The New York Times

July 31, 2008

by Doug Glanville

Within the past few weeks, Dan Uggla of the Florida Marlins, Aramis Ram?z of the Chicago Cubs and Gary Majewski of the Cincinnati Reds left their respective teams to be with their wives for the birth of a child.

They planned on returning to the teams the next day, or at least in short order.

Also within the past few weeks , I welcomed my first child into this world. And after walking with my wife through pregnancy right until touching home plate with my son's little feet, I can't imagine having had to abide by baseball's unspoken rule that you shouldn't take too many days to be there for these events.

No one would dare say it, but there is a clock ticking when you leave your team for the birth of your child. Sure, it isn't 24 hours, but it isn't a week, either. And once you cross that threshold of acceptable leave of absence, people start grumbling.

I do miss baseball in some ways, but one thing I don't miss is the sacrifices you're expected to make in the face of life-changing events. There is a game pretty much every day, and to be absent from one is unheard of. You have to be dead, or someone else has to be dead, and after a day or two any excuse short of that is frowned upon.

So being with my wife and my new son was a gift I could have never dreamed of while I was a ballplayer. I attended baby classes at the hospital, I nested with my wife from basement to garage, I read everything under the sun on baby paraphernalia and, most important, when she went into labor I breathed with her from sunrise to our son's arrival. Now, weeks later, I am able to participate in all stages of his development -- and give my wife a well-deserved rest. This would be next to impossible for anyone wearing a major league uniform.

Come to think of it, in baseball it is understood that you shouldn't even plan to have a child during the season. Childbirth is an off-season event, and anyone not taking that into consideration is not making a wise choice -- as if we have this level of control over the timing.

I recall a Philadelphia Phillies teammate, Ron Gant, who had a battle with one of his previous managers on another team over spending too many days at his wife's bedside after the birth of their child. Disgust over his taking too long made it into the papers, and the local disapproval became national, as comments flew back and forth about the inappropriateness of Gant's return timeline. He had failed to remember that the moment it was clear that his wife was O.K. and the baby was O.K., he was supposed to be back in uniform.

Yet when my son was born, I was able to ask questions of the medical staff, learn how to feed and change him (didn't have a clue before) and just be there. The high-octane world of baseball does not allow much room for these things; someone else is always trying to take your job, and too many optional days off equals a lack of commitment, no matter what the reason. And people are making too much money to have paid vacation days.

My experience when my father was chronically ill for three years while I was still playing framed some of these concepts. The Phillies did what they could to accommodate my need to be with him -- they even offered to let me leave the team for a few days -- but I also understood that my career could change if I were to take too much time. Either the competition would gain on me, because I'd lose the edge and focus, or there'd be a league-wide question mark regarding my ''commitment.''

There's a premium put on players who do ''whatever it takes'' to be productive. In my career, I scored fairly well in that department. I went on the disabled list only once, and even then I recovered and was back in uniform in less than a month. For 15 seasons, I was there every single day except one, and that day was to stay with my father after one of his final debilitating strokes. I was back in uniform the next day.

(This premium also can cause those who evaluate players' commitment to turn the other cheek when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. Owners invest in these players, and while playing ''clean'' is noble, it isn't necessarily indicative of someone who is doing whatever it takes to be productive. And if you're paying players $15 million a year, it is a lot easier to overlook their decision to push the envelope. You don't advocate it, but you don't mind that they are willing to risk everything to honor that financial commitment, whether it's by missing a birth or bending a rule or two. After all, they are adults and can make that choice on their own.)

So in the end, it falls into the lap of the player. No one is forcing you to not be there for events that are important to you. No one is saying that to earn your paycheck, you should be willing to put chemicals in your body that in the short term can make you more productive. No one is twisting your arm to get back to the stadium even though in your heart you know you need to be there a little while longer to make sure your newborn son is O.K. No one is suggesting any of that, but the spirit of it is nodding its head in tacit support, albeit in a dark corner that no one wants to talk about.

I just feel fortunate that I didn't have to deal with this environment when my son came into this world. I am grateful that the game, post-career, actually afforded me the opportunity to be there more than most people would, thanks to having a nest egg that allowed me to take off as much time as I've taken. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

So Dan, Aramis and Gary, I understand your quandary. You have to do what you have to do to maintain your careers and keep moving forward. But, even though many would give their right arm to be Major League Baseball players, I am keeping my arm to myself. I certainly loved my time in professional baseball, but in these situations I'm glad I can say, ''Been there, done that.''