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On Doug Glanville and his book, ‘The Game from Where I Stand’

MAN OF LETTERS: The former Chicago Cub and ESPN baseball analyst with the Ivy League pedigree is playing a new position: author of a thinking man’s book about baseball

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Doug Glanville, author of
Doug Glanville

This is Doug Glanville on steroids: “Many of [the players who use steroids] deal with a nagging inadequacy,” he writes in The Game from Where I Stand, a blend of recast Times columns and new baseballcentric ruminations filed under broad chapter headings such as “The Stresses of the Game” and “Bridging Differences in the Game.” “They believe that to cope with challenges of their profession and to hold on to what they love to do, they need something from a bottle. They may or may not realize that every time they pop that pill, they lose an opportunity—one that could have bestowed the gift of self-awareness. With that gift comes empowerment and peace, for you know what you are truly capable of when facing challenges with raw, honest vulnerability.”

Here is the irony: While Glanville steadfastly refused as a player to inflate his praying mantis–like build via chemicals, his nuanced thinking on steroids established him as a writer. “It was truly one of those inspirational moments,” he says. “I was just frustrated with the dialogue. There was so much more to it than ‘Bring me the head of ——’ or ‘Do whatever you want.’” The inspiration officially struck in December 2007, when the outcry about performance-enhancing drugs in baseball was particularly clamorous. In a single sitting, Glanville wrote his 1,807-word take on the game’s drug-induced tumult and sent it off to Jayson Stark, who forwarded it to his editors at ESPN.com, where it appeared soon thereafter—more or less the first opinion piece Glanville had ever gotten published. Almost immediately, The New York Times called; his web column debuted a few months later. “[In that ESPN.com article] he mentioned the concept of players doing steroids partly out of fear,” says Alan Schwarz, a longtime friend and a Times sports reporter who also covered Glanville at Penn for the school paper. “As soon as I saw the word ‘fear,’ I called him and said, ‘You have to explore this for us.’”

Glanville’s subsequent exploration, which continues throughout The Game from Where I Stand, has focused on player psychology. Of particular interest to him: deconstructing the paranoia, self-doubt, and isolation he believes have contributed to the choice to use steroids by players such as Alex Rodriguez and (allegedly) Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. For instance, when we first meet, Glanville offers the following about Jose Canseco, who is quite possibly more steroid than man: “I read Canseco’s book, Juiced, and I found a bunch of underlying themes. He talks at length about his relationship with his family and his father. He had a lot of things he needed to prove. At his mother’s deathbed, he was like, ‘I will be the greatest athlete ever!’ Those types of statements make people do many things.” About Rodriguez, perhaps the most infamous confessed steroid user, and Glanville’s teammate during a brief stay with the Texas Rangers in 2003, Glanville has written, “Alex’s need for approval and his search for a likable image had likely contributed to the insecurity that led him to the choice to go down the chemical path.” (After “Understanding A-Rod,” Glanville’s February 2009 column, was posted on the Times website, Rodriguez sent an appreciative note to the Glanville residence by FedEx.)

Not surprisingly, Glanville is serenely self-aware of every nook of his own mind, the themes of his life thoroughly investigated, parental influence most especially. His mother, a retired math teacher who now lives in suburban Washington, D.C., shielded him from pro scouts in high school so he could concentrate on his academic interests. “He wanted me to teach him algebra before his time,” she told the Cubs press corps stalwart George Castle when he interviewed her for his 2003 book, Throwbacks. “It was sixth grade. He was too young, but he really wanted to do it.” Glanville’s father, a psychiatrist (explaining nearly everything else above), immigrated to the United States from Trinidad at age 31. In the final hours of the Phillies’ 2002 season, as his father was dying, Glanville collected career hits 999, 1,000, and 1,001; the ball complicit in hit number 1,000 is buried with his dad. The dedication in The Game from Where I Stand—“To my father, the angels’ therapist, still counseling from the heavens”—is attached to a poem he wrote in memory of his dad, himself a prodigious poet.

And so, Glanville’s latest natural talent (“I do feel like I’m probably a better writer than I was a player—at least in the sense of comfort,” he admits) has been entirely nurtured. “I think metaphorically,” he says. “Part of that is my parents. My dad being a psychiatrist meant analyzing situations at another level and bringing them into terms someone else is comfortable with. And my mom being a teacher meant she had to translate concepts for her students in ways they understood. So I constantly was around this filtered way to communicate.” 

“The bastard is a much better writer than I am a baseball player,” jokes Alan Schwarz, “which I find patently unfair.”

* * *

Be forewarned—most recently Glanville has set forth to master the piano. “I wrote this just messing around,” he tells me while sitting at the tan Steinway and Sons piano in the front room of his Bucktown walkup, riffing from a white composition book he has filled with pencil markings. “My teacher said it kind of sounded like Fiddler on the Roof.” He endeavors mostly to sound like Daryl Hall and John Oates—“the greatest music duo in history,” per the acknowledgements section of The Game from Where I Stand, a place where sarcasm is not permitted. (The number of Hall & Oates mentions in the book: no fewer than six.) He can now proudly tap out the notes to their songs by ear. “I took lessons from the age of 4 until the age of 14. But I was always playing the classical stuff. I was annoyed that I couldn’t play my favorite pop songs. So I started taking lessons again as an adult because I wanted to understand why I like the music that I like.”

Before I leave—and after a Daryl Hall–inspired serenade—Glanville muses that he would like to become skilled enough to play background music at a homeless shelter during a holiday dinner, unbeknownst to anyone else. When I relay these furtive concert plans to Jayson Stark, he marvels, “Doug is never going to be the kind of guy who will do what you think a guy like him ought to do.”


Photograph: Joe Wigdahl


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