Commentary

Looking back on a rather dismal time on the diamond

Originally Published: December 20, 2007
By Doug Glanville | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's Note: Doug Glanville was an outfielder who played in the major leagues from 1996 to 2004 with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers.

In the wake of the release of last week's Mitchell report, I thought it was a good time to vent. Not so much for me, but for the game of baseball and the challenges it brings to light in our society.

Let's face it. It hurts to see our national pastime ripped apart by allegations and scandals. I am seeing former teammates and opponents go under the HGH/steroid crosshairs, and it makes me wonder what else was happening in the 15 seasons I was part of the game.

So what is going on? I don't believe it is simply a baseball problem as we confront questions, not just about drugs, but about privacy and confidentiality.

Our culture has a greater degree of comfort with less privacy in the wake of the horror of 9/11. We are much more understanding about trading some level of freedom for the protections this country can provide. Kids of the MySpace/YouTube generation have few qualms about their lives being open to whoever has an Internet connection.

As history is being written, it is sad to think that my career may be framed in what has become known as the "steroid era." It would have been a lot more fun to tell old stories about playing in the "golden era" of baseball.

So part of my reaction to the Mitchell report was concern for a society that can revel in calling out names so casually. After all, I spent a lot of time as the union representative of the Philadelphia Phillies, and we rallied behind principles expressing that material trappings are meaningless without rights and freedoms. Especially when it always seemed our society was less concerned about protecting a player's privacy and his employment rights because of his material and ephemeral entities, such as paychecks and fame.

Therefore, as a player, you can become almost obsessed with your privacy. Sometimes, the reality of where and how to emphasize it gets confusing. That sentiment probably contributed to the slow evolution of baseball's drug policy. Although when it comes to what issues are at stake, it is important to handle them with care. Nevertheless, I also have another angle for us to consider.

As history is being written, it is sad to think that my career may be framed in what has become known as the "steroid era." It would have been a lot more fun to tell old stories about playing in the "golden era" of baseball. Instead, many people will think of syringes, 400-page reports, and investigators crawling in BALCO's dumpsters. In every circle of our society, everyone is facing the internal struggle of assessing what one is willing to do to excel. It doesn't matter if you are contemplating Botox as a Hollywood actor, or an HGH regimen for better performance as an athlete. In various forms, we all come to these kinds of forks in the road.

I am proud that, at 175 pounds soaking wet, I played my entire 15-season professional career drug free, even in an environment where the competition was relentless, the insecurity was palpable, the stakes were astronomical, the home run was king, and most importantly, the window was small. I also came to the realization that had I made a different choice, someone probably would have understood. But it really isn't about this "someone," especially since this mysterious "someone" will not be there when I face the consequences of my decisions.

"Just Saying No" has always been an important part of my life, but when I really look at it, I never found my drug-free choice to be difficult. I had already decided, from the day I was drafted in 1991, that whatever was going to happen in my career was going to happen without performance-enhancing drugs.

Nevertheless, I always try to understand everyone's circumstance. I ask myself the question: Would I have made the same choice if I were supporting a family that depended on my career to survive as my skills were leveling off at Triple-A? I would like to think my answer would have been yes, but I can recognize that when faced with survival, people are capable of anything, not just for reasons of greed, fear, ego and self-doubt.

I can also recognize that I was fortunate to have the powerful option to use an Ivy League degree from the University of Pennsylvania and make a new life after baseball. That backup plan probably changed how much I was willing to give up to "survive." Especially since in the end, no matter how many adjustments you make, no matter how much of your soul is compromised, the mighty foot kicks you out the door, and declares you expired. Everyone has drawn different lines as to how far they will go to dodge the big boot. But eventually, it will step on you. It is inevitable.

When I look back at my career, it is fulfilling to know that every day, whatever happened, I knew I came to bat with what I had in its purest form. If I beat Randy Johnson that day, I could stand tall because I came with the truth. And if he beat me, so be it; it was his day. I felt that I could always go back to the drawing board, make my adjustments from listening to my body, spirit, and mind, in full confidence that their signals to me were authentic. I couldn't imagine going day in and day out wondering if it was my work, or the work of a little blue pill that led the charge. It just seemed like a drug-filled career led to a career and soul in constant doubt. When playing at the highest level of competition, there is already enough doubt to go around.

Even in this big-money era of the potential asterisk, no amount of fame, perceived power, legal representation or money exempts anyone from the experiences of life and having to face them and make choices. You cannot buy your way to better coping skills, nor enhance and engineer your way to resolve your fears or darkest inadequacies. At least not in any way that is sustainable.

Artificial enhancement is every bit as much about fear, as it is about wanting to be the best every day, every year. Despite the idea that these athletes are invincible rocks of courage and heroism, they are riddled with the same concerns and insecurities as everyone else who is trying to excel, do right, represent his family or country, or just plain survive.

These concerns belong to the family of fears that drives people to stay young with wonder surgeries or augment performance using Viagra without any medical reason to do so. Ours is a society of magic implants, and certainly, people just don't feel there is time to waste or time to reflect, since deadlines and competition are always gaining on us. Whatever it is we need, we need it now, and as long as we continue to support this all-or-nothing concept of success, no testing program in the world will every truly address the core issue. We need a cultural shift.

Without it, there will always linger this constant anxiety that maybe what we have gained from life's experiences, what our faith gives us, or what we were genetically predisposed to do is not sufficient for us to do what we need to do. Certainly not at a level that we think or, more prominently, someone else thinks is necessary for it to be done. That maybe, just maybe, we don't have enough "as is."

Artificial enhancement is every bit as much about fear, as it is about wanting to be the best every day, every year.

The physical effects of this enhanced shortcut may pale in comparison to the spiritual impact on a society that doesn't want to experience setbacks, doesn't want to age, doesn't want to cope with weaknesses, and doesn't want to ever deal with diminishing skills. We end up missing out on the fact that even when we lose something, in one respect, we gain something else.

But when "failure" is becoming unacceptable in the giant pressure cooker, it shouldn't be surprising that some people end up doing whatever it takes to avoid those situations, to avoid being human, and I wonder if we all have some responsibility in why that came to be.

By no means is that giving anyone a free pass. Many people make a "clean" choice when faced with similar options, and I hope these players get their due. For me, it was frustrating to know that eventually the power game would pass me over and that I would be at a disadvantage as a singles hitter with a good glove. More frustrating is the realization that my shorthandedness was accelerated artificially. But my frustration didn't cloud my ability to look at the issues and be objective, and I certainly know that my career wound down for many other reasons than what "everyone else" was supposedly doing.

People make choices and, for all of us, there are always events that transpire because of those very choices. And what can unfold is guided by an engine that is a lot bigger than us.

I don't think it is my place to be anyone's judge. I just try to walk with humility within my journey and make the best choices I can with the information at hand. I accept that we can fool many audiences, we may even be able to fool ourselves, but there is something internal, profound and spiritual that is impossible to fool that lives within all of us. And there is nothing tougher than being forced to take a good hard look in the mirror that reflects back unrelenting truth.

I suppose, a pretty good career can get lost in the shadow of this emotionally charged issue. My numbers weren't too shabby. I managed to play in over 1,000 games in the major leagues, amassing exactly 1,100 hits, sneaking in close to a 300-game errorless streak to boot. I also had one of the highest stolen base success rates among my contemporaries. Cooperstown will not be calling me, but that is OK, it worked out fine.

I played my career in a way that those important and close to me would be proud. I made it this far on faith that whatever I brought to the table was enough for whatever I was going to face. And at each fork in the road, I chose to embrace every mountain, every valley of my experience with what gifts and blessings I began with, even if it meant I would make less, play less, and leave the game sooner. I am just thankful for the opportunity to enjoy the dance of my career and be able to share it with so many people.

When I played, everyone witnessed who I was, whether it was on my good days, my tired days, or on days when my father was chronically ill. And when all is said and done, that day-to-day, honest performance should be considered success by any standard, and I believe we all will be in a better place when we figure that out.

Doug Glanville serves as the president of GK Alliance, LLC, a home building company of luxury residences in the Chicagoland area. Doug is also a consultant for new business initiatives with the TeamOne division of The Baseball Factory, which provides full placement and developmental services for high school baseball players.

• MLB analyst for ESPN and ESPN.com
• Played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers
• Email: mail@dougglanville.com
• Website: http://www.dougglanville.com/