03 May 2011

A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time for Paradise. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2011.

Bart Giamatti was baseball’s philosopher-king, a professor of English and then President of Yale University before serving as National League President (in spite of being a Red Sox fan) and then Commissioner before his death in 1989. Paradise, based on his Cook Lectures at the University of Michigan Law School, is his final work, published just days after his death, and it provides a fitting epitaph.

Drawing heavily on the work of Allen Guttman and Michael O’Laughlin, Giamatti begins by explicating the concept of leisure. He then argues that “Sports represent a shared vision of how we continue, as individual, team, or community, to experience a happiness or absence of care so intense, so rare, and so fleeting that we associate their experience with experience otherwise described as religious....” Finally, he deconstructs the elements of baseball to reveal its fundamental underlying epic narrative: the universal desire to go home.

Giamatti delivers these meditations in a lyrical prose that conveys both baseball’s leisurely pace and exacting precision, with subtle insights that will stop a thoughtful reader for minutes. For instance, Charlie Sheen could benefit from this definition: “Winning” for player or spectator is not simply outscoring; it is a way of talking about betterment, about making one-self, one’s fellows, one’s city, one’s adherents, more noble because of a temporary engagement of a higher human plane of existence.” By this definition, Paradise is certainly a winner.

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