The entire roster is very small and I’m not even confident we have one guy for every position (although we have the beginnings of a pitching staff), but there is no question that if they ever open a Players/Authors Hall of Fame next to the larger one in Cooperstown, Dirk Hayhurst will be a first ballot electee.
And as of today he has two titles to put on his plaque. Out Of My League is now officially published and available in all formats, and without a prescription.
The Bullpen Gospels, his startling and unexpected 2010 debut as an author, told the gritty yet funny and redeeming story of a ballplayer’s sudden realizations that a dream career can still turn into a desperately unpleasant job, and that all but about six guys in his minor league were merely there to provide game-like practice for the actual prospects. It became a New York Times best-seller. If you want my detailed unabashed joy at reading the best baseball book since Ball Four, here is my original post from December, 2009.
In Out Of My League Dirk’s journey takes him to the majors with the Padres in 2008, and while the experience does not have quite the range of emotions as his first book (that would have required him to produce two baseball versions of Poe’s The Pit And The Pendulum) there are enough laughs and terrors to keep any baseball fan – or just any person – riveted.
Without scooping his story and telling it as my own, Hayhurst goes – in the span of one baseball season and one book – from moments of absolutely certainty that his career will end with nothing more achieved than the faint afterglow of a Texas League Championship, to being the starting pitcher against the San Francisco Giants. The same kind of disillusionment that made The Bullpen Gospels a universal story of handling the sour taste of reality – and one that you also discover to your shock, not everybody around you is bright enough to perceive – continues in the new book.
That this unhappy surprise comes at the major league level makes Out Of My League a touch more heretical, because it dents the fiction that The Bigs are Perfection With Whipped Cream On Top. Just because you’d give your right arm to pitch a game in the majors does not mean that’s a greater sacrifice than giving 20 years of your life for exactly that same singular opportunity. When you think of it in those terms – and Hayhurst forces you to – it suddenly seems less like the childhood dream of fame and success, and more like the scenario in which you get that bicycle you desperately wanted for Christmas, and are promptly directed to spend nearly all of your youth learning how to ride it, with the reward being your opportunity to guide it across a tightrope stretched across the two rims of a bottomless pit.
And still it’s a fun read. Plus, it will explain the hesitation of most modern pitchers. Once you read Out Of My League you’ll understand exactly where that uncertainty comes from: The pitcher staring back over his own shoulder is not always just checking a baserunner’s lead.
I’ve written before about our friend The Garfoose, Dirk Hayhurst, author of The Bullpen Gospels, formerly of the Padres and Blue Jays and this year back from surgery to compete for a job in the rebuilding bullpen of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Because the book came out after Dirk established himself as a middle reliever in Toronto but before he got hurt, a lot of his fans have – to put it bluntly – never seen him pitch. To correct that, we offer a photographic record of his scoreless inning against the Jays this afternoon in Dunedin (The Rays used seven pitchers – four got lit – Hayhurst, Rob Delaney, and Brandon Gomes were the only ones who did not):
Bulletin news from the esteemed author and DL’d pitcher of the Toronto Blue Jays, Dirk Hayhurst. The Bullpen Gospels is no longer a cult classic. It is not only going to stay on the best-sellers’ list of The New York Times, it is going to move up on it. It is now considered the 15th best selling non-fiction paperback in the country.
MARVIN MILLER AND THE HALL OF FAME
The venerable organizer of the first successful players’ association in sports turned 93 today and if there was justice, he would be starting to prepare his speech for the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies over the summer.
As Joe Morgan so aptly noted on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, it is not just the players who should thank Miller for increasing rookie salaries from $8,000 to $400,000, and the top end of the equation from $100,000 to Eleventy Billion. The owners, despite doing everything possible to stop Miller before he started, then stop him while he was dismantling their plantations, then roll back his accomplishments, saw similar income explosions, and the growth of franchise values from a high then of around $12 million, to the fact that a couple of clubs are now worth a $1.6 billion.
That’s what the owners were fighting.
It is literally true that when Miller came to the MLBPA in 1966, the most expensive seat in any big league stadium was $3.50 or $4. The seat that now goes for a couple of grand in a luxury box, or for $1250 in the front row in the Bronx, was $4 – or less – before Marvin Miller almost single-handedly changed the nature of the business of the equation, and thus of the sport.
It can be rightly argued that fans don’t get to see players playing as long for one team as they used to (although I suspect a thorough study would indicate the change is a lot less than people think). They also don’t see many players spend their careers on the outside looking in, enslaved to one club literally forever, and never even getting to the post-season (Ernie Banks). The free agency that Miller rightfully won has not contributed to the small market/big market dilemma, it has only redefined it, and more importantly it has provided for the first time in the history of the game, the opportunity for less robust clubs to climb out of their holes through shrewd spending of the dollar (Cleveland in the ’90s, Tampa Bay today).
I don’t know what parallel there is to Marvin Miller among the players. I guess you’d have to start with Babe Ruth and double his longevity. Miller’s influence has been that strong. Was it painless? No. Was Ruth’s? The new game he created turned bunting, running, sacrificing, and hitting-and-running – and the men who excelled in them – into afterthoughts. It killed off John McGraw and “Inside Baseball” and for all we know led to the New York Giants moving out and the Dodgers going to LA, too.
But ask the players of today, and the fans of today, and the owners of today, if they’d really like to go back to, say, the ’60s, before free agency. It cost less to get in. And each team and each player lived on the margins of financial collapse. Is it just a coincidence that the geographical chaos of the time ended four years before free agency began? Between 1953 and 1972, Boston became Milwaukee, St. Louis became Baltimore, Philadelphia became Kansas City, Brooklyn became Los Angeles, New York became San Francisco, Washington became Minnesota, Milwaukee became Atlanta, Kansas City became Oakland, Seattle became Milwaukee, and Washington became Texas. Cleveland nearly moved. Oakland. San Francisco. Cincinnati. The Cardinals were going to Dallas.
In the 38 years since, for all the other turmoil, one franchise has moved.
Marvin Miller is a Hall of Famer, and with the special elections afforded Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente as precedent, he should be sent to Cooperstown now, not later – now while he can still enjoy it, and now while we can still honor him.
How many teams can see their ace carry a no-hitter into the 8th and still create a handful of controversies out of it?
Dirk Hayhurst’s description of himself for the author’s ID in his upcoming book The Bullpen Gospels reads in part, “Dirk is a former member of the San Diego Padres, and after this book gets printed, a former member of the Toronto Blue Jays.”
Some families are the perfect model citizens, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Host family with their white picket fence and adorable little children with their cherub faces who can’t wait to be just like their new older brother. Some families are wealthy and treat you like the draft pick you always wanted to be. Some host families aren’t even families at all; some are just one person: a well-toned Cougar looking for an after-hours power hitter to keep her company between filming.
Depending on the makeup of the player, all these choices are desirable. However, they only represent one side of the coin. On the flip side, there is the family who has a pack of misbehaved trolls for children with parents who don’t believe in discipline. The reason your PlayStation has peanut butter leaking from the optical drive can be chalked up to “youthful curiosity.” You may live with a super fan who wants to play coach, manager, and parent. He’ll live vicariously through you and evaluate, criticize, judge, blog, and call the organization about you. Or you may end up with a miserable old spinster who loves cats and hates men…
Players aren’t saints either, and it takes a special family to agree to house one. If you’re a devout Catholic family, getting a Mormon player can make things a tad awkward. If you’re parents of little children, getting that Bostonian player who uses “****” for greetings, good-byes, pronouns, adjectives, verb, and prayer, might be more than you bargained for…
As this excerpt suggests (and the asterisks are mine), it doesn’t hurt that Hayhurst is a fluid and gifted writer, whose prose can take off like a jet and compel you to read for half an hour more than you have. He populates the pages of The Bullpen Gospels with teammates, some identified, some amalgamated, some under aliases – and if the book takes off, ripping the Hayhurstian masks off the more colorful ones may become a low-key hobby after the book is published on March 30 (it’s already up for pre-orders on Amazon and no doubt elsewhere – I’d get it now because I think they’ll be able to raise the price later).