Doug Glanville

Race and baseball: For a young Doug Glanville, 'Baseball was diplomacy'

Race and baseball: For a young Doug Glanville, 'Baseball was diplomacy'

Doug Glanville remembers watching a teammate get kicked in the chest after a High School baseball game fraught with racial tension.

“Thank goodness my coach was really quick,” the former Cub said on the Cubs Talk Podcast this week. “The bus was right there. And all he could do was whisk people onto the bus because the last thing he needed was a brawl with young high school Black kids and this angry white mob of workers throwing N-words at us.”

Glanville shared the story as part of a round-table discussion on the declining number of African American players in Major League Baseball, and the sport’s access issues from the youth level on up. He, NBC Sports Chicago’s Laurence Holmes and The Bigs Media co-founder Eugene McIntosh talked about experiences from their playing days and sought solutions to the league’s diversity problem.

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Glanville grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. The town voluntarily desegregated its public schools in the 1960’s.

“I came along in 1970 and watched a town that was truly committed to inclusion,” Glanville said. “So, I had this integrated, diverse experience where my teammates were from different backgrounds and different walks of life. And we were sort of this sesame seed inside of a Bergen County that was mostly white suburbs with a lot of wealth.”

He and his teammates took pride in that. Not only were they playing to win, they were fighting in the name of diversity.

“Baseball was diplomacy in my world,” Glanville said. “And it was a diplomacy of seeing players of color, diversity, taking on mostly homogenous teams, catholic schools, and representing.”

During his sophomore year, against one such homogeneous team in what Glanville describes as a “blue collar town,” Glanville and his teammates endured heckling all game long. A spectator hurled a racial slur at Glanville’s teammate, and the teammate said something back.

The encounter grew so heated that Glanville’s team had to climb the football stands to get to the bus. At the top, Glanville said, one of the people in pursuit kicked the team’s captain, who was Black.

“But you know what was so powerful about that was our team bonded even more over that,” Glanville said. “… We were like, we are one family, and we’re not going to put up with this.”

Can MLB harness baseball’s powers of diplomacy? For more stories and analysis from Glanville, Holmes and McIntosh, listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast.

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Ben Zobrist - The Immeasurable Big League Life

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USA Today

Ben Zobrist - The Immeasurable Big League Life

Last night, Ben Zobrist returned to the Chicago Cubs after an interrupted 2019 campaign. Personal reasons shelved him for nearly 4 months and in a triumphant return to action last night, he looked like a step ahead of his competition. At 38 years old, he has defied age throughout his consistent career, and now he has the new challenge of having to rev up an engine that had been out of competition for nearly an entire season.

During my playing days, I knew there would be a time when I would be the old guy in baseball. An age that in other industries would be the first step to hitting your stride, not the last. Downhill comes quickly in major league baseball. Quicker than you realize. Soon you are entering that period when you have less years in front of you than behind. And then it ends.

I always thought it would be the usual reasons that my career would disintegrate. The ones that always creep up as a player enters their early 30s. Injuries, skill decline, technology, analytics, youth. As a young player in the big leagues, you see it in real-time by watching the veterans.  I recall when Shawon Dunston had back surgery and the impact it had on his speed and health. Or when Kevin Tapani was trying to recover from the effects of having a great splitter, which had contributed to his being on the injured list. Age is unfriendly, especially when you are on a team that is not in contention. Note to self.

Then it happened to me, after a game in San Francisco against Giants, my bat speed publicly came into question, I knew this was possible, but never knew what it would look like to the outside world. Has my bat slowed down? I feel fine.

Baseball is a game that constantly measures and compares. The decline of a player’s skills are inevitable, it is the “when” that an organization wants to understand, and for the player, he wants to be in denial for as long as possible, hoping results are still in his favor.

This has been always true of Zobrist’s game, the situational guru, the fundamentally sound producer that combines excellent mechanics, with good decision-making and balanced high level skills. He embodies Joe Maddon’s philosophy to a tee.

Yet skills often live in the world of the measurable. Bat speed, pop time, home to first, velocity, spin rate…. A change in these quantities can be easy to note, but Zobrist is a qualitative player that takes layers of stats to unpack. If you can unpack his value at all.

In describing his game last night, he was critical of his timing, knowing that the last thing to return from such a long hiatus is timing. The stride, the hands, the triggers, everything that comes naturally to hitting a baseball, has to be synchronized again in the big league world, Wrigley Field is a tough place to be back in spring training with the stakes that exists for the Cubs at this juncture.

He still found other ways to have a positive impact, as he always has. A decoy on a would be base stealer to create double play, running first the third on a ball hit in front of him, laying down an immaculate bunt for a hit, playing solid defense. He clearly kept his core instincts sharp and now, he can work towards re-mastering the rhythm of big league games that come at him every single day.

There was criticism of Zobrist early in the season because his power game seemed to have escaped him. He had no homeruns, one extra base hit before he played in his last game (May 5th) before last night. Yesterday, we saw what a player can bring without hitting the ball over the fence or even out of the infield.

His return also reminded me of another lesson from my career. Your life off the field matters significantly to everything you are as a player. Your ability to focus, to have peace, to feel supported, to endure. So much of it connects to the relationships around you. In my case, the decline of my father’s health over a three year period during my career brought it all into focus like no slump could ever do.

Learning that he had a major stroke was the moment I realized that it is not just the measurable skills that age us, it is life coming at us like the nasty down and away slider that it can be. Bliss is a big part of enjoying major league life. The candy store of tasting the rainbow of big league life gets a sobering gut-check when your father checks into the hospital. Where did my childhood go?

It is the invincibility that we associate with a kids’ game, the innocence, the fun, the big money and big stage. You play as long as you can, for as long as you are productive and healthy, independent of the rest of the world. Nothing can hurt you in that bubble. But the world has other ideas, humbling us with the great reminder that the world continues to revolve, long before you realize that you lost a step from home to first.

Then, when you stop to get off the big league ride, it is disorienting. Your family has changed, moved, aged, died, got married during that stellar 15 year career. They learned to live in your absence, learned to not depend on you, learned to not distract you from the self-centered focus that is required to be a major leaguer, often at their own expense.

In an interview with long-time Washington Redskins’ head coach, Joe Gibbs, he was honest about all the time he missed in his childrens’ lives. Then he described the moment when he decided to make a career shift. I will slightly paraphrase but he said…“I bent over to kiss my son good night……and there was this….beard.”

It is not unlike coming home from a long cruise. We spend so much time adjusting to the open water and navigating potential seasickness on the party ship that we forget that we must adjust again when we return to land. Imagine doing this after being in big league oceans from nearly two decades.

A career is short in the grand scheme. Even shorter when we take away the “just learning as a rookie” or “battling age on the back end,” stages. The sweet spot is sweet and as the late Ken Caminiti once said to me in spring training “this is the greatest game in the world…..when you are playing well.”

Maintaining that production feels like it is in our hands, like the bat itself. An extra session in the cage, a workout, a massage therapist, a dietary change will do the trick. Sometimes this is true, yet other times, it is just life that refuses to be measured by wins above replacement. Then it stops you in the middle of your hitting streak like a brick wall.

Ben Zobrist’s return was inspiring, playing the game in the most complete fashion, a style that can get lost in the Launch Era. He also serves as a subtle reminder of what is at stake in these games. Not just the post-season or the wild card, a batting title, or a empty leadoff slot. It is the quiet sacrifice of your inner circle, the heart and soul of a player, and a player knows deep down that no amount of bat speed or spin rate can replace it.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Get to know Doug Glanville

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Cubs Talk Podcast: Get to know Doug Glanville

Luke Stuckmeyer talks with Doug Glanville about baseball, life, Hamilton... and Hall & Oates.

0:38 - Doug discusses "Hamilton" - his favorite Broadway play

2:59 - Doug talks about how the band Hall & Oates helped him become a Major League baseball player.

6:55 - Doug discusses his favorite early baseball memories - including imitating Mike Schmidt.

9:24 - Doug talks about some of the coaches that helped him the most when he was a young player - including Billy Willaims, Jimmy Piersall and Shawon Dunston

11:30 - Find out which managerial job Doug interviewed for.

12:58 - Doug discusses how much the game has changed since he was still a player - and dreaming about "knocking 'the Wizard' back to Oz."

16:27 - Doug talks about the defining moments from his career in MLB - including the night he collected his 1,000th career hit - and the spiritual side of baseball.

20:39 - Doug discusses being the first African-American Ivy League graduate to play Major League baseball, and what that means to him now.

22:45 - Doug talks about the process of writing an Op-Ed for the New York Times - regarding the subjects of racism, ambiguity, commonality, and empathy - and how baseball can be a common ground for fans everywhere.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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