What Wonders He Has Seen

05/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Roger I. Abrams Richardson Professor of Law, Northeastern University; Author

On Saturday, April 24, we went to Fenway Park to see Arthur Giddon, the Red Sox honorary bat boy. Also scheduled was a match between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees, but Giddon was the highlight of the affair. Mr. Giddon was returning to his role as a Boston bat boy after a hiatus of almost nine decades, and he was being honored by the Sox as he neared his 100th birthday. Giddon had served as bat boy for the old Boston Braves in 1922 and 1923. Giddon stayed in Boston, took his law degree from Harvard and practiced law in Connecticut. What wonders he has seen.
The game really hasn't changed much over that span of time. Still nine men to a side, four balls, three strikes, three outs and nine innings, although back in the 1920s starting pitchers generally hurled all nine of those innings - win or lose. (Burleigh Grimes, for example, started 38 games for the Brooklyn "Robins" in 1923 and completed 33.)
The business of baseball has changed substantially, however. The 1920s were a profitable decade for the National Game. As a result, clubs built new ballparks, like Yankee Stadium which was opened in 1923, without a penny of public money. The stars of the game, like Ruth and Cobb, earned substantial salaries. In 1925, the Bambino took home (or at least took out of the park - who knows if he made it home) $52,000, worth more than $610,000 today. Cobb settled for $50,000, but he certainly wasn't happy about it. (Cobb was not happy about very much.) Ruth topped out at $80,000 a year in 1930. When reporters questioned why he should earn more than President Hoover (who earned only $75,000), Ruth famously retorted: "What the hell does Hoover have to do with it? Besides I had a better year than he did."
Mr. Giddon has seen baseball suffer through the Great Depression when attendance dropped 20% -- club owners, please note, today's Great Recession might have the same impact -- and through World War II, when the Game's greatest players fought for their country, leaving their gloves and bats behind. In the 1950s, Major League club owners discovered "franchise" free agency twenty years before the players won their own free agency. Giddon's Boston Braves ended fifty years of franchise stability when the club moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and then on to Atlanta in 1966. The earth shook in 1958 when both the Dodgers and the Giants deserted New York City in the second California Gold Rush. Finally, in 1976 the unionized players cashed in after Arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that they too could play in the free market.
Arthur Giddon has seen most of the great players in the game he loved - he remembers meeting both Babe Ruth and Commissioner Landis on the same day in 1922 -- but as a young boy he probably also experienced the Black Sox Scandal. He likely exalted the coming of Jackie Robinson and other players of color, and the internationalization of the game with the great Latino ballplayers of recent decades. He may have listened to games first on a home-made crystal radio set in the 1920s, watched them on black-and-white television, and finally in living color in HD. Arthur Giddon probably knew, however, that to really experience the National Pastime, you had to be out at the park at a place like Fenway or Wrigley Field.
Mr. Giddon admits that he cannot see as well as he used to - who of us can? - but that may qualify him to step in as the home plate umpire if need be. In any case, he is an inspiration to all of us who believe a life following baseball is a life well lived - and a century of baseball is an abundance without measure.
By the way, the Red Sox beat the Yankees in a pitchers' duel 16-11. (The Yankees used seven pitchers; the Red Sox five.) And another thing that has changed since Mr. Giddon last donned a uniform. Back then games took about two hours to complete. Today's game was four hours, 21 minutes.