Friday, September 24, 2010

Baseball Book of the Decade: Doug Glanville
Synthesizes Systems Engineering & Emotional Intelligence  

I was stoked to read Doug Glanville's recent book, but for some reason I let it sit for a while, unread, while I plugged away at novels. I think it was because I appreciate his insight so much that I was concerned I'd be disappointed.

Turns out Glanville's book falls into the category of zero disappointment possible. It's got the inside skinny on how contemporary players live and think and act when they're at work and how they balance their Baseball careers with their Beyond Baseball lives.

The Game From Where I Stand: A Ballplayer's Inside View (Times Books, 2010) is, literally, a unique book. Unique, because never before has a major league player written both about the inside game and explicitly knitted in autobiographical details. Unique, more importantly, because no major league player who has written a book has been a person who combined high brainpower (more players are intelligent than choose to allow it to show) and high emotional intelligence. To objectors who want to use Jim Bouton's Ball Four or Jim Brosnan's Pennant Race as having both "boths", I'll tell you they were both high-brainpower guys, but neither was a mature adult (which, of course, gave them great insights & humor and amplified the joy of reading the books).

Unlike any other volume I know of, The Game From Where I Stand talks in a fascinating and revealing way about how ballplayers live with, and feel about, the issues on and off the field, from the quotidian (living arrangements & sense of home, balancing personal relationships and commitment to the most challenging zero-sum endeavor in Western Civilization, working with media, what it's like to decompress just enough during a rain delay or never decompress if you're on the bench and might need to be called upon to pinch hit) to the headline-scraping (supplements and the challenge to interpreting records in an era where no one can know who didn't use legal or banned supplements and when there's zero valid science that defines their effects on performance).

Like many baseball books, Glanville's has dish on individual players he competed with or worked alongside and while all reveal a little about individuals we know better as images on a television screen or the front and back of baseball cards, the finest examples are this insightful observer's impressions of known eccentrics, such as Carl Everett and Ugueth Urbina are treated well (I won't share them with you; it'd undermine your enjoyment of them). And he shares some inside language I'd never heard before (some of it spectacularly useable, such as "French Toast").

It's not perfect; a lot of the material in the final third is ordinary material that feels like it was requested by the publisher or an agent, and what makes Doug Glanville such a special person and observer is somewhat wasted on some topics.

But no matter how much you already know about the game, it is exhilarating to get so much extra background you never knew about. And if you don't care much about the game, The Game From Where I Stand is lovely and rich anthropology reported by a native observer.

I have to state this is one of the three most important books about baseball written in the last 50 years, in part because it covers so much about the game, in part because the author shares his sincerity, authenticity, intelligence and love for the game with the reader. It's a gem.

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