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On This Date in Sports September 1, 1989

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Major League Baseball Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti suffers a massive heart attack and dies at the age of 51 while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard. The former President of Yale had only been in the commissioner’s office for six months, succeeding Peter Ueberroth on April 1st after serving as President of the National League for two years. Giamatti’s tenure was marred by the Pete Rose investigation and lifetime ban.

Angelo Bartlett Giamatti was on April 4, 1938, in Boston. Raised by educators in Massachusetts, Giamatti attended Yale and went on to follow their example becoming a Professor of Literature at his Alma Mater. Bart Giamatti married Toni Marilyn Smith a High School teacher in 1960. Together, they had three children Paul, Marcus, and Elena. Marcus and Paul Giamatti would both become actors when they grew up.

In 1978, at the age of 40, Bart Giamatti became the youngest President in the history of Yale University. A longtime, baseball fan Giamatti a fan of the Boston Red Sox, once stated that his dream job was to be President of the American League. In 1986, he got his chance to be President of the National League succeeding Chub Feeney.

After two years as President of the National League, Bart Giamatti was chosen unanimously to be the seventh Commissioner of Major League Baseball replacing Peter Ueberroth’s whose term ended on April 1, 1989. Among Giamatti’s initiates as President of the National League was to push for the hiring of more African Americans in executive and management positions. When Giamatti left the National League, he was replaced by Bill White, who became the highest-ranking African American in the history of baseball.

When Bart Giamatti began serving as commissioner at the start of the 1989 season, baseball had begun an investigation into the gambling activities of Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose. The investigation of Rose became the story of the 1989 season as John Dowd was hired to see if he bet on baseball and if he bet on the Reds. Baseball since the 1919 Black Sox scandal had established rules, stating that betting on your own team would lead to a lifetime banishment. When John Dowd published his report to the commissioner, Rose was forced to accept a lifetime ban on August 24th.

Eight days after the Pete Rose ban took place; Bart Giamatti was spending the start of Labor Day Weekend at his vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard. While there in the middle of the afternoon, Giamatti went into cardiac arrest. A short time after arriving at the hospital he was pronounced dead. After his death there questions as to what caused Bart Giamatti, who was only 51 to have a heart attack. Some attributed the heart attack to the stress caused by the Peter Rose situation, where he was forced to hand down a lifetime ban the all-time hits leader. Most though blamed the fact he was slightly overweight and a heavy smoker for leading to his sudden heart failure.

Bart Giamatti was the second commissioner to die in office. Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner died at the age of 78, following the 1944 season. At the time of his death, Landis was baseball’s longest-serving commissioner at 24 years. Deputy Commissioner Fay Vincent would replace Giamatti, as baseball paid tribute during World Series with both teams wearing a black armband.