Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Baseball's lesson for Washington

By Bob Greene, CNN Contributor
October 14, 2013 -- Updated 1542 GMT (2342 HKT)
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
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT