Giamatti's endearing reflections on baseball invariably feature several themes, among them:
•The Law of the Game. "There is an inviolability of its rules, heightened by the taboo: Thou shalt not touch."
•The Color Green. "The color of hope. It always had that connotation in The Divine Comedy. [Oh, what the hell, let's show off just a little.] After all, I once wrote a book entitled The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic, and at one time I probably knew as much about the enclosed green space as anybody did." Giamatti takes pleasure in pointing out the fact that the word paradise derives from the Persian word for "park." and he obviously doesn't think it's just a coincidence that what is generally recognized as the site of baseball's true first game was in Hoboken, N.J., at a public clearing known locally as the Elysian Fields.
•The Blurriness, Unique in Sports to Baseball, of the Offense and the Defense. Can we really say that the pitcher is on the defense when he hurls a hard ball 95 mph? "Baseball doesn't have sides because it isn't militaristic."
•The Geometry of the Game. "It's constantly working against action, containing it and releasing it. There's a tremendous counterpoint between energy and order. Nothing is more orderly and geometrically precise than baseball."
•The Balance of the Individual and the Group. "It's very much an individual sport you play as a team matter."
•Home. Always home. Even Giamatti laughs at how often he has made this point—the first public occasion was apparently on Oct. 18, 1978, in an essay in The Hartford Courant shortly after he left teaching to accept the Yale presidency: "Baseball is about going home and how hard it is to get there and how driven is our need. It tells us how good home is. Its wisdom says you can go home again but that you cannot stay. The journey must always start once more, the bat an oar over the shoulder, until there is an end to all the journeying."
Usually, whatever the themes he chooses, Giamatti then takes them outside the game and connects baseball to America. Baseball reflects America, and vice versa. Ours is a nation of laws, for example, accommodating, says Giamatti, "the to-and-fro between the community and the individual that the whole Constitution is supposed to be about." Like baseball, America is composed of a people who prefer "to change sides rather than take them," symbolized by the pastoral green we idealize, even as we pave it over—that shifting nation of immigrants, ever selecting a home, even as we keep leaving and going further away "from the great green garden." Run home. Home run.
Baseball is altogether authentic. Baseball is, if you will, yore. "Baseball is one of the few American institutions to have survived since the Civil War," Giamatti says. "It represents our antiquity. It was 1846 when Mr. Cartwright ferried his pals across the river to the Elysian Fields, and as the crow flies in this country, that's a fair amount back. Why, Mr. Jefferson himself had only been dead for 20 years. Baseball is an American institution, and, as the trustee of it, I will be respectful of its certain fundamental values."
Still, while Giamatti likes to neatly circumscribe himself as "middle-aged, middle-class and middle-of-the-road," it was the Reverend Mr. Falwell who took great and devilish delight in assessing the erstwhile president of liberal Yale thusly: "Some people might accuse Mr. Giamatti of being a conservative." Much of the modern baseball experience—especially the peripheral, Veeckian divertissements that have become commonplace—seems to offend Giamatti, much as Falwell and his fundamentalists are offended whenever anybody monkeys around with their ritual pieties. Giamatti declared recently that those in baseball who would explode scoreboards and parade mascots appear to have no confidence in the pure game and are like "theatrical companies who only want to do Shakespeare in motorcycle boots and leather jackets."