A. Bart Giamatti, Major League Baseball’s seventh Commissioner and a formidable scholar (having previously served as the President of Yale University), once famously said about baseball:
It 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 alone.
Giamatti knew what he was talking about. A lifelong Red Sox fan, he had the unenviable task of overseeing Pete Rose’s lifetime ban from baseball, and then suffered a fatal heart attack eight days later.
I find Giamatti’s words to be true in my own experience as a baseball player, fan, and amateur historian. As a player, the joys of fielding ground balls and taking batting practice were gradually overshadowed by the political squabbles of battling for playing time with coaches’ sons and the increasing awareness that I was never going to get a shot at the Big Leagues. As a fan, the majority of my childhood was spent rooting for Atlanta Braves, the winningest team of the 1990s, and yet, looking back, it is not the hundreds and hundreds of victories that I remember but the failures in the playoffs year after year. And as an amateur historian, the stories that most readily spring to mind tend to be the saddest ones.
It is some of these stories that I would like to share, on an intermittent basis, as part of a new series. Designed to break your heart or not, I love baseball, in large part because of the poignancy of its illustrious history.
Hope you enjoy them.