Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Baseball's lesson for Washington

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Mon October 14, 2013
Visitors walk at the National World War II Memorial after a rally at the monument in Washington on Tuesday, October 15. Activists from veterans groups gathered to protest the partial shutdown of the U.S. government and to rally for resolutions to the budget crisis. Signs of the shutdown can be found across the country. Visitors walk at the National World War II Memorial after a rally at the monument in Washington on Tuesday, October 15. Activists from veterans groups gathered to protest the partial shutdown of the U.S. government and to rally for resolutions to the budget crisis. Signs of the shutdown can be found across the country.
HIDE CAPTION
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
Signs of a shutdown
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bob Greene: D.C. pols should heed words of then-future MLB chief Giamatti during 1981 strike
  • Giamatti said public not interested in baseball's "squalid little squabbles"
  • Greene: Government leaders should be keepers of public trust
  • Greene: If federal workers shut down government, there'd be an uproar

Editor's note: CNN contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story"; "Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War"; and "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen."

(CNN) -- Official Washington, still stuck in the government shutdown of its own making, seems exceedingly short on wisdom these days. But maybe it is looking in the wrong places for answers.

Maybe, for one example, there is an unexpected lesson of sorts to be found in the history of baseball.

That sport, which is currently moving through its postseason and toward the World Series, is hardly without it own troubles; it has endured its share of shutdowns, strikes and lockouts. It was during one of those work stoppages -- the seven-week strike of 1981-- that an anguished fan pleaded publicly with the leaders of the sport, both the owners and the players, to come to their senses.

Bob Greene
Bob Greene

The fan was Bart Giamatti, who at the time was the president of Yale University and who would go on to become the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Giamatti, frustrated by the posturing and excuses on both sides, wrote that the failure to open up the gates of the ballparks was "utter foolishness. ... The people of America care about baseball, not about your squalid little squabbles. Reassume your dignity and remember that you are the temporary custodians of an enduring public trust."

Indeed.

The squalid little squabbles that have gummed up the daily machinery of the federal government have laid bare a stark truth: the unwillingness of leaders of both parties to get past their desire to portray themselves solely as winners, and those on the other side solely as losers.

That the majority of the public -- the employers of these officials -- want the government to open back up seems to have mattered little to those entrusted with the authority to open it. The politicians' belated nervous scrambling of the last few days, prompted by the citizens' disdain, has only highlighted how badly they overestimated the limits of the country's patience.

Clock is ticking; no debt deal yet
Capt. Colburn: 'I need to go fishing'
GOP senator: Shutdown was a 'dumb idea'
Newt on shutdown: Been there, done that

During political campaign seasons, candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, love to proclaim: "This election isn't about me. It's about you." That thought tends to evaporate after the election is won. The Congress and the White House have been acting as if the wishes of the citizens to get the government operating again are an irritating distraction from what the political leaders are most focused on: stubbornly and frantically shifting the blame to the other guy.

If Harry Truman proclaimed that "the buck stops here," the people in charge in the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House seem resolved to continually bleat: "The buck stops there." It is all someone else's fault. And the public is supposed to accept that.

If it were federal workers, instead of the elected leaders of the federal government, who had made the decision to close down buildings, parks, programs and services, they could expect to be in dire trouble. President Ronald Reagan, when federal air traffic controllers walked off their jobs in 1981, said: "Government cannot close down the assembly line. It has to provide without interruption the protective services which are government's reason for being." But when it is the elected officials themselves who close down the assembly line, they expect the citizens to understand.

Every moment the political leaders have spent preening before the cameras has been a moment they were not working to reopen the government.

There is a stirring sentence in the creed of the Navy SEALs: "I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions." It is as if the men and women in charge in Washington have adopted the mirror opposite of that code. Baseball fan Giamatti wrote, in the midst of that 1981 strike: "There is no general sympathy for either of your sides. Nor will there be."

The sooner that the leaders of government -- the "temporary custodians of an enduring public trust" -- fully comprehend that there is, and will be, no general sympathy heading their way, either, the sooner they may realize that it's time to step away from the television cameras and cease their futile search for that sympathy.

And instead do the jobs they are being paid to do.

How have you been affected by the shutdown? Share your story.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bob Greene.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 8:35 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT