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Whether it's in the classroom or on the baseball field, A. Bartlett Giamatti's top priority is order.

Giamatti, who was president of Yale for eight years, is now in his second year as president of the National League. He was selected president of the NL on June 10, 1986 and the decision came as a surprise to his brethren in academia."One group thought it was nifty, the other thought it was the ultimate proof of my essential unsoundness. They fell into the camps I would have predicted," Giamatti said in a recent interview.

Instead of volumes of poetry by Dante and Spenser, his bookshelves and desk are now cluttered with baseball memorabilia.

"It became clear to me that this was a whole new culture," Giamatti said. "There were some interesting similarities to where I had been, in the sense that both cultures are very historically oriented and in some ways retrospective. And both were fairly closed, in terms of how people come up the ranks."

Giamatti, who spent a relatively quiet first year in office, made headlines this season when he suspended Cincinnati manager Pete Rose for 30 days for shoving umpire Dave Pallone.

Some baseball officials and players compared Giamatti to a "dean of discipline" or a self-styled Eliot Ness.

"Order without freedom is repressive and freedom without order is anarchy," Giamatti said in describing his thought process.

Giamatti came to office as a wide-eyed fan and has had to learn the various intricacies of baseball law.

While president of Yale, Giamatti was sometimes seen around the Ivy League campus toting a transitor radio tuned into a Boston Red Sox game.

When Giamatti was announced as league president he made it clear that he had no grand illusions of changing the game he loves.

"I think in general, one tampers with baseball as little as humanly possible," he said. "The fundamental grid, the geometric beauty of baseball ought to be altered gingerly."

Giamatti says his job was made much easier by the help he got from former NL president Chub Feeney.

"I was blessed," Giamatti said. "My predecessor was gracious, knowledgeable and wonderfully forthcoming. I spent from July 1st to December 10th (1986) as the president-elect. I listened, learned and watched.

"There's an enormous amount of baseball law, regulations, policies written and established from past practices that I as a fan had no grasp of. That has taken a long time to acquire and I still don't pretend to control all of that," he said.

Earlier this month, Commissioner Peter Ueberroth announced he would not accept a second five-year term and Giamatti has emerged as the likely replacement.

Ueberroth said, however, he will remain through the negotiations for a new players' contract in order to avoid a chaotic transition.

Giamatti says his priorities are similar to Ueberroth's:

-1. Continued advancements in minorities in baseball.

-2. Monitor substance abuse and provide support and rehabilitation.

-3. Provide an orderly ambiance at parks and install programs to curb alcohol abuse by fans.

Giamatti is particularly concerned about fan rowdiness and considers it a threat to the future of spectator sports in the United States.

In an article he authored for the Boston Globe last year, Giamatti wrote: "I believe that at the heart of the deteriorating environment is excessive drinking. It must be stopped. Those who wish to enter a contest already drunk must be turned away; those who come only to drink in the stands and disrupt must be controlled or ejected. . . . "

Giamatti says he is "against prohibition" at the ballparks but wants better monitoring.

He says there have been "fruitful, sensitive, insightful and productive discussions" with the clubs concerning alcohol abuse.

"If the ambiance for the sporting event is not considered crucial by management, there is no reason to believe that fans will leave home and come out; there is no reason to believe that families will subject themselves to goons and call it fun; there is no reason to believe that in 10 years' time the vast majority of those who care about the sport will see it anywhere but on a (TV) screen," Giamatti wrote.

Giamatti is a Renaissance scholar and a gifted conversationalist who somehow seems out of place dealing with baseball's procedural problems and trivial controversies.

On other topics:

- Giamatti said he was surprised about the uproar over the increased number of balks and even more incredulous he was being blamed for it.

"To say this is `Giamatti's Rule', I would be happy to have a rule named after me but I would like to have some part in its creation," he said.

Giamatti said the Official Playing Rules Committee "had no doubt that there was a divergence of interpretation between the two leagues that was regretable."

- Last season, Giamatti suspended Billy Hatcher for corking his bat and pitcher Kevin Gross for using an illegal substance in his glove. And, he vows to be tough on cheaters. He said there was no precedent for dealing with corked bats: "No one had seen a corked bat before. It was a unicorn.

"There is no such thing as cheating on impulse. You don't cork a bat on impulse. You don't scuff a ball on impulse," Giamatti said. "If the boundaries don't exist, you don't have a game, you have something else. . . . You can't design rules if your formulative assumption is that everybody is going to cheat."

- Giamatti said that umpire Pam Postema, who worked major league games during the exhibition season, would probably be invited back for spring training next year.

"I would like to see more women umpires because I would like to see more athletes (of high quality) become umpires." he said.

- Giamatti said he thought baseball did not need entertainment at games to draw. "You want to see parachutes, go to an Air Force base." he said. "Or go jump out a plane - with a parachute."

- Giamatti would like to see increased minority attendance at baseball games. "I want to see more black Americans in baseball parks."