In 24 years as baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned more players from the major leagues than all his successors combined. Since the former federal judge’s death in 1944, the Cincinnati Reds’ Pete Rose is the only player, banned in 1989, not reinstated.
“Banned from Baseball,” the first play by Patricia O’Hara, a Franklin & Marshall English professor, examines the contested ruling by then Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti, a former Yale University president. It premiered to strong reviews in Dayton, Ohio, this fall.
"Whether you believe Rose has served his time or if you believe he remains a pariah to the game, ‘Banned from Baseball’ is worth seeing,” wrote Hal McCoy, who covered the Reds for 30 years. “[T]ake that from a guy who lived it in 1989 as part of the Dayton Daily News’ mostly exclusive coverage of a fallen idol."
At the time of Giamatti’s decision, Rose, the reigning “hit king” and Reds manager, stood accused of betting on baseball. He denied the charges in the face of mounting evidence, but years later, claimed he gambled only on his team to win, never to lose.
The play focuses on the battle of wills between Giamatti, who wants Rose to confess, and the ballplayer, who broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record in 1985 and wants the commissioner to believe his denials.
“Traditional Greek tragedies are about the fall from grace for a king, usually because of their pride or hubris,” Liz Eichler, reviewer for the League of Cincinnati Theatres, wrote. “’Banned from Baseball’ explores the hubris of two kings, Rose and Commissioner Giamatti, and delivers a compelling show, even for a non-sports fan.”
O’Hara, a sports fan, teaches the course, Baseball in American Literature and Culture. She told Dayton.com, “This is a story that, in some ways, doesn’t end. What I found particularly compelling were its human dimensions and the ways in which it resonates in baseball history and problems with gambling.”
Recently, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., added the playbill for “Banned from Baseball” to its library research collection.
“It has been catalogued and the record is available via our PASTIME system,” said James Gates, the library director. “It has been added to our archive of baseball-themed playbills.”
At Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company, located in Reds country, president and artistic director Kevin Moore told Dayton.com, “This story hits home to so many in our region, and we are honored to be the ones to tell the story.”