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The Bullpen Gospels: A Non-Prospect's Pursuit of the Major Leagues and the Meaning of Life Paperback – April 1, 2010
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Hilarious, Poignant, a really enjoyable read. --Bob Costas
A true picture of baseball. --Tim McCarver
Dirk Hayhurst has written a fascinating, funny and honest account on life in the minor leagues. I loved it. --Tim Kurkjian, Senior Writer, analyst/reporter ESPN television
The Bullpen Gospels is a rollicking good bus ride of a book. --Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated
Bull Durham meets Ball Four. --Ron Neyer, ESPN.com
Fascinating. . . a perspective that fans rarely see. --Trevor Hoffman, pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers
He has a message to deliver about the things that matter in life--and those that don't. And he offers sage observations about the nature of celebrity and ambition, forgiveness and family. . . . Mr. Hayhurst is already a writer, maybe even a major-league prospect. --Wall Street Journal
If Holden Caulfield could dial up his fastball to 90 mph, he might have written this funny, touching memoir about a ballplayer at a career--and life--crossroads. He might have called it 'Pitcher in the Rye.' Instead, he left it to Dirk Hayhurst, the only writer in the business who can make you laugh, make you cry and strike out Ryan Howard. --King Kaufman, Salon
The Bullpen Gospels is a funny bone-tickling, tear duct-stimulating, feel-good story that will leave die-hard baseball fans--and die-hard human beings, for that matter--well, feeling good. --Bob Mitchell, author of Once Upon a Fastball --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Author
Best Baseball Autobiography Since Bouton?
Dirk Hayhurst's description of himself for the author's ID in his upcoming book The Bullpen Gospels reads in part, "Dirk is a former member of the San Diego Padres, and after this book gets printed, a former member of the Toronto Blue Jays."
I'm not sure he's correct. In fact, I'm not sure that in these times when so many fans feel like they're constantly having the wool pulled over their eyes by athletes ill-equipped for the attempt, if Hayhurst's constant honesty, his remarkable candor, his drumbeat of unadorned confessed self-doubt, and his seamless writing, won't resonate through the sport like the first true wonderful day of spring when the game and the weather finally reassure you that winter has been beaten back, at least for a season.
In fact, I'm not sure that he hasn't written the best baseball autobiography since Jim Bouton's Ball Four. For Hayhurst, who bombed as a starter for the Padres in 2008 and then showed promise out of the Jays' bullpen the season past, has written what Bouton wrote, and what a decade before Bouton, what Jim Brosnan wrote - a book that is seemingly about baseball but which, as you read further and further into it, is obviously much bigger than that. These are books about life: struggle, confusion, purpose, purposelessness, and the startling realization that achievement and failure are nearly-identical twins, one which gnaws and deadens, the other which just as often produces not elation but a tinny, empty sound.
Brosnan's achievement, in The Long Season and Pennant Race, was to introduce to a world which previously had no information of any kind on the subject, the concept of athlete as human being. What did he have to do when demoted, or traded? What happened when management changed? Was there a Mrs. Athlete, and could they share a martini now and again? (answer: You bet).
Bouton's breakthrough was to show the concept of athlete as flawed human being. Too many martinis, some of them shared with women other than Mrs. Athlete. Athletes who might not have been geniuses on the field or off, but who seemed invariably managed and coached by men even less intelligent. The struggle to self-start as one's team sank from optimism, to contention, to inconsistency, to irrelevance, to embarrassment. And yet, were they enjoying themselves, did their lives change for the better, was being an athlete fun? (answer: You bet).
And now here is Hayhurst, who may single-handedly steer baseball away from the two decades-long vise grip of Sport-As-Skill-Development. Since my own childhood, we have ever-increasingly devalued every major leaguer but the superstar. Late in the last century we began to devalue every minor leaguer but the top draft choice. If you don't make it into somebody's Top Prospects list, you might as well not exist. Dirk Hayhurst is writing of his days, his months, his years, as far away from the Top Prospects lists as imaginable. He is, in The Bullpen Gospels, often the last man on an A-ball pitching staff, and trying to answer a series of successively worsening questions cascading from the simplest of them: Why?
This, of course, is why the book transcends the game. It's not just Dirk Hayhurst's existential doubt about whether he'll reach the majors or why he's still trying or if he shouldn't be helping the homeless instead of worrying about getting the last out of a seven-run inning. He is experiencing the crisis of reality through which we all pass, often daily: when our dreams about life crash head first into its realities, what the hell are we supposed to do then?
Thus The Bullpen Gospels is a baseball book the way "Is That All There Is?" is a Leiber-Stoller pop song by Peggy Lee from 1969. It is the primordial battle of hope and faith and inspiration versus disillusionment and rust and inertia.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it? But of course therein lies the delightful twist: like Brosnan and Bouton before him, Hayhurst repeatedly rediscovers the absurd hilarity of it all, and the book is consistently laugh-out-loud funny. And like all great artists, he pulls back curtains we never thought to investigate: from how assiduously minor leaguers debate which "Come-out songs" they will choose or which numbers they will wear, to the pecking order of seat locations on the ever-infamous bush league bus trip.
My favorite is probably the mechanics of something the average reader will have never heard of before, let alone have contemplated. It's "the host family" - the living arrangements by which the non-first-rounders survive their seasons in the minors. Hayhurst hilariously defines such temporary homes as ranging from Wackford Squeers' Dotheboys Hall, to the visitations from In Cold Blood.
It doesn't hurt that Hayhurst is a fluid and gifted writer, whose prose can take off like a jet and compel you to read for half an hour more than you have. He populates the pages of The Bullpen Gospels with teammates, some identified, some amalgamated, some under aliases - and if the book takes off, ripping the Hayhurstian masks off the more colorful ones may become a low-key hobby after the book is published on March 30th.
The reaction will be fascinating to see. In 1970, my father endured my clamoring and bought Ball Four and read it himself before handing it to me: "I know you know all these words. Just don't use them around the house. Read this carefully, there's a lot of truth in here." But ever since, we fans have been bombarded for decades by altered versions of truth, all of them writ large and desperately trying to impress us with their essential-ness. Baseball books have tended to focus only on the big, and to try to make it bigger still. We've gone from the unlikely accuracy of Jose Canseco's slimy indictment of the steroid era, through the analyze-all-the-damn-fun-out-of-the-game-why-don't-you tone of Moneyball and its imitators, through what may in retrospect be seen as a Hayhurst-precursor in Matt McCarthy's fraudulent Odd Man Out, through dozens of historical works insisting everything that has ever happened in baseball has re-shaped the nation - Jackie Robinson (yes), the 1951 N.L. pennant race (very possibly), the 1912 World Series (no way).
Here, instead, will be a modest book by a modest relief pitcher who has appeared in the modest total of 25 major league games presenting what the modest author thinks (incorrectly) is only modest truth. He has yet to get his own major league baseball card and as I write this there are exactly two of his souvenirs available on eBay and one of them is a photo for $6.99 ("Or Best Offer"). His preface warns you if you seek scandal or steroids, look elsewhere, and the only bold face name in the whole 340 pages, Trevor Hoffman, comes across as a low-key gentleman.
And yet there in the prologue Hayhurst offers a key to what he has written and why, self-guidance to which he sticks pretty neatly: "I also believe there is more to the game than just baseball. For all the great things baseball is, there are some things it is absolutely not. And that is what this story is all about."
Of course, just as Bouton's exposure of the real flaws of the real men who played baseball in 1969 made them even more appealing than the phony deities into which they'd been transformed, the great things are made somehow greater by how well Hayhurst contextualizes them, how honestly he tells his story, and how vividly he takes us inside his world.
-- Keith Olbermann
Top Customer Reviews
The book is receiving rave reviews not only for its baseball-related content, but also for Hayhurst's pained, personal story. But don't be confused. This story is neither an over-the-top expose on today's players, nor a "aw shucks" feel-good tale. In fact, it is not easy to put this book into a single category.
The book centers around the 2007 season when Hayhurst moves between different levels of the San Diego Padres minor league system. Hayhurst use pseudonyms and composite characters (e.g. Pickles, Rosco, Slappy, & Maddog) to protect his teammates' identifies. This is raw stuff, some times cringe-worthy, sophomorphic fun, other times cringe-worthy pain, delivered in machine gun bursts by a gifted writer. A particular passage about an octopus copulating a bagpipe had me laughing so hard I couldn't catch my breath.
Bullpen is compelling because of the style, or "voice" with which it is written. Hayhurst's style is disarmingly conversatinal and self-deprecating; exposing the reader to the lighter side of baseball, but also to his inner most fears and demons. He does so in a manner that makes you feel like you are in the room with him and his teammates shooting the breeze. The style draws you in, his stories are intoxicating, and the result is a spellbinding read.
The grit and realism starts right from the prologue.
"I was the team's long relief man. A nonglorious pitching role designed to protect priority pitchers. If the starting pitcher broke down or the game got out of control, I came in to clean up so the bullpen wasn't exhausted. Despite feel-good semantics supplied by the organization, my main job was mopping up lost causes. Why waste a talented pitcher when there was a perfectly useless guy for the job? I could pitch five innings in a blowout or face one batter in the seventeenth inning. Put it this way: if I could have done any other role successfully, I wouldn't have been the long man."
Usually, when I review a book, I take notes to remind myself of things I might want to weave into the review. That approach was hopeless with this book. There are far too many memorable moments to keep track of. Below is an excerpt of a comparatively tame episode amongst the many:
"As we made our way to the pen, fans splashed against the stadium's fenceing, begging us for autographs. We signed everything from hats and programs to ticket stubs and sandwich wrappers. It always boggles my mind how fans will fight all over themselves at a chance to get one of our names scribbled on their souvenirs. If only they knew what we were under these jerseys. Just hours before the game, the team debated the question of when a protein shake should be consumed--before or after sex? During, we decided, if you have a hand free."
Hayhurst is currently with the Toronto Blue Jay organization, but on injured reserve. He has been in the bigs with both San Diego and Toronto after a 4-year up and down minor league career bouncing between A, AA, and AAA.
After reading Hayhurst's book I now understand. To the overwhelming majority of minor leaguers, professional baseball only represented Failure. Obviously, most of them never make it to the bigs dispite their best efforts.
Few of us have to live with the reality of failing at something we dedicated so much time and effort to, but that is the reality of most minor league ballplayers.
We 'civilians' see them as guys who were playing baseball for a living when the rest of us were doing 9-5 jobs. Most of these guys wind up dead broke and have to start life all over again in their late 20's looking for a 9-5 job.
Hayhurst is a great writer with a great future. I would've given this book 5 stars but for the fact that he seemed to dwell a little too much about his personal problems which were no different than anybody else's problems. A couple of times I found myself thinking "welcome to the world, Dirk". At the same time, I couldn't put the book down.
I pre-ordered the book and anxiously awaited for it to appear on my Kindle. Once it did, I picked it up and didn't stop until I had finished the book. Now I can't wait for a follow-up to this outstanding work. The writing is exceptional, with a good sense of pacing and flow.