Doug Glanville: “Baseball Has Been Kind of an Exercise in Anthropology”

Universo Béisbol
September 5, 2017
by Reynaldo Cruz
In 1999, Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville had a career year, hitting .325 with 204 hits, 11 homeruns and 34 stolen bases in 36 tries. A major league career that spanned from 1996 to 2004 while playing two stints with both the Phillies and the Chicago Cubs plus 52 games with the Texas Rangers was followed by the microphone and the keyboard, making him one of the most admired baseball writers and analysts. A graduate engineer, Glanville is a person who understand the value of hard work and the challenges that society bestows upon minorities.
The lobby of the Yale University Art Gallery hosted Doug Glanville as he traded a few words with Universo Béisbol. Discussing about life before and after baseball, the impact of baseball on society and his experience visiting Cuba alongside former president Barack Obama and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Universo Béisbol: What your oldest fond memory regarding baseball?
Doug Glanville: I’d have to go back to playing with my brother. He’s seven and a half years older than I am. I grew up in a town, Teaneck, New Jersey, and we lived in a cul-de-sac and we played baseball pretty much since the time I could walk. So I think back to him introducing me to the game and I think by the mid-70s I became a Phillies fan and really fell in love with the game.
UB: Which players did you admire when you were a kid?
DG: Well, in line with the Philadelphia Phillies I was introduced to players like Dave Cash Jr., Garry Maddox, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton… sort of the 70s and 80s teams for sure, highly successful. I certainly learned about Jackie Robinson from biographies that my parents gave me an opportunity to read. I really started off as a Phillies fan with their powder-blue road uniforms… that’s when I started my passion for the Phillies.
UB: Who were the coaches who did the most for you in your early years?
DG: I look at that through different levels. I started off in the Little Leagues in my hometown , Teaneck. Billy Evans was one of my first coaches. And then I evolved into the professional level and I think of a coach like Tom Gamboa, who was my manager when I played winter ball in Puerto Rico, and showed me some of the ins and outs of how to be passionate and combine that with being fundamentally sound. He was a real and incredible motivator. And tactically, I just wrote an editorial not long ago when the passing of Jimmy Piersall happened: he was my outfield coach with the Cubs; tough coach, but also excellent. There’s so many guys: Sandy Alomar Sr., and the list goes on, but I was very fortunate to have a lot of great coaches.
UB: How much importance do you give to the role of your family in your development as a baseball player?
DG: I put a lot… I mean, my family was incredibly supportive. And my parents always emphasized the balance between athletics and academics. So I was able to accomplish getting an engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania, but at the same time I was able to embark on this professional career. I think they helped me with understanding the perspective that no matter how great your career is you will have a life after the game. I retired at 35 years old after nearly a fifteen-season career, and even though it was a long career, there was life after the game. Therefore, I felt very prepared because my parents always supported the idea of being well-rounded, for they were incredible guides who helped that perspective of life.
UB: What is the hardest part for a ballplayer when it comes to getting to the Majors and staying there?
DG: They are two separate things. First, getting there: it’s that accomplishment you dream about as a player. I made it to Wrigley Field; that was my home team when I first came up. As a member of the Cubs it was great reaching that history, that classic look of Wrigley and also combining it with the enthusiasm of just being a today player. It was tough getting there because the minor league road is a lot of “two steps forward, one step back”, and injuries can happen. But being able to overcome those things and being fortunate to stay healthy… and once you get there, it’s a matter of being productive: the word “potential” goes out the window, and you have to be productive, you have to generate success and help the team win, and if you are not accomplishing that it’s hard to stay. Staying is probably as hard if not harder than getting there.
UB: Who were your best friends among MLB payers?
DG: I spent six of my years in the major leagues with the Phillies, so I became friends with Jimmy Rollins, when he started I was like the person who mentoring him. Over time, a lot of these players became good friends: Marlon Anderson, Mike Liberthal, and many of them came to my wedding, like Wayne Gomes. There is a good group of players in Philadelphia over the late 90s and the early 2000s that became long-standing friends.
UB: Your prime years were from 1997 to 2001, when you averaged over 150 games played, but your best season came in 1999 when you hit .325 with 204 hits, 101 runs, 11 homers and 34 stolen bases with the highest SB percentage at 94.44%. What can you tell me about that season in particular?
DG: We always call it “unconscious” (chuckles). I was in a special kind of zone that season and it was sort of the culmination of a lot of hard work in the minor leagues. I had some good seasons, even including the minors, and that goes back to 1995: I went to winter ball and played two seasons in Puerto Rico, which was transformational for my development, just learning the game by playing hundreds of games a season. I put it all together in ’99, learning not only to perform and perfect my swing and playing better defense and base running, but also how to endure an entire season. That’s a huge adjustment: 162 games and when you’re not used to it takes some time to get adjusted, and in ’99 I was able to put it all together.
UB: Who were the most difficult pitchers you consider you faced during your career?
DG: I see that in two parts. First, there’s the pitchers who have great stuff, and you might even have success against them, but when you look bad against them you look really bad, like you wonder if you’re ever hitting them. That’s like Randy Johnson, and plenty of Hall of Famers, like John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine… the Braves, just say the Braves (chuckles). But they weren’t necessarily pitchers I didn’t hit well. I hit Randy Johnson fairly well, you know… relative to everything else. There were guys, lefties, who had great changeups, like Tom Glavine or Kirk Rueter, who I didn’t hit very well because they just had good off-speed pitches and I was a good hard fastball hitting guy. So, I didn’t do as well with the off-speed so the guys that had the slower stuff had an edge. Take Greg Maddux, for instance, he didn’t make you feel uncomfortable, he actually let you hit the ball, you just didn’t hit it well (chuckles), that’s how he did it, but amazing pitcher.
UB: What do you consider is the highlight of your MLB career?
DG: There are so many to even compare. First, getting there. That first major league game was a huge highlight: being called up on June 9th, 1996. I got called to Wrigley Field. I didn’t get any hits that day… I started in left field, but just seeing your name up there with like Ryne Sandberg and all these great players was surreal. Then, I got my first hit in Veterans Stadium against my Phillies, my old team that I loved and also the place where I went to college. There are other moments, like I had 200 hits in a season as you mentioned before, and getting that 200th hit against the team that traded me that was kind of sweet (chuckles), the Cubs… getting 1000 hits for my career, and that actually turned out to be the day my father passed away; that was bittersweet. I had some powerful moments. Making the play offs in 2003 with the Cubs, my only postseason experience. So, there’s a lot of highlights, but that’s the beauty of being a major leaguer for a long time: you end up having these amazing moments, and there’s more than one of them.
UB: After retirement, you started working as an analyst and writer. Was this something you had thought of during your playing years? When did this idea first cross your mind?
DG: That was not an idea I had… I had no plan. My wife calls it “the accidental development”. I didn’t plan it, but I did always have a positive relationship with the media as a player. I always enjoyed talking to them, learning from them. When I was in college, I was a fan of the press, reading about Jayson Stark of the Philadelphia Enquirer. I didn’t start right away, I was doing real estate development, and I was trying other things, I was sort of away from baseball for a while. Then the Mitchell Report broke about the steroids in baseball, and I think that was my moment to reconnect with the game, to show a different perspective about why players made the choice of using performance-enhancing drugs and that culture, and I think that really got my media career started.
UB: You had the opportunity of going to Cuba and interviewing Rachel Robinson and Barack Obama during the Tampa Bay Rays game in Havana. What were your impressions on each of them personally and how would you assess the experience with them?
DG: Well, that’s a life-altering experience. First of all, I love baseball, I love working in the media, I love writing… and then to converge it with Jackie Robinson’s legacy, Rachel Robinson, the President of the United States, who was the first African-American to hold such office… it was almost overwhelming to think about all these amazing people and moments coming together in one place. And of course, being there in Cuba when the United States had created a new type of relationship with Cuba was great. All that was very powerful, but individually, I was amazed at Rachel Robinson’s sharpness, well into her nineties and recalling history that was 50 or 60 years ago: Jackie Robinson playing spring training in Havana, and just talking about his experience. It was amazing to have that opportunity to sit with her… and then I ended up having lunch with her which was even more amazing: just learning about family, sacrifice, love, passion, challenges and perseverance. And of course, the president: he was funny, he was engaging, he had fascinating insights of why it was important that Jackie Robinson’s family had been in Cuba to kind of bring full circle: his breaking-in in 1947 to this new shift and approach between the two countries. And just learning about the revolutionary history of Cuba with José Martí and all of these figures who were inspiring to so many groups of people throughout the history of Cuba. The anthropological part of it was fascinating, and I was extremely fortunate to be there at that moment.
UB: Who were the players that impressed you the most from that game?
DG: There was Cuban a player, (Dayron) Varona, who came with the Rays to play against the Cuban national team, and what impressed me was his story because you think about the uncertainty of how he was going to be received: he was coming back in a moment that didn’t happen for decades, and not being sure if it will ever happen again. I was really moved by his story, but also all these (Cuban) players… you think about the pipeline between Cuba and the United States and Major League Baseball with Yoenis Céspedes and all these great players that have had an impact. I got to recognize that I was witnessing the team from which they developed their careers, and I wasn’t sure of who was going to be next, so I am very curious to see if any players from that team are able to make it to the major leagues.
UB: What is your opinion on the pace of game and the changes MLB is making?
DG: It’s a tall order. I think it’s just about how challenging it is to speed up baseball, because it’s the game with no clock, and a lot of the fans kind of like it that way. And you recognize there’s a change in society, with the priority of instant media, social media, those challenges are part of what makes baseball try to compete in this time level. But it’s hard to put a clock on baseball. They’re trying to speed it up by having he batter stay in the batter’s box, putting a clock on the pitcher… but the biggest challenge I see is not to put a stopwatch from when the game starts to when the game ends, but on the flow of the game itself. As longs as it is moving and guys aren’t taking 40 minutes to fix their batting gloves (chuckles). If it’s moving quickly and there is not a lot of dead time, then I think the game will be completely fine, because that’s one of the aspects fans love about the game. You know, in game seven of the World Series between the Cubs and the Indians, nobody cared about the clocks: it was five hours or whatever, tense game, rain delay… time didn’t matter, and I think that’s when baseball is at its best.
UB: Do you agree with the statement that MLB is losing fans to other sports?
DG: There’s a shift. I think there’s some truth to that. When you look at the ratings that’s when there are some questions about competing with Game 7 of the NBA Finals and Pre-season football, which is almost as popular as the regular season of the NFL. So there are challenges… but the revenue is there, the business is very strong in terms of fans and investment and technology. That’s what baseball’s been doing very well, with all the Apps, the mobile devices, getting all the games. They’re doing a great job in terms of getting proprietary concepts and bringing them to life for fans to carry them literally in their pockets. So there are two ways of looking at it. Maybe the fans sometimes are choosing the athletes, sometimes are choosing one sport, because they find that baseball is not as highly regarded as basketball or football. But at the same time there are so many elements in baseball that are fairly successful. And I still think it’s in a fairly good position to continue that.
UB: How do you assess the role of baseball in US history?
DG: There are so many moments when you recognize it changed the world. We mentioned Jackie Robinson in this conversation: 1947 integrates Major League Baseball, and you think about all the things that happened in our country after that, whether it’s the integration of the military, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Act… so many moments changed or opened doors for so many people of color in many regards. It’s not just about sports, baseball has had moments when it has changed well beyond the game. You look at Roberto Clemente’s legacy, and you think about his sacrifice and his incredible talent, but also bringing pride to being Latino, bringing the language and the diversity, where now the game is nearly 30% Latinos. Baseball has been kind of an exercise in anthropology which I think is a fascinating gift to the game. You know, it’s every day, without a clock, it has brought many cultures together, it has been an ambassador as we mentioned in Cuba… so I think it has been very significant in United States’ history and I’m hoping it will continue to be so.
UB: In your experience as player, analyst and writer, do you think there is still a long way to go for minorities (blacks, Latinos, women, etc.) to be treated the same way as their white American peers?
DG: Absolutely. There is always progressive thinking, like the one we were talking about in 1947, with Jackie Robinson breaking in and still not even having the right to vote in many regards. So, now you have to recognize that there has been incredible progress in terms of people of color relating to baseball and to society as a whole. And baseball has made some efforts, whether it’s trying to bring candidates from all these groups to make the game more representative, whether it is in the front office, on the field… but if you remember one of Jackie Robinson’s last speeches, he was talking about his desire of seeing a black manager. And there are currently two African-American managers, and still not so with ownership or general managers. So, from the leadership standpoint, there is still very little diversity at the high level, at the executive level. And at that level is where all the decisions are made, where the game’s course is charted, and we don’t have all of the races or many of the races of the fans which are very diverse: you’re not going to get that full representation. So, although there has been a lot of progress, we still have a long way to go, and I believe that Commissioner Rob Manfred would agree with that statement. I think he has made a lot of effort to try to bring in different perspectives. I think it’s very difficult when you have 30 teams, which are their own sort of individual states, so it takes a lot to get that done, but I do see a commitment.
UB: What is your position regarding steroids and the great former players who are currently under scrutiny because of that?
DG: The steroids issue is a horrible chapter, and maybe not even a chapter, but part of professional sports, as it is a highly competitive environment people are going to try to find shortcuts, no matter what industry you are in. And unfortunately for baseball all of that kind of reached a peak when I was in the middle of my career (chuckles), so it was a challenging time to compete against guys that had this advantage: they were with no question taking the game to a level where it was unsustainable, they were forcing other players to feel like ‘Well, the only way I can compete is to join this train, which is creating health risk and bad examples for the next generation of younger players in youth, high school and junior high. So, it was a dark day, and I think that you have to recognize that in any sport there is advancement, whether it’s medical or scientific, where you are going to be able to have training tools to improve your skills. It’s that fine line between developing the skills that you naturally have and combining that with the dedication and work ethics to develop it with modern technology, and I think where it went off the rails is where whoever has the best scientist, whoever has the best pharmacist starts to be the one to develop the best players. That’s where you have a problem, because it gets away from the core of competition. I think it will always be part of any sport professionally, the goal is to just get ahead of it and gradually evolve the science changes without losing the substance of the game which is actually having a natural ability enhanced by your development, by the work ethic you put in, by your dedication, and that really be the separate of that who has the best scientists in their back pocket.
UB: If you were to choose an all-time team, who would be in it?
DG: well, Babe Ruth has to be there, but that’s where it’d get difficult because of all the steroid questions. But let’s pretend I’m blind from al the steroids, and I don’t know. My generation had a lot of great players, whether it’s Barry Bonds or Manny Ramírez who were great hitters. I played also against these Hall of Famers: Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, but then you have to go back in time and think of Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson. That’s what I like about baseball, you can compare generations and feel like you’re having the same kind of conversation. And I think that’s what is so perverse about steroids: you started to lose sense of like: wait a minute, we used to be able to compare these numbers and now all of a sudden the home run record is through the roof. It really changed the conversation, but fortunately I played with and against a lot of great players whether it’s Ryne Sandberg or Roberto Alomar, but you’d also have to include these players like Roberto Clemente and I don’t think there is a short list and that’s what is so amazing: how great there were for their time. The good news is that it spans decades and generations and it’s good to see a sport that can combine that many generations into one team.
UB: What advice would you give young kids and players pursuing an MLB career?
DG: I would go back to the point about being well-rounded: when you have a passion for a sport or anything else, you focus, you’re going to be a little imbalanced for a while because you’re putting all your time in developing it, you’re trying to do the best you can. But I think it’s important that you make sure you work on other areas, whether it’s the academics, maintain your studies, because that will actually help you in many ways to be a better ballplayer: your ability to see this cerebral side of the game, to really be a student of the game and those are important aspects of being a good ballplayer. So I would say that it’s important to be well-rounded, and there are so many opportunities now to play year round, that’s what’s different from when I came up. You have fall ball and winter ball, and there are opportunities to play around the clock in the United States that never were before. And certainly internationally, with the weather, there’s always a big difference like playing in Puerto Rico, where you can play all year. That has become sort of the norm, and I think that there is a lot of pressure to accomplish the preparation to focus earlier, but I’d still say: stay well-rounded, study, make sure your school is in order, because even if you have a great career it’s going to end and you’ll probably be still in your thirties, so you have to ask yourself what’s next.
UB: Is there something that fans and people don’t know about you that you feel you would like to share?
DG: That’s a good question. I grew up in a town in New Jersey, Teaneck, which was probably one of the first to voluntarily desegregate in 1965, so there is an interesting history, and I learned from that experience of working in bridging this divide that sometimes we experience because of our identity or different cultures or religion, whatever it may be. And I have really enjoyed being able to see such thing in sports, sports that rise above and are able to bring people together around the game, whether it’s South Africa to the Unites States, you know, these nations, just like we learned in Cuba, the experience when the President of the United States came to Cuba and we saw this game become almost a diplomatic event. So, that’s a passion of mine: being able to champion causes to bring us all together as in an equitable space. And I do a lot of work in that regard: I work on the Civil Rights Commission, I work on the Police Council (POST) in the state of Connecticut. All these have been essential to my life. I have had the opportunity since I had the privilege of having a major league career and for being in the media to be able to voice something, I think it’s important to try to address issues, injustices; or fairness and try to celebrate it, because I think sports is such a great example what could be an ultimate space of fairness: you try to have two teams coming to the table with equal sets of rules, and you play, and may the best team win. That could be embodied throughout all of our society, and I think that if we did, we would have a much more harmonious world, I think it’s such a great example. So, that’s a passion part of mine. You know, I’m a father of four, my wife and I have been married almost 12 years we’ve been passionate as a family together, and I am very grateful for the opportunities and the privileges I have been afforded because of baseball, and just getting the education that my parents instilled, so I realize that these gifts, if you can share them, I think everybody who has the opportunity should do so.
UB: Thank you very much, for your time and your answers. This has been great. And good luck with whatever the future brings.
DG: Yeah, I appreciate it. It’s been my pleasure.
Republished from Universo Béisbol. Spanish version available here.
Photo 1: Doug Glanville (left) being interviewed by the author.
Photo 1 Credit: Darlene Susco, Universo Béisbol
Photo 2: Doug Glanville (left) and Eduardo Pérez interview President Barack Obama in Havana.
Photo 2 Credit: Reynaldo Cruz, Universo Béisbol


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