Opinion: Former baseball commissioner recalls CT childhood. ‘I feel the tug to go’ home

Bart Giamatti, the former Yale president and my predecessor as commissioner of Major League Baseball, often asked why there is no fourth base in baseball. Why is the final base called “Home” and not numbered like the other bases?

The concept of “home” is deeply rooted in our literature from Homer and “The Odyssey” to classics such as Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” and many others. The theme of the departure from home and the struggle to find the way back is perhaps a reason the baseball terms have remained so vibrant. The only time one “counts” in baseball is by getting “home.” When I get “home” to my youthful neighborhood of New Haven, I recall things that have counted.

Home is where family shared my every day, and so I think of parents and grammar school teachers and trying a cigarette with older boys and taking a 5-cent candy bar from a local store shelf while “forgetting” to pay for it. The store owner gently alerted my mother, and she knew just what to do. I was about 10 at the time.

When my mother sat me down to explain why stealing a candy bar was a serious matter and not simply a “mistake,” I knew her topic was a big deal because she had me sitting in the same chair at our dining room table where I sat when she explained where babies came from. She chose a formal setting to warn me her message required my full attention. She was stern and wearing her schoolteacher face.

She explained the harm to the store owner to whom I was ordered to apologize while paying for the candy. I was told how that man depended on the store income to support his children. She explained that stealing a small candy bar was the same as stealing another boy’s baseball glove. Some things were just not done. I was silent.

She emphasized the most serious damage I caused was to the faith in me that she and my father shared. I had betrayed them and myself. I felt shaken and shamed. She warned me the loss of my self-respect occasioned by my misconduct was a major form of punishment and urged me to learn my lesson. Her point lasted my lifetime.

My ancestral East Rock area of New Haven is now a bit gentrified and more racially diverse, but the old Marlin gun factory still stands on Willow Street, and Blake Field, where my father umpired softball games on muggy summer nights, is still in use. The houses are the same three-story Victorians with tiny yards and ancient garages in the rear. I recall the area warmly, but it has no special meaning to me now.

So why do I feel the tug to go “home” when the occasion arises. I believe one learns at a young age the set of values that will govern through life. I also am convinced mothers are the essential ingredient to the teaching of those values and surely in my case I was fortunate. I return “home” to remind myself of what counts in life, and it is the noble values of intelligence, curiosity, discipline and honor that began to develop in New Haven with my mother in charge. My hope for this nation lies with our young mothers.

Connecticut native Fay Vincent was commissioner of Major League Baseball from September 1989 through September 1992. He previously served as chairman of Columbia Pictures and executive vice president of Coca-Cola.