The Professional


Pete Croatto


My first look at Doug Glanville's prose came in Sean Manning’s Top of the Order, the excellent 2010 anthology featuring writers remembering their favorite baseball players. The book’s accumulation of talent (Scott Raab, Pat Jordan, et. al) was staggering. Glanville, who wrote a sweet ode to Phillies’ defensive whiz Garry Maddox, wasn’t among them. The former big leaguer didn’t do anything wrong. Strong talent can protect a weaker baseball player in the line-up. Anthologies do not work that way; even good writers, especially ones new to the craft like Glanville, can suffer by comparison.

Two weeks ago, I reviewed a miserable baseball player memoir for another publication. It was filled with the kind of fake familiarity and praise-to-God gibberish that made me wonder if all athletes don’t adopt the same narrative template, just replacing teams and the names of second wives. Such an experience required a restorative trip to my local postage stamp of a library. In browsing the non-fiction section, Glanville’s 2010 book, The Game From Where I Stand: A Ballplayer's Inside View, caught my attention. Maybe it was that since relocating to the Philadelphia suburbs, I now notice anything associated with a Sixer, Eagle, or Phillie. (Glanville enjoyed his best years playing center field for the Phillies in the late 1990s and early 2000s.) Desperation also played a role. I had to write something for this column, so I grabbed the book grateful that the upcoming baseball season provided a shred of topicality.

Glanville’s book was an unexpected salvation. Many athlete-penned books fail because they proceed under the assumption that just having someone who played the games you watched—a member of this uniformed, glamorous secret society—is good enough. From there, it doesn’t matter what is written. He or she can grind axes or peddle clichés as hard-earned wisdom. Since the athlete has actually spent time with the uncoordinated hoi polloi, we are supposed to happily accept that he or she shared nothing. Precious few sports books—Jim Brosnan’s The Long Season, Bill Bradley’s Life on the Run to name two—take the time to describe the job of an athlete, a mystifying oversight. Listening to strangers’ work stories is unbearable, but what if the person you just met played center field for the Phillies?

In The Game From Where I Stand, Glanville offers an on-the-job description in simple, often eloquent language. There are no volcanic revelations, few, if any, on-the-road escapades, no “the road is tough” confessions. Forget about heroic tales. How much grandeur can you expect from someone with a career .277 batting average who never made an all-star team? Glanville, who grew up in  Teaneck, NJ  loving Dwight Gooden and Hall & Oates, talks about the lifestyle and work habits of a professional baseball player. His simple forthrightness leads to an endlessly fascinating book that refuses to push readers away with the same old tricks.

Here are a few of Glanville’s more choice revelations:

*Getting sucked into the rich and famous lifestyle happens to every player at some point: “It is much easier to jump in and accept the ‘island,’ and then try to extricate yourself from its siren call. Of course, jumping in makes getting out even harder, because it is kind of fun.” This need to demonstrate success, Glanville writes, “takes us away from our true selves.” Regrouping and relearning the difference between needs versus wants takes courage in this culture.

It’s easy to understand why someone Allen Iverson, the former basketball superstar, would buy a new wardrobe for every road trip, instead of just packing a suitcase. Or why Jack Clark bought cars at a rate that bankrupted him.

*Be careful whom you invite into your team’s inner circle: “A girlfriend’s appearance in the family room is a privilege, not a right. Whether to grant that privilege is often the subject of hotly contested debate involving the boyfriend, the [players’] families, and the team’s community relations officials. Girlfriends are seen by all of the above as having ticking clocks strapped on their backs. Time will eventually expire, and the player will in all likelihood replace rather than reset until proven otherwise. But until that seemingly inevitable expiration date arrives, a player’s girl has the ability to sour a room. The way she dresses or walks or talks can easily offend a wife or a mom or upset a kid. (In general, the dads and brothers want no part of this dynamic.) So if the girlfriends are wise, they tread lightly.”

*Just because you’ve made the big show, it doesn't mean you’ve made it: “You never stop climbing and grasping for the next level, because when you stop, you lose your grip and start going back down. You are either climbing or falling.”

*When the Expos were around, Montreal was a ballplayer’s paradise: “To the single fellas, Montreal was like a never-ending bachelor party, so there was an unspoken rule: Never bring your girlfriend to Montreal . . . The city was rife with clandestine possibility, so if you wanted to run naked down the street, this was your chance.”

He also liked the anonymity the city afforded. “It was a place to fade into the background, be low-key and part of the landscape,” Glanville writes. “Something that players enjoy every once in a while.”

*There’s a reason why many ballplayers don’t easily retire: “No matter how your career ends, once it does, it feels like the rocket you rode to the top has been abruptly stopped by an errant asteroid. There’s nothing to fill that void of competing every single day at the highest level.”

Glanville received an engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania and earned over $11 million in his playing days, according to But he didn’t feel prepared for life after baseball. “…I didn’t really know much about this world I was entering. I had a Ph.D. in baseball, but in every other realm that involved making a living I was stuck at my college graduation ceremony, thirteen years before.”

The game will define its participants. The best the players can do is hold on and not get washed away by the lifestyle. The Game From Where I Stand can serve as a handbook for athletes and for fans, such as myself, who sometimes forget that players are not just statistics in a uniform. They are people whose talents have put them in a higher orbit. And they will be crashing to Earth sooner than you think.

Books mentioned in this column:
The Game from Where I Stand by Doug Glanville (Times Books, 2010)
Life on the Run by Bill Bradley (Vintage Books, 1995)
The Long Season by Jim Brosnan (Ivan R. Dee, 2001)
Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Players of All Time edited by Sean Manning (Da Capo Press, 2010) 978-0306818554

Pete Croatto’s essays, criticism, and humor writing have appeared in MAD, Publishers Weekly, BookPage, AMC, and the (Newark) Star-Ledger. He also reviews movies for ICON and The Weekender, and maintains a movie blog. A longtime Mets fan, Pete currently lives in Bucks County, PA, which is Phillies territory. Pray for him. Contact Pete.



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