Friday, March 07, 2014

Dirk Hayhurst's Bigger Than the Game

I bought Dirk Hayhurst's new book, Bigger Than the Game, as soon as it came out because I knew I'd like it. This is the third book in a baseball trilogy and the previous two were fascinating and funny.

This one is no different, but it's actually much less about playing baseball than about dealing with baseball. It starts with the self-inflicted shoulder injury (lifting too much weight) he got in the offseason after 2009 and how he dealt with injury during the entire 2010 season. That included depression, using pills to make himself sleep and get numbed, having people know about his first book, a run-in with an arrogant teammate who did not like him writing and talking to the media, and rehab (with a cameo by wrestler Triple H).

Baseball is a conservative game in many ways--players have their codes, things are done this particular way, and you must not rock the boat. The mere idea of letting people see inside scares baseball players, and seeing inside is what Hayhurst does. He goes off about the player who kept confronting him (different reviews speculate differently, but he may just be an amalgam) as well as a few others, in large because he's not respecting the game and instead is trying to be bigger than baseball, which is a sin.

In some way all of his books are about his efforts to figure himself out. You get the impression that he was finally getting there at the end of this one. He thought hard about what baseball means and how he should fit into it. He learned how not to care about others' perception of his role in it. Like many other entertainers--such professional wrestlers--the fans see you as a commodity and not as a person. Players buy into the image, which feeds their self-image and self-worth.

Everyday dumbasses get on the internet and debate your worth like you're a fucking commodity. But instead of trying to say we're not a commodity, we just want to be the most valuable commodity possible. Everyone wants to be the hyped, processed, nostalgia-injected product instead of being an actual fucking person (p. 125).

The player who didn't like him hated the fact that Hayhurst might puncture the bubble they live in and value so highly--just chatting too often with the team's own media person (who in many ways helps nurture the image!) was crossing the line. As he points out, though, this is already slowly changing. Glacially yes, but social media is here now and not going away. Way too few baseball players write real books but reality is spilling out in bits and pieces.

And like the rest of the books, it's funny and self deprecating. As he said to his book agent:

"My style is being honest about failing in a game that everyone thinks you're a winner in simply by playing" (p. 232).

I'm guilty of that feeling, and like how Hayhurst has made me think more broadly. If you're a baseball fan, you should check out all three.


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