by Adam Sobsey
Glanville was a reporter's dream, always ready with a witty quote. Not surprisingly, after he retired he wrote baseball columns for The New York Times until leaving to take a job as an analyst with ESPN. Last year, he published his first book, The Game from Where I Stand: A Ballplayer's Inside View.
Glanville's family has North Carolina roots, and not long ago he moved with his wife and children from Chicago to Raleigh. On Wednesday, June 1, he will read from and sign copies of The Game from Where I Stand at Quail Ridge Books, at 7:30 p.m.
Glanville (@dougglanville on Twitter) graciously agreed to answer some questions via email.
Triangle Offense: You have roots/family here in NC. Is that what brings you here, or is it something else?
Doug Glanville: We decided to move to Raleigh after some wonderful years in Chicago. For quite some time, we have thought about being closer to our extended family. Now as a father of two young ones, my wife and I wanted to give them a chance to see their grandparents and Uncle Ken! My brother Ken has lived in Raleigh for the bulk of the last 20 years.
We have family in Asheville, Rocky Mount, Durham, Raleigh. Great fit for us!
You were a Winter League All-Star in 1996 in Puerto Rico, where your team won the championship. One of your teammates was Charlie Montoyo, who is now the manager of the Durham Bulls and has led the team to the International League playoffs all four years of his tenure so far. What sorts of memories do you have of him? Did he, at the time, have aspirations to manage, and could you see the qualities of a manager in him back then?
In fact, I went to a [Bulls] game a couple weeks ago and sat in his office for a while to catch up. He absolutely was a manager in the making back in Puerto Rico. He was always a smart player with a great eye at the plate while thinking steps ahead of everyone. And a very nice person. Always greeting everyone and happy to be there.
The Bulls, via their parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays, have had some writers pass through the clubhouse recently. Dirk Hayhurst, who wrote the bestselling Bullpen Gospels, is currently a Bull; Fernando Perez has, like you, written for The New York Times (and is also, like you, the rare African-American Ivy-Leaguer to make it to the majors — plus, he happens to be playing for the Iowa Cubs these days, as you once did, and is known for his speed, as you were); and in 2009 the Bulls briefly had Matt DeSalvo, a pitcher (currently in the independent Atlantic League) who also writes. These players all seem(ed) like outliers, to some degree, in the clubhouse, although Hayhurst and Perez have certainly been well-liked by teammates. I know you weren't publishing back then (at least not that I'm aware of), but did you feel like an outsider at all when you played, or like your teammates didn't quite know what to make of your extracurricular interest and your "braininess," for lack of a better word? I suspect you were rather unlike many of your teammates in some fundamental ways, given your background and off-the-field lifestyle (e.g. not going out on the town much for most of your career). Was it at all difficult for you to fit in? If so, how did you go about it, since it seems clear from your book that your teammates were quite fond of you?
I found the bigger difficulty to be when I was in the minor leagues, a time when you are proving yourself to even be worthy and tough enough to be in the game. It is then where labels start to stick to you that you try and shake for the rest of your career. I am confident that a lot of people weren’t sure how to take me. Was I going to just leave for another job? Why was I asking so many questions? It wasn’t easy to fit in, but I quickly found a way to just be myself. Then I didn’t have to fit in, I just had to get respect—and a lot of that happens on the field.
I got a lot of credibility when I promised to charge the mound in Double-A if a pitcher threw at me, and sure enough I was halfway to the mound before my team even believed it. By the time I was a big-leaguer, my unique background was more of a good thing. Fans loved my focus on education, players trusted me for advice, but it took a long time to get to that point.
The number of player-writers is so wonderful for me to see—to add a direct voice to the experience and put a human face on the roller-coaster of the life without being cliché. Perez is at another level in his writing, clearly a literary student, and Hayhurst is real, honest and likeable.
Speaking of the minors, which is of course our focus here in Durham, it's quite a grind for players: fewer days off than in the majors, paltry pay, long bus rides, etc. How did you cope with that, and what were the most valuable lessons you took away from the minors? What advice would you give, first and foremost, to minor-leaguers nowadays?
It was a long road, the longest part trying to understand how different it was than my previous 40-game schedule in college. The biggest adjustment is playing every single day and answering for it. Not three times a week, every day—and after long bus rides.
I learned a lot about how much I loved the game and how much I was underestimated when it came to how durable I can be. I had a great support group in my family and friends. They really helped me stay focused and not be deterred.
For advice, I would say to learn yourself and what you need to be successful—and trust it. There are plenty of naysayers or people trying to change you to take credit for your path, but you have to chart your own and part of that path is recognizing what to keep and what to throw out. There are no shortcuts, but there are better routes to take.
A somewhat self-interested question: You write in The Game from Where I Stand: "[O]ut of necessity and, one hopes, mutual respect, an unwritten contract exists between [sports]writers and the written-about. Treat me fairly, and I'll treat you fairly." This is certainly good advice, but it comes at a cost: Often, the "unwritten contract" results, unfortunately, in reporters lobbing bland questions (many of them essentially readymade answers reframed as "questions") at players, who lob cliché answers right back at them. How can reporters help players feel comfortable enough to provide more authentic answers to more legitimate questions?
I think the challenge in the media today is twofold. One—the speed of information is insane. There is no time to reflect, to sit back and frame much of anything. Two, players come and go so quickly that it is hard to build the kind of relationship you probably need to get the trust of the player. I thought the Cubs did a pretty good job in the minors to explain the press, to help [players] understand that it is an important part of the business of the game—not to mention communicating with the fans. It also documents and adds perspective to the game, making it timeless and understood. Some players are just not going to trust the press, no matter what, some are naturals and great with the press.
Comfort comes with time and experience with someone, two things that are not easy to gain. I would suggest spending time with the players in as many environments as you can. Open up to them, hang with them and help them understand the craft. I have seen players get close to members of the press, and it was good for the reader too.
One idea is to have a meeting in the beginning of the year with the players and just talk. Explain how it works, what you do, take questions, be honest. Let the players invest in the shaping of a system. After all, now everyone is the press (Twitter, etc.).
How did the ESPN gig come about, and what's it like to be an analyst rather than a player? Are you enjoying it, and do you think you might write another book?
It was not even on my radar, but I got an offer to interview after having a nice run with my New York Times column. I sort of went on a whim: OK, let me just see where this can go. Even when I got the offer, I was reluctant to take it because I had to stop writing for The New York Times. I negotiated [until] practically Opening Day trying to keep it, but I couldn’t.
I really enjoy my work. ESPN is a great place for ideas, they really try just about anything. They are smart, creative and pack it all in to a neat TV format. It is right up my alley: multimedia, multi-platform. I don’t find a major difference in player versus analyst. You have to be prepared, know your stuff, have a plan, work hard. Probably the hardest part is criticizing a player knowing how really hard the game can be. So I try to make it more about teaching. “What he wanted to do was…”
I absolutely want to write another book, it is my favorite method of communication. I love it. I have a bunch of ideas now and one is really taking shape.
Athletes rely on their bodies' health to do their work, yet it's surprising how full of junk food their diets often are. Some of this, of course, has to do with what minor-league athletes can afford to eat (and where — "dinner" is sometimes scrounged at convenience stores during all-night bus rides). But it seems to me that most ballplayers take little interest in their nutrition. Any thoughts on that? What did you eat when you were playing, or avoid eating? You write in your book that you always ate breakfast. What did you eat?
Looking back, I don’t think I knew a lot about nutrition in the minors. The Cubs tried to educate us, but when you are on the road and scrounging around, it is tough. I remember a nutritionist saying, “That tomato on your Big Mac is not considered a vegetable.” But I did cook a lot in the Carolina League, which saved money and was healthier.
Breakfast is all about french toast and I never missed it. I have a nice chain of breakfast spots all across America.
I did have a wake-up call in 2003 when my cholesterol was high. That was when I really got serious about my diet. I was never big on fast food, so I never ate horribly, but I had to really pay attention after that 2003 result.
It's sad to read, in The Game from Where I Stand, about the frequent financial problems ex-players often run into, costing them their fortunes. I'm shocked that the players' union has no "training" in place to help players safely and wisely invest money after they retire—or even a group portfolio players can invest their money in. Is such a training anywhere in the works? Did it come up when you were a player rep for the union?
It is in the works and it has been for a while. It is difficult to find the right mix. I am now on the board of the MLB Players Alumni Association and am working on that subcommittee. I hope to make a difference. Leaving the game is tough: often not on your own terms, thrust into a foreign world. Players struggle with redefining their relationships, managing money and the emptiness of not having the game. It's easy to make poor choices in that state.
In your book, you claim that Hall and Oates are "the greatest music duo in history." Fans of Simon and Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers, Sam and Dave (and plenty of other duos) would staunchly disagree! Please argue your position! Also, you're more an Oates guy than a Hall guy. Isn't it Daryl Hall who is supposed to be the mastermind of the duo? And how did you come to befriend John Oates?
I stand by my words! (Although I know record sales is not the only measure.) I always love their ability to be able to play any kind of music. They are truly universal. Any genre, any tempo, any culture—and they mesh it with being catchy and timeless. Daryl Hall has a show, “Live from Daryl’s House,” which explains it all. He brings on artists from all kinds of musical styles and jams with them, showing his true collaborative brilliance outside of his amazing voice.
In high school, I used to ask friends what kind of music they liked, listen to it and make a Hall and Oates tape to match their taste. It became this music exchange we had going.
Daryl Hall is the more prolific writer, but John Oates holds his own (three solo projects in recent years). They are just magic together, total opposites in many ways.
John Oates was someone I hit it off with backstage after collecting on my deal with my 6th grade teacher’s husband to introduce me to the band. Eventually he gave me his email address, then came for his son’s first baseball game and we have been cool ever since. Ironically, last year we went to dinner, and I had written for my college essay that the one person living or dead that I wanted to go to dinner with was John Oates. It was a cool essay about the underdog. I got accepted.