Book review: 'The Game From Where I Stand,' by Doug Glanville
THE GAME FROM WHERE I STAND
A Ballplayer's Inside View
By Doug Glanville
Times. 276 pp. $25
Doug Glanville was always different from other baseball players -- in a good way. In a testosterone-fueled realm where any player who works on crossword puzzles at his locker is deemed cerebral and any player who says "hello" is bestowed with the "good guy" tag, Glanville, a center fielder who played from 1996 to 2004, was legitimately intelligent (he graduated from Penn with an engineering degree) and legitimately nice. Oh, and eminently quotable.
Glanville was different because he was more like one of us (regular folks) than one of them (exalted athletes). He saw himself the way you would if you made the majors: full of self-awareness and humanity, traits that are otherwise in short supply in the VIP-treated, image-conscious world of pro sports.
It stood to reason, then, that Glanville's baseball memoir, "The Game From Where I Stand," would be different as well. If Jose Canseco's 2006 blockbuster, "Juiced," with its tawdry depictions (and named names) of rampant steroids use and womanizing, was the template for the modern ballplayer memoir, Glanville's book is the polar opposite. He himself, a skinny speedster who hit only 59 career home runs during his nine big-league seasons (but who walked away proud to have never tried performance-enhancing drugs), is the anti-Canseco. "If I have done this great game justice," Glanville writes at the end of the introduction, "you will find that whether or not you have ever picked up a bat or thrown a ball, this book could be your story as well." That isn't something Canseco, with his cartoon biceps and inflated sense of self, would ever claim.
Glanville, who contributes a column to the New York Times, is a witty, insightful writer, and his detailed descriptions of the unseen banalities and secret vanities of the baseball life -- how players pass the time during rain delays, the proper way to pack an equipment bag after you've been cut, the admission that players practice signing their autograph -- are sometimes riveting and often amusing, even for those of us already intimately familiar with that life.
Unfortunately, Glanville's book is heavy with such detail and light on deeper insights. We probably don't need five pages on official scorers, and the inevitable section on players' superstitions feels terribly predictable. An African American from New Jersey, he delves into the race issue but doesn't go much beyond debunking old stereotypes. He alludes to acts of adultery by teammates, but doesn't name names or reveal any clubhouse secrets -- other than the fact that players enforced a rule against taking wives on team trips to Montreal, which he calls "the Canadian Las Vegas."
Where he succeeds is in revealing his own fears and insecurities. He questions his ability to sustain a loving relationship, to deal with the death of his father, to come to grips with the inevitable ending of his career. And he shares the bitterness he felt at losing opportunities (and money) to players who cheated with steroids.
It takes Glanville, who played during the height of the steroids era, no fewer than 182 pages to finally address the drug issue -- which, as a former officer of baseball's union, he understands intimately. But when he gets there, he tackles it with the sort of grace, humanity and tortured ambivalence you might expect. He acknowledges his own complicity in not doing more to stop the epidemic: "We loved watching [Mark] McGwire take batting practice," he writes, "and for a few moments, we were unquestioning twelve-year-olds who wanted to believe in magic." But he goes to great lengths to argue that players' privacy rights should overrule the urge to know which 104 names are on the disputed, leaked list of baseball's (supposedly anonymous) positive tests from 2003.
"I made the choice to play clean because this was something that was important to me," he writes. "But who could have imagined the drug issue would get so complicated?. . . In fairness to [steroids users], they are just mimicking what our culture teaches us. We cannot age; we cannot lose a step; we cannot fail; we cannot show our frailties; we must be the best at all costs. So we find quick fixes to avoid the human condition."
Many times during the steroids scandal, it has seemed as if the players were on one side of the battle and the baseball writers were on the other. In Glanville, finally, we have someone who is of both camps, and everyone on either side would benefit from hearing what he has to say.
Dave Sheinin is a sports writer for The Washington Post.