What was the inspiration behind writing your new book, Bigger Than the Game? I had to write Bigger Than the Game if I was ever going look back at baseball fondly again. I needed the public to know what it was like to be a broken player, branded by injury and the desire to write from inside the sacred confines of the locker room. I needed to explain why I, a statistical nobody, thought I had the right to keep a record of my experiences, and how hard it actually was to do. I also wanted fans to know how incredibly difficult injury is on players who have formed their entire identity around their physical health. There are hidden dangers of injury, such as addiction, painkillers and alcohol abuse. How many players are suffering from mental issues before they end up injured? The inability to play baseball, for many players, is the first time they’ve ever had to face who they are without the jersey, and if they were to confess any of it, it would probably end their career. Nothing destroys a career, and a person, faster than injury. It’s terrifying, and many players never recover. The book was as much about me trying to entertain and enlighten fans of the game as it was therapy for me.
This is your third book, which essentially makes you the most prolific player/writer in baseball history. Has the Hall of Fame asked for your keyboard yet? (laughs)No, they haven’t. But even if they do, and I highly doubt they will, I can’t give it to them because I’m still using it. I’m honored to have written as many pages as I have, and that they’ve been as successful as they are. I had this crazy idea that fans might just want to hear about the other side of the game, as not told by the superstar. I thought they might want to hear the everyman’s side of the game, as told by those of us who’ve struggled for every inch of pro success. I didn’t want to write a self-worshiping athletic greatness story, I wanted to write books that used the game of baseball as a delivery method to help people deal with similar issues in their own life. I’d rather have the satisfaction of accomplishing that than a dusty plaque anyway.
As your third book, was it harder to write Bigger Than the Game or does the process of writing a full-length book get easier the more practiced you become? I was never trained in writing, so whatever streamlining I’ve experienced is from trial and error. The hardest part is always the editing process. When you write a book, you work so hard to get the content out that after you final mine it, you have a tendency to fall in love with what you’ve written, even if it’s tedious and doesn’t serve the story. I think I’ve become better at, as Stephen King said about writing, “killing my babies.” That was extremely important for this book, as it covers some dark material. It’s still very, very funny and informative, but a little darkness goes a long way and can wreck your pacing. It could have easily turned gloomy and tedious if I had been judicious in my edits. I don’t think I could have done that a few years ago, with my first couple of books.
A lot of teammates, coaches and front office people were very concerned about your writing your first book, The Bullpen Gospels, and what might be revealed. Are people in baseball still concerned when they see you with a notebook? Yes. And they always will be. And I’m fine with that. I’m a writer and I observe the world in a unique way and feel the need to share what I observe. I always have, even for those many years of athletics before I picked up the notebook. I don’t try to hurt anyone, but I also—for better or for worse—can’t turn off who I am or what I feel. I will always make some people uncomfortable, but the fact is, I don’t think I would have made it to the big leagues if I didn’t start writing. It’s a great form of release and expression that sterile baseball statistics never afforded me. There was more to me, more to all of the players than our record. I always thought the jersey would speak for me, and it does I guess, but it doesn’t say much, and rarely does it say anything in context.
After The Bullpen Gospels came out, did you feel like it helped, hurt or had no effect on your baseball career? It helped on a personal level. Maybe even on a professional level in some respects. Before Gospels came out, I was writing a blog that some baseball executives were reading. When the Blue Jays—the team Bigger Than the Game takes place with—claimed me off waivers, they said they felt I was a good guy based on the experiences I’d shared on blog for Baseball America called The Non-Prospect Diaries. But that was the front office. My new teammates took a little while to warm to me. The team I’d left [the Padres], however, read it and totally changed their opinion of me. They thought I was writing Gospels to bury them. When they read it and realized it was an accurate and celebrated portrayal of minor league life—their lives—they wrote, called, and text messaged to ask why I changed their names! Oh, I don’t know, maybe because for years leading up to the book you threatened to kill, beat, or sue me if I didn’t!
Can you give other athletes an idea of how much work you put into the promotion of your books? There are, to my knowledge, three ways to sell a book. 1) Write a modern classic that this generation must read. That’s rare. You have to write like a savant to do it, and few writers can. 2) Write something so scandalous that the world can’t stop talking about it. This is more common, but you’ll destroy your reputation and get lumped into a pile of athletes you would probably not like to be in. 3) Write whatever it is you want to write, then reach out to all those people you’ve networked in your playing career to help you promote it. Now, this assumes you didn’t treat the media like dirt while you were playing. I was not a big time athlete, but I’m humble, persistent, and meticulous about keeping up relationships with folks who have blogs, radio shows, and TV gigs. There are around 400,000 books coming out each year. How well you publicize is often the difference between your book’s success and the bargain bin.
Have any athletes ever reached out to you for advice about getting their own story published? Yes. And many just assume that since they were famous, someone will publish their book. That’s not always the case (though many times it is, depending on how great the level of fame was). However, I always caution people who want to write just because they were famous athletes and think they have a market. Writing is very revealing and personal. Well, good writing is. You’ll put in a lot of work to open yourself up to the world, but you may not like how it reacts once you do. It’s a scary process, but can be more rewarding then anything you’ve every experienced in your playing career because, unlike your playing career, you, the real you, is helping someone with your struggles and triumphs—not just entertaining their desire to see victory or defeat. I’ve known no greater triumph than edifying others with my personal journey. If you’re going to do it, be brave. You are telling your story: tell it well, tell it truthfully, or don’t tell it at all.
Your first three books have been memoirs about your personal experience. Do you see yourself continuing along that road, or would you like to write about other things in the near future? Does it have to be an either/or question? Why can’t it be both? That’s the way I think about it. I’ve recorded quite a bit of material from my time in the game and have other fun stories to tell, and will in time. However, after logging over 1,200 pages about baseball, I think I need a change. At least for a little while. I’ve been working on some material about other life experiences. My wife and I are trying to have kids and, holy crap, I thought life in baseball was dramatic!
This past fall, you were part of the studio team for TBS’ coverage of the Major League Baseball playoffs. How much did your role as an author play into your ability to land such a great gig? Well, considering my career was ridiculously anemic in comparison to the stars that TBS was able to bring in, like Pedro Martinez, Gary Sheffield, and so on, I had to have something besides a career 5.72 ERA with no wins! While it’s true that, career wise, I was the ugly kid at the dance. I’d been broadcasting longer than the other players, and I’d written more content than any other MLB player, ever. I was a rarity with a unique view into the game. I was not a great champion, but I’d fought for everything I had and was able to articulate that experience in a way very few in the game ever had before but many outside the game could relate too. TBS took a major risk putting me on the panel since, and lets be honest, most people at home only trust major known stars to tell them anything about the sport. TBS opened the door, but they could have easily shut it on me if it didn’t work. I had to hold my own, and by the end of my time with the panel there were just as many folks wondering why I’d left since I added something good to the show as there were wondering who the hell I was when I first came on it!
As you’ve had time to reflect about your minor and major league career, is there anything you would have done differently? I waited until what I thought would be my last season in baseball to start journaling about it. I actually wanted to start writing earlier, my first year in the game to be exact. I didn’t, because everyone on the team, including some of the coaches, told me that was how you become a rat and that I’d end my career if I did. Jim Bouton had inadvertently made anyone who ever wanted to write about the game from inside an instant pariah. So I didn’t, and I deeply regret it. All those first time experiences… lost. All those emotions of what it was like to be a player in the pros for the first time faded in the fog of my memory. I miss them, and I should have never let anyone else’s fear dictate how I lived or recorded my own life.
Dirk Hayhurst's new book, Bigger Than the Game, is now available at Amazon.com.