Buckley and many other conservatives, Yalie and otherwise, when he refused the glee club permission to sing, on the principle that the club had no business getting political, whichever side it might take.
2) Memo to Neal Pilsen of CBS Sports. Dear Neal, You may have just negotiated a billion-dollar deal with Peter Ueberroth for baseball rights, but be advised that Giamatti has called television "all-seeing, all-falsifying."
2a) Also to Mr. Pilsen, Damning with Faint Praise Department. "At least baseball has been less deformed by television than other sports." (Giamatti, speaking on Feb. 28.)
3) The Yale Band Will Now Spell Out NCAA While Playing Your Cheatin' Heart. While president of Yale, an NCAA institution since 1915, Giamatti called college sports "a circus," and added later, "If you market your institution by way of television football half-times, then you will get the kind of seamy problems you get in sports."
4) Why Go out of Your Way to Provoke Jerry Falwell? In 1981, Giamatti chose to lambaste "a self-proclaimed 'Moral Majority,' " which features "a resurgent bigotry" that has "licensed a new meanness of spirit in our land." His comments elicited so enraged a response that another Yale man, then Vice-President George Bush, prevailed on Giamatti to invite Falwell to his office, where they met behind closed doors and left with signed copies of each other's latest books, if no other shared wisdom.