A Ballplayer's Inside View
By Doug Glanville
Times Books. 304 pp. $25
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Reviewed by David Cohen
Doug Glanville is smart.
It's gratifying to be able to draw that conclusion from his book on baseball, given that professional athletes are often assumed to be dumb - and that there are numerous examples proving that stereotype to be true.
Glanville is a former Penn engineering student who played for the Phillies (1998-2002, 2004) during a nine-year big-league career. He's written a book that doesn't fit into any of the usual niches for baseball tomes.
The Game From Where I Stand is not an autobiography. There's little in the way of statistics and salacious stories, two standbys of baseball memoirs. Nor is this book a treatise on the state of baseball, though Glanville spends time discussing steroids, labor strife, and other hot topics.
And, thank goodness, this isn't yet another cloying, walk-down-memory-lane ode to the sport's "beauty."
Glanville, 39, functions as a reporter, describing in detail what's it like to play ball for a living. He's got a good eye for the things that make up a baseball life, from finding an apartment in a new city to staying focused in the dugout to being confronted by Ryne Sandberg's wife over his date's conduct in the clubhouse. Instead of having a section where he ranks players, he lists such items as "best hotel lobby" and "best fans for a visiting player."
Certain subjects pop up repeatedly. One might be surprised, for instance, at the amount of preparation and study involved in this game. As a centerfielder, Glanville was responsible for the positioning of his fellow outfielders, which meant he had to cover for those who didn't do their homework.
Insecurity and fear are recurring themes of the book. Conditioned by the sport's stepladder system - with players advancing through the levels of the minors to the big leagues and then the starting lineup - players are driven by fear of failure.
Glanville climbed and descended these steps. Starting out as the No. 1 draft pick of the Cubs, he experienced life as a hot prospect, an untested rookie, a platoon player, a solid regular with the Phillies, a fill-in for a top rookie, a free agent, a bench player, and a spring-training casualty.
Off the field, insecurity leads players to strive to outdo others with pretty women and gated homes - and also to collect the biggest and best toys (particularly cars).
"No one sets the tone for social climbing better than major leaguers," Glanville writes. "To a young and impressionable rising minor leaguer, it is tempting to do exactly what the big leaguers are doing. After all, these are the players you idolized as a kid. And so, all of a sudden, whatever you have is not enough."
He adds: "It takes a lot of introspection to realize that as you are 'upgrading,' you hit an invisible peak and then hit the precipitous downhill slope of declining benefits - because this particular home plate keeps moving, teasing you into needing to go just a little farther."
Insecurity also makes players creatures of habit, doing the same things over and over, in the same order - at least, until a rival catches on. Glanville says he would always enter the batter's box with his head down, until the great Greg Maddux took note of it: "One game while my head was down, the ball was halfway to home plate before I looked up. Easy strike. Advantage Maddux."
He also delves into the topic of race, though one gets the sense Glanville would just as soon avoid it.
An African American who grew up in the integrated suburb of Teaneck, N.J., he was warned early on by a teammate about the dangers of dating white women. Glanville also shares revealing anecdotes about getting treated shabbily while shopping for high-end cars - until someone recognized him. "For better or worse," he writes, "the baseball card trumps the race card."
One might draw the conclusion this is a ponderous book. It's not. There are colorful stories throughout. One flavorful tale comes from the game in which the Phillies won the World Series in 2008.
For Game 5, Glanville was granted the honor of bringing the ball to Jim Bunning, who then threw out the first pitch. "The world did not know," he writes, "what I knew at that moment: the Phillies were ordained to win the game, no matter how many days it took. Why? Because that moment was the convergence of all the magic of my youth."
In his reasoned way, Glanville has created a little magic here. Filled with sharp insights, keen observations, and great stories, his book is championship caliber.