Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Season that Continued, A Season that Ended

Literary "salons" in general sound awful.  So pretentious.  But I would very much have liked to be around in the era when two of my favorite authors J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis held forth at a very informal pub based gathering called "The Inklings". 

Pints of ale instead of short rations of an amusing little Cabernet.  Preliminary readings and critical discussion of the manuscripts for The Lord of the Rings and That Hideous Strength.  The company of writers who had all lead fascinating even heroic lives.  Sign me up.

So, quick now, what more modern literary figure would you offer a seat at some hypothetical Inklings group should you be privileged to attend one in the After Life?

My nominee:

Angelo Bartlett "Bart" Giamatti was not primarily a writer.  No, like Tolkien and Lewis he was a University professor, specifically in the field of English Renaissance Literature.  He'd fit right in with the Inklings.  But Bart Giamatti was much more.  He did not fight in the trenches of World War One as did Lewis and Tolkien.  But he was President of Harvard University, and quite remarkably.....The Commissioner of Major League Baseball.  

I am biased of course, but I consider baseball to be the most poetic of sports and in Bart Giamatti baseball found its perfect leader.

He will be remembered primarily for the life time ban he imposed on Pete Rose.  It almost seems quaint now.  Rose was a phenomenal player, one of the greatest ever.  But he bet on baseball games.  Giamatti considered the matter carefully....and banned him.  Exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame is an Excommunication from which no penance can restore the state of Grace.  

If something like this came up today I have no doubt that the player involved would hire fierce lawyers and a firm of unctuous consultants.  Veiled threats of legal action would alternate with sobbing excuses of "gambling addiction" or some other dodge to avoid responsibility and consequences.  Such is our modern world.  

But I will always remember Giamatti for something else.  Because he once wrote what I consider to be the most profound musing on the passing of time, and of our own mortality.

On a grey fall day when the Minnesota Twins have been eliminated from the playoffs consider the following:

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

For loyal baseball fans there will of course be another Spring, another Season.  But for Bart Giamatti there would be no new season.  After just five months as Commissioner he died suddenly of a heart attack.  Too soon.  At age 51, far too soon.

He had a lot more to offer the world, more poetry, more leadership.  But I take comfort in the strong suspicion that he has been "called up to the Big Club" and that in some place where the seasons never change, and where the Yankees are elsewhere atoning for their evil, Bart Giamatti holds forth over endless pints in the august company of Tolkien and Lewis and Twain and Suetonius.

No comments: