I’ve been spending a lot of my off the field time reading here in Italy. Just finished a great baseball book by Frank Deford called The Entitled. I highly recommend it. Anyway, in the book, there’s a passage talking about the immaturity of ballplayers…
A part of you never grows up when you stay in the game. This doesn’t affect you so much when you’re still playing, because nobody around you has grown up either. It’s away from the game, where playing a child’s game makes you different.
Which got me to thinking. After I got out of the game for a little while and had a chance to get my bearings, it became evident that I was (am) basically a social misfit. I’m recovering. And I highly suspect there’s quite a few ex-big leaguers (and current one’s too) who are in the same boat.
And here’s why. For the most part, for as long as you are in “the show,” you’re basically cut off from real life. You exist in a controlled bubble that doesn’t involve a whole lot of social interaction…except with your teammates and those within the tight circle of the traveling circus.
Yes, you’re in front of 40 thousand people a night, but for all intents and purposes they might as well be cardboard. For the most part, the fans are just a background. You’re there to do a job and they’re part of the workplace. Even if you’re signing 8,000 autographs a day, you’re not really having a lot of interaction. And even if you are interacting, it’s a strange type of interaction. Not like two normal people. I mean, one person is paying to see the other one. I don’t care how grounded a person you might be, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’re on a different level than the guy on the other side on the fence.
So the ballplayer goes through his days shuffling from a bus to a chartered plane (right on the tarmac, not through the airport mind you), to the hotel, to the cab, to the ballpark, back into the cab, back to the hotel, back to the bus, which starts the whole cycle again. Repeat for 15 years or so. Then the off season comes and you’re so sick of the traveling and miss your family so much that all you want to do is be alone, take the phone off the hook, and hunker down.
Like I said, you don’t need to talk to anyone outside your tribe if you don’t want to.
How many big leaguers retire every year? Let’s say that number is 100. Basically MLB is spitting out 100 or so social misfits into society annually. A bunch of 16 year olds trapped in 40 year old bodies. If you’re one of those guys, the only smooth transition is if you can land a gig on the MLB network and can continue to yuck it up with other ex-players. Or stay in the game as a coach. Other than that, it’s gonna be bumpy.
The funny thing is, nobody warns you. Nothing at all. No de-briefing like the CIA, no schooling on how operate a washing machine or, God forbid, direction on how to go through an airport alone. Really? I have to wear a seatbelt and turn my ipod off? You’ve gotta be holy-cowing me. Never did it that before and we never crashed. Tell me again why I can’t sit in the cockpit.
So whats my point? I don’t know, I’m just talking. Definitely not complaining, just sharing my experience. I do know is it’s fortunate that there’s only a few of us out there at any given time. In the whole scheme of things, a few social misfits trying to adapt probably isn’t hurting the world too badly.
“I ain’t never had a job, I just always played baseball” - Satchel Paige