Book Review: The Bullpen Gospels

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There is something to be said about a good baseball book and when you can find one that deals with failure, it makes it even better. “The Bullpen Gospels” is a book written by former major league reliever Dirk Hayhurst, looking at a pivotal part of his career while in the minor leagues. While a number of baseball books delve into the successes of its players, this book also takes a hard look at what it is like as a player trying to achieve his dream while coming up through the minor leagues

The book begins as Hayhurst is struggling with his future. He’s coming off of a lackluster finish to a season and is unsure how long he wants to continue trying to reach his dream of being a big league pitcher. He does a great job of letting us wander into his mind as he deals with what his future has in store. You really get a window into how something as major as “confidence” can play into a player’s success or failure. Hayhurst is dealing with a floundering career, a lack of confidence and a non-existent support system.

Rays Spring Baseball
Credit: Associated Press

While the focal point of this book is Hayhurst’s struggle and attempt to reach the big leagues, the aspect of the book that really grabs you is his description of minor league life and the relationships with his teammates. Whether it is the lewd jokes, the grizzled coaches or even a bus trip from hell, listening to stories about the grind of a baseball season really puts into perspective how unattractive the minor leagues can be. While some of the names are legit and left as is, there are a number of players whose names were changed for one reason or another. If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to live a season chasing your baseball dream, this is a nice view into that scenario.

You also find out how Dirk evolves as a pitcher and allows himself to not worry about his performance on the field. While his struggles are in the forefront at the beginning of the book, his success is thrown in as almost a side note as the book progresses. The deeper you get into this book, the more you realize it isn’t as much about what happens on the baseball field as much as it’s a look into the thinking pattern of a player trying to avoid the repetitiveness of a long baseball season.

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Credit: DirkHayhurst.com

Overall, I loved the book. I’ve always had a fondness for locker room stories and a deeper look into not just the game of baseball but the nuts and bolts of what makes the game. My favorite part of the book was Dirk’s interactions with Trevor Hoffman, someone who Hayhurst had looked up to for years. These visits not only gave a nice insight into how his mind works, but also how someone like Hoffman can be viewed one way as a player and another as a person.

If you are looking into an honest look into what it is like climbing the ladder of baseball’s minor league system and the ups and downs that are met along the way, this is for you. Some have said this is the best baseball book since Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” and while I can’t vouch for that (I haven’t read the classic Bouton book), I will say that Hayhurst is a great writer and has woven a baseball tale that will entertain you. If you would like to give it a read, here is a link to the book on Amazon and he has written two other books, here and also here. While his career was a short one, Hayhurst has made sure that it will live on for years to come. The book is worth your time and should make you even more excited for baseball season to begin.

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

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Say the name Pete Rose and you are bound to hear many a varied opinion. If there was one former player who is a lightning rod for controversy and passion it would be the man nicknamed “Charlie Hustle”. We all know the story of Rose, one of a man who has fallen from grace because of his vices. This week we found out that Rose has sent a formal request to new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to have his lifetime ban lifted, a ban that has been in effect since August of 1989. Many in and around the game are on Rose’s side in this argument, including the executive director of baseball’s players’ union, Tony Clark. But should Rose have his lifetime ban lifted?

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I know some people don’t completely grasp this, but gambling is the biggest sin in baseball. If you think all the visceral hatred of PED use was as bad as it could get, you would be wrong. Gambling is much worse and can(and has) tore apart the fabric of the game. Gambling is such a no-no in the game that there is a sign posted in every Major League, Minor League and Spring Training clubhouse that reads:

“Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year. Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

This hasn’t been posted for just a few years, or a couple decades; it’s been in clubhouses for close to 100 years. So from the moment Pete Rose walked into a professional baseball dugout he was aware of the dangers and punishment if he gambled on the game. Yet he did it anyway. In fact while manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he gambled on his team. Now, he always has said he “bet on them to win” but does this even matter? He broke rule #1 in the game he loved, a rule that he knew if broken would cost him. It cost him alright; it cost him inclusion into the game that was his life. But he knew the risks and he knew he shouldn’t do it–and did it anyway. I’m not even for sure he feels as if what he did was wrong. Which means much like the fans clamoring for his reinstatement, he doesn’t grasp the severity of gambling in baseball.

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That is the other part of the Pete Rose argument. For years Rose denied he gambled on baseball. He denied it on August 24th, 1989 when then Commissioner Bart Giamatti announced Rose’s lifetime ban. In fact, Rose vehemently denied gambling on baseball:

“Despite what the commissioner said today, I didn’t bet on baseball,” Rose told the media. He does, however, admit that he bet on other sports. “I made some mistakes and I’m being punished for mistakes,” he says.

For years Rose would deny he ever bet on baseball. Years. In fact for years “Charlie Hustle” hustled the media and fans alike by lying and saying he would never bet on the game he loved. But eventually he would go back on that and tell the truth. He would admit that he bet on baseball. But he would do it right before the release of his tell-all book, My Prison Without Bars. So Pete would finally tell us the truth…when it would bring something to him. After years of swearing he was the victim and had done no wrong, he turned around and told the truth when he could make a profit. So the question would have to be asked; At this point, in 2004, did Pete really feel like he had done wrong or did he just admit his wrongdoing for the sympathy? In 2007 he would admit betting on his own team on the Dan Patrick Radio show:

“I bet on my team every night. I didn’t bet on my team four nights a week. I was wrong,” Rose said. “I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believe in my team,” Rose said. “I did everything in my power every night to win that game.”

Maybe it’s just me, but it just feels like Pete found a way to give people what they wanted(the truth) while also making money. It didn’t feel like someone getting something off his chest, relieving himself of guilt. It felt like a man trying to manipulate people’s feelings for him. It didn’t feel like remorse. Only remorse he got caught.

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This most recent attempt by Rose for reinstatement isn’t his first. In fact, former teammates have come to his aid before. Back in 2003, Mike Schmidt and Joe Morgan set up a meeting with then Commissioner Bud Selig where Rose could discuss his case with Selig and possibly even move forward. ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote an article back in 2009, discussing an episode of “Outside the Lines” where Morgan and Schmidt discussed this meeting. In the article there is some very telling truths about Rose and his situation:

Morgan actually shed a tear as he talked about his longtime teammate and what had become of his life. And Schmidt visibly agonized in frustration over Rose’s inability to do and say what seemed so obvious to those of us not living inside the Hit King’s skin.

“If it were me,” Schmidt said, “and I had lived a lie for 14 years, and I went up to tell the commissioner that I was sincerely sorry for what I’ve done to my family, to the sport, etc., I probably would be back in baseball now and in the Hall of Fame — because I would have been a tremendously remorseful individual. And I would have felt the burden of that the rest of my life, in everything that I did. And I would have, in my travels, been a totally different person.

“My lifestyle would have changed. I would have felt an obligation to change and to become someone that the baseball world would once again learn to love after forgiving me. I would have been that guy. And I don’t think Pete has been.”

There were no promises made to Rose that day in 2003. But Schmidt went into stunning detail about the topics on the table in that meeting.

The men in that room actually talked informally, he said, about how Rose should go about holding a news conference to admit what he never could admit all those years: that he’d bet on baseball. They kicked around when he should hold that session. And where.

More than anything, there seemed to be awareness that Rose would have to change his lifestyle. The lifestyle that got him into this situation in the first place. That is where a problem arose:

But the men in that meeting also talked about the changes in lifestyle Rose was going to have to make. No more trips to Vegas. No more hanging out at the racetrack. That was going to have to stop.

And, of course, none of it ever stopped. Not then. Not now.

But the nature of the conversation tells you how much momentum was being built for Rose’s reinstatement. It may not have been imminent. But it was clearly within reach.

“So we were very confident,” Schmidt said, “that once we left Milwaukee, that some phone calls would ensue, some e-mails and discussions with Pete’s representatives and the commissioner’s office, that a plan would be put in place.”

But that plan never even made it onto a crumpled up sheet of scrap paper in Selig’s office. And that was no one’s fault but the Hit King’s alone.

People in the commissioner’s office are still muttering that Rose’s first public stop after leaving Selig’s office was an appearance at a Vegas sports book. It wasn’t quite the reconfiguration of Pete Rose’s life they had in mind.

If you have ever wondered why Pete Rose hasn’t ever been reinstated, and why I feel he shouldn’t ever, those last few paragraphs tell so much. The reason why Pete Rose should never have his lifetime ban lifted is because of the lifestyle he just isn’t willing to give up.

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The biggest issue baseball will have to look at is whether or not Rose has reformed, or whether Rose is living the gambling lifestyle. There is nothing we have seen from the last few years that says he has changed. Rose lives 1.2 miles from the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where he signs autographs in a mall music store. Go back and re-read that; Pete Rose, noted gambler who says he wants a second chance, works in a casino. Sure, Rose will tell you things are different and he would never gamble on baseball again. But lets be honest; Rose lied for 15 years, telling us he didn’t bet on his team. He came clean 11 years ago but where does the truth and lie begin and end? As much as we all want to believe Rose can be this better person who would put the game ahead of his own wants and needs, I’m not so sure that person exists in him. Rose has much in common with players who are suspected of PED use and have denied it for years; they believed they were untouchable. They believed because of who they were they would never get caught. Well, Pete got caught and has spent the last 25 years trying to convince everyone that he was the victim. The honest truth is Pete put himself in this situation. Pete created this mess; his decisions led him to this place and time. There is one rule that everyone that plays, umpires, manages or is a club official has to follow no matter what; don’t gamble. Rose broke that rule and has spent all these years trying to convince everyone that he did nothing wrong. The reality is he broke the one rule that will end your career in the sport. No reinstatement, no Hall of Fame, no nothing. This is the bed Pete Rose has made for himself; it’s time for him to admit he must lie in it.

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