Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Glanville Comes Alive

Doug Glanville appears to be a nice guy. He's a good sport and apparently a dutiful son and husband. He's a thoughtful commentator on how baseball players, who live much of their often-insecure professional lives in a kind of bubble, can be challenged by dealing with the real world in the off-season or in the years after retirement. But he's ultimately a bit of a bore.

Glanville played a number of years for the Cubs, Phillies, and Rangers—a speedy centerfielder with intimations of lead-off ability and occasional power. Ultimately, however, he was inconsistent, perhaps overthoughtful, and out of baseball at 34. He's now 39, lives in Chicago, and has a book out, derived in large measure from his recent columns for The New York Times.

Watson and I saw Glanville at an installment of Mark Bazer's winsomely wonderful Interview Show at the Hideout last week. The show is a low-rent affair in a small space that nonetheless manages to attract some pretty high-wattage figures—this edition featured, among others, Charlie Trotter, Tracy Letts, and Glanville, which for us was pretty much a trifecta: cooking, theater, and baseball. On the downside, there was some agonizing sketch comedy—white people imitating Kurtis Blow at staggering length is, well, less than au courant, plus it only underlined the uncomfortably monochrome nature of the crowd. But Bazer is informed and charming, and he's able to keep his guests very relaxed, to the point where he winds up doing the shilling for them. We got to chat with Glanville afterward, which is when he produced the autograph above, and we learned that while no major-leaguer ever relishes going back to the minors, he did relatively enjoy his time in Des Moines and in the Puerto Rican winter league.

Glanville is remembered well by Cubs fans for his clutch performance in the 2003 postseason—though his heroics were largely eclipsed by the subsequent Bartman incident. (Glanville does a nice job in the book—as he has elsewhere—of taking Bartman off the hook.) But it is a considerable stretch to say that he's one of the greats of his era. He knows this and writes movingly about the precarious nature of a baseball career, in which a player can and will be eclipsed in short order by a younger, stronger, faster one, whom often he has to help train.

The only real flaw with Glanville's book is that it is repetitious as hell. Other reviewers have expressed incredulity at Glanville's relative mildness—he has very few tales of debauchery to tell, let alone to cover up, and his favorite musician of all time is, uh, John Oates. Really.

What strikes me about this is that the qualities that made Glanville something of an outlier in baseball make him quite normal in everyday life. He is one of the few Ivy League graduates to have played in the Major Leagues, but from the reputation he garnered in baseball and the evident pride he takes in his degree (which is mentioned over and over and over again in the book), you would be hard-pressed to believe that somewhere around eleven thousand such degrees are awarded every year. The qualities that make Doug Glanville an appealing emissary from the often dumbass world of professional athletes make him... well, an average guy, if by "average" you mean reasonably educated, conversational, and aware of the world around him.

Photo from

And that's probably enough. Lord knows it's a nice break from thundering dunderheads like Lenny Dykstra (whom Glanville supplanted in the Phillies outfield). Glanville, like our man in Scottsdale, had the great fortune to play an archetypal position in a major American institution for a few years. He's got enough sense to put together a career after that. What more does the man have to do?

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