Open books: Authorship for players brings paradox

By Evan Drellich / 12/17/12 10:00 AM ET

Most Major Leaguers spend their careers actively trying to keep to themselves. Not all are closed off: some turn every conversation into coffee-shop banter and carry themselves, ostensibly, as an open book. But they're the exception.
Keep the quotes straightforward, and you risk less of what you have on the line: respect, trust, a good contract. That's the usual line of thinking.
"Boring, typical answers to reporters' postgame questions were usually the best way to go, such as, 'I just hope I can keep helping the team win ball games,'" 14-year Major Leaguer Frank Catalanotto wrote in his recollection, "Heart & Hustle." "Comments like those were safe and never got you in trouble. I know that athletes are often criticized for bland 'player speak,' but it's the safest way to go if you don't want to incur the wrath of teammates, opponents, your manager, owners, umpires and fans."
There's a paradox, then, when guys like Catalanotto and Doug Glanville and Dirk Hayhurst and R.A. Dickey -- even all the way back to Jim Bouton and his seminal work, Ball Four -- decide to become authors. You spend your whole career trying to keep to yourself, and then on release day, you blow the lid off your world.
How far that lid flies is variable. Hayhurst in The Bullpen Gospels, like Bouton, expressly set out to pull no punches. That's not a universal goal.
But regardless of the nature of their work, players almost always have a driving force behind the decision to write. Ideally, that's something other than securing a place in history for one's accomplishments in a game that can be quick to forget.
Catalanotto kept a journal throughout his career of notes on pitchers, his day-to-day life. It was a diary similar to that of former teammate Carlos Delgado, but a less publicized one, and it served as the foundation for his work. Catalanotto saw books written by stars, but he felt the journey of someone who didn't hit 500 home runs -- or even 100 -- could be instructive to kids who were not the best players in high school and beyond.
Glanville picked up the pen in reaction to the Mitchell Report and found an intense connection in the act of writing with his late father, who was an author himself. Hayhurst, meanwhile, had long been bursting at the seams to tell what was really on his mind, about the realities of the game as he saw them for a non-prospect.
"It seems like more and more guys are trying [to write]," said Glanville, who wrote The Game From Where I Stand. "Baseball is a -- maybe that fact that you do internalize a lot while you have so much to say -- it is a very poetic game. And you have so much material, you have so many games. Really endless."
Baseball has never been knocked off its perch as The Writer's Game. That's long been intertwined with its appeal.
But the level of ease for a player to put together a book varies from case to case. A star typically won't have a terrible time having one authored: often, publishers or literary agents will reach out to them to make something happen. Even Catalanotto, who never once thought about writing while he was playing, found the process easier than some would because his agency, Octagon, had publishing connections in-house.
By the time Glanville wrote his book, he was already a successful columnist with and The New York Times.
Writing is like any other professional track a player takes on outside of baseball, which is usually the only world he's known. The difference is that writing, like a select few other paths, can keep you in touch with the game. No matter what venture someone turns to -- real estate, training supplements, teaching -- ballplayers sometimes see their super-human, do-anything abilities shrink away.
Why would a pro player at any level have any clue how to get a book pitched, accepted, written and edited? No one puts down their deck of cards or iPad in the clubhouse, hops up and says, 'Hey, man, what can I do about my remaindered books?'"
Hayhurst, who wasn't a Major Leaguer at the time he started writing, didn't have a foot in the door. He approached Baseball America to write a column, one that wasn't received well by his teammates, and that got the ball rolling.
"I had to figure out how to hatch a plan to get to a point where I could get somebody to write it," Hayhurst said. "If you're going to do it, it takes a lot of time and a lot of energy, and to start writing, you're going to tick everyone off once you start down that road in baseball. I was like, 'If I'm going to do this, I've got to do it right, because I'd probably never get to do it again.' So I decided that I needed to build a name for myself and I had to do stuff that other people weren't doing. For me, that was writing this non-prospect, self-effacing, other-side-of-the-Minor-League-side story. And it was a hunch, and it worked out well."
Glanville had the head start. Catalanotto admits he never wrote much beforehand, and Hayhurst's lengthiest project prior to his book was a 20-page college paper. Glanville's father wrote two books of poetry, and Glanville wants to put out a new book every three to four years, all the while working as a broadcaster.
"When I wrote first the piece for ESPN, and then ultimately The New York Times, something clicked," Glanville said. "It was the first act that I had that really kept him close, kept him with me. I really understood why he was so passionate about writing."
Now that Glanville's started, he can't stop. But even he faced pitfalls at the get-go.
"Trying to figure out how you can market this, that was a challenge," Glanville said of the infant stages, "because I knew nothing. My agent sent me 'How to write a book proposal' -- it was a basic document. My book proposal was unbelievably long; it was, like, record-setting long. It laid out everything. But the process of writing was as natural and as comfortable as swinging a bat when I was on fire. There were 25-plus thousand words on the cutting room floor, and I just kept going and going."
Catalanotto, not knowing what he was embarking on, innocently wrote the first 60 or so pages on pen and paper. His sister helped get half of them on to a computer.
The baseball canon can build on itself: Catalanotto did read The Bullpen Gospels, among others, as he tried to formulate his own work, although the outcome produced a book with a different direction. Really, no matter the direction, critical reception is never easy once the finished product is out. Hayhurst recalled one less-than-shiny review of both his and Glanville's books.
"It basically said that Glanville lacked any of the ... 'boys-will-be-boys' baseball humor that you're used to, and mine was too much of it," Hayhurst said. "So, then it's just like, 'What do you want?'"
Not that it mattered. Hayhurst wrote because he felt, as badly as he once wanted to become a baseball player, he needed to tell his experience.
"I had to write," Hayhurst said. "Because not writing was killing me."
Still, in everything a player, manager or anyone else inside the game writes, there's an element of reversal in authorship. The level of personal invasiveness can be minimal or extreme, but it's hard to imagine a baseball book without some new doors opened: "Here, world, is what I really think."
"I was that type of guy that didn't like to put myself out there and let people know or let the media know exactly what I did and what I thought," Catalanotto said. "But it was nice -- it felt good -- to be able to open up and let people see inside of not only the game, but inside of myself, what made me tick."