Just five years after a players’ strike cancelled the World Series, at a time when baseball fans were as disillusioned as ever and the nation’s ballparks were left half-empty, Bob Costas decided it was time to speak up.
A baseball fanatic and hugely successful sportscaster, Costas used baseball’s crisis as the impetus for his first book, “Fair Ball: A Fan’s Case for Baseball.” The book, published in 2000, won praise from critics, baseball insiders and sportswriters alike. It also landed Costas on the New York Times bestsellers’ list, although Costas didn’t reap financial rewards from that distinction; he directed all profits from his book to charity.
In the book, Costas called for widespread economic change throughout Major League Baseball and criticized the league’s willingness to trade tradition for profit. That it arrived just as baseball was struggling with fan apathy made it all the more poignant.
After the book hit the shelves, Costas became for many baseball fans the one thing they didn’t see anywhere else in their beloved pastime—a symbol of integrity.
Costas became such a popular figure in the wake of the book’s publication, in fact, that many began suggesting he be named baseball’s new commissioner.
“He really does care about the game,” Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan wrote of Costas that year, “and he worries about it because he is in a position to see that the game is not necessarily in the custody of people who love it as much as he does, I do, or, perhaps, you do.”
Fittingly, Costas, a veteran sportscaster, author and journalist, has been selected as keynote speaker for Penn’s annual Integrity Week event, a weeklong symposium examining ethics in a variety of contexts. Costas—who is still mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Bud Selig as baseball’s top man—will speak at 8 p.m. on Nov. 18 at Irvine Auditorium.
Past keynote speakers for Integrity Week include Bob Woodward, Erin Brockovich and Patch Adams.
“We were trying to find a keynote speaker who would be able to talk about integrity in some way that could appeal to everyone,” said Rachel Kohn, co-chair of the University Honor Council. “We thought a good path to do that would be through sports, which is a universal draw.”
Kohn said the council had talked about bringing in a sports figure for the past few years. Among those considered as keynote speaker were any number of coaches, agents and sportscasters. But Costas, she said, was the unanimous favorite.
“He’s really well known, really active and has an active interest in such big issues as steroids, ”Kohn said. “He seemed to be a good figure.”
Costas, who started with NBC Sports in 1979, has covered every major American sport in his career. Since 1992, he’s headed up NBC’s Olympics coverage, hosting the network’s broadcasts from Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Australia and Athens.
He has won 16 Emmy awards and has been named National Sportscaster of the Year eight times—more than any other winner in history. He won his first, in 1985, when he was just 33. He is the youngest person to ever win the award.
Costas’ experience is not limited to sports, however. In 2001, Costas joined with HBO to launch the successful “On the Record with Bob Costas,” a weekly interview show.
Integrity Week kicked off Nov. 15 and concludes Nov. 18 with Costas’ talk. Tickets, though free, were distributed by lottery, and Kohn said she expected strong demand for the event. “He doesn’t do a lot of speaking, and that’s why we’re really excited,” Kohn said.
Originally published on November 18, 2004