Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
I hope this review makes up for the couple of months I missed there.

Title: The Bullpen Gospels

Published: Citadel Press 2010
# Pages: 340
Availability: Right now it is very widely available indeed.

Written By: Dirk Hayhurst
Who Is: #58 for your Toronto Blue Jays. Hayhurst is a right-handed pitcher who came over from the Padres on waivers after the '08 season. He's pitched in 15 games for the Jays and did very well; he was a good candidate to go north with the team this year until labrum surgery shut him down.

Technically speaking, The Bullpen Gospels isn't part of the Blue Jays Library. Hayhurst wrote it as a Padres minor-leaguer and there's no Toronto content in the book at all. But we can say it's a Blue Jays book via adoption.

What It's About:

Well, that's the crux of it, really. Most baseball books are factual accounts; here's what happened in such-and-such season, or here's how Joe Badoitch became a star. Sometimes you get baseball books that are about the search for some kind of meaning through baseball. Sometimes you get books that just want to be funny and entertaining and use baseball as a vehicle for that. But none of those are really what's going on here.

Hayhurst is up to something else here, though. He has a point to make (which I won't spoil here), and the good thing is that he makes it an organic part of the book and not something that's just stapled on awkwardly. What's odd is what he does and does not choose to include in the book; it ought to be unsatisfying but it's not.

It's a baseball book, but there are very few descriptions of actual play-by-play action. He talks a lot about his teammates, but usually does not identify them by name. Hayhurst's own pitching ability is of paramount importance to the story, but actual information about how he's pitching is given very sparingly. There are hints (including the title!) that religion is an important aspect of Hayhurst's life and of the book itself, but Hayhurst refuses to go into this any more than is absolutely necessary. The Bullpen Gospels refuses to be about what it's about. (Maybe that's why the pitching hand in the picture on the front cover is crossing its fingers.)

So then what does fill up the 340 pages?

Mostly it's Hayhurst's descriptions of minor-league life. Not the on-field action, but the bus rides, the kangaroo courts, the conversations with his teammates (whom, characteristically, he usually refuses to identify in any definitive way). It's funny stuff, and Hayhurst paints the picture well. It's also about Hayhurst's own life: his family, his struggle to make it to the big leagues, his attempts to figure out his relationship to baseball. Hayhurst insists on keeping the story one hundred percent grounded at all times, but it's a great coincidence that one of his minor-league teams is Lake Elsinore.

In one of the review blurbs on the first page inside the cover, Bob Costas compares Hayhurst to Jim Bouton, Crash Davis, Jim Brosnan, and Pat Jordan. I can't say he's wrong about any of those, but it's the Bouton and Jordan comparisons that do the most for me (especially because who's heard of Pat Jordan these days? Costas has been paying attention!). I've been spending a lot of time thinking about Hayhurst and Bouton and Jordan and their excellent books (Ball Four for Bouton and A False Spring for Jordan (which I had to reread before writing this)). There's so much to consider that I've been having a hard time holding it all in my mind.

Bouton was the biggest star of the three, with two years as a big winner for Mickey Mantle's Yankees. Jordan never came close to making the major leagues. Bouton's book was motivated by a genuine affection for the game combined with a need to question some of its conventions, and its story is the story of Bouton trying to hang on to his career by reinventing himself as a knuckleballer. Jordan feels the same attachment to the game, but his book was written about fifteen years after the fact, and he seems motivated partially by nostalgia and partially by trying to expiate his own immaturity. Hayhurst doesn't feel what Jordan and Bouton feel, and that's part of what his book is about.

I see the biggest difference between Hayhurst on the one hand and Jordan and Bouton on the other as generational. Jordan and Bouton were born in the last years of the Silent Generation (born 1925-42). They came of age in a High era, when institutions were strongest, and while the Silents did question those institutions, they weren't interested in tearing them down. Hayhurst, on the other hand, was born in 1981, which puts him in the last year of Generation X (along with Paris Hilton and Buffy Summers), and he's encountering the institution of baseball in the first few years of a Crisis era, when institutions are at their weakest. The typical GenX (born 1961-81) attitude toward the crumbling institutions they inherit is to keep them barely running if possible and to get what they can out of them, but not to trust them or care about them. Certainly Hayhurst's compartmentalization of the various parts of his life (by which I mean his elision of information about his love life, his spiritual views, etc., even though they're relevant to the book's themes and ending, as well as his attitude towards baseball's role in one's life) is typical of GenXers.

This generational separation shows up in other ways, some instructive. For instance, all three authors spend a bit of time talking about how they don't quite fit in with their teammates. Now, I expect this from Bouton and Jordan; the Silent generation is full of people who feel like they don't quite fit in. The Lonely Crowd. And it's true that Hayhurst doesn't worry about it as much as Bouton and Jordan do; he doesn't see it as any kind of a deficiency in himself. It's just something to be managed. But we can say one of two things: that ballplayers who might tend to write about their experiences are prone to being noticeably different from their teammates, and/or that the necessity for those in the insulated baseball lifestyle to bury their differences and conform to the norms of the group transcends personalities and generations.

One of the big lessons Hayhurst learns in The Bullpen Gospels also seems to be a cross-generational one, and I have to conclude that it's a universal truth of competition. Hayhurst learns - and this lesson is part of what he calls "the bullpen gospels" - that if you play scared of failure, if you play not to lose, you'll never succeed. The only way to succeed is to accept the chance of failure and play wholeheartedly to win. Jordan says the same thing, explicitly, in A False Spring, and it's implicit in Ball Four (Bouton, the Bulldog, never had a problem with competitiveness, but had to learn an analogous lesson: the only way to be a knuckleball pitcher is to give yourself up completely to the knuckleball.) So that's another common thread.

Hayhurst claims on his website to have a sequel in mind. I don't know about that. I mean, I'm sure he's capable of filling a book with funny stuff just as skillfully as he does here, but what's the book going to be about? It really does help for a book to be about something; it's one of the things that makes this one so worthwhile. Not that I'm dismissing the possibility that Hayhurst has an answer to this very question in mind.

There are no mentions of the Garfoose in the book at all. Just, you know, if anyone was expecting there to be.

How's the Writing:

It's very good. Hayhurst seems to have done it all by himself, and any time a baseball player does that, you have to give him credit, but even without adjusting for that I'm impressed.

There's a part in which he's describing his stint volunteering at a homeless shelter where he pulls off a very nice flourish with the writing. It's a cheap trick but it's an excellent cheap trick and I take my hat off to Hayhurst for it. (I don't want to describe it to you. Bottom of p. 36; top of p. 37.)

I hope Hayhurst recovers well from his surgery and makes it big as a Blue Jay. I also look forward to his next book. As for this book, I'm definitely going to be rereading it. I'd reread it now if I didn't have so much other stuff to read. Strongly recommended!


The book is almost all anecdote. I'd like to pick out a good one to put here, but after flipping through the book for a while, I can't come up with one I like that's Safe For Work. The funniest parts are probably the ones where he's talking about his grandmother.
04/10 Blue Jays Library in a Box: The Bullpen Gospels | 20 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Matthew E - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 09:13 AM EDT (#213923) #
What, you don't think I liked it? I thought I made it clear that I liked it a lot. Not only that, it made me think about it hard, and it was different, and those are two things that count for a lot. I don't understand your problem.
christaylor - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 09:17 AM EDT (#213925) #
Not enough superlatives, from you, yourself.
Matthew E - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 09:21 AM EDT (#213927) #

Okay, having reread my review, I can see how someone could read the first part and not come away with the idea that I liked the book. I left it too implicit and I had too much other stuff I wanted to say about it. So let me say here that The Bullpen Gospels is an excellent book, that it breaks new ground for baseball books, and that it's as entertaining as anything.


Spifficus - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 10:09 AM EDT (#213929) #

I read the review as anything but implicit. You're comparing it to the pinnacle of baseball books, and it doesn't back down. Even prior to saying it pretty explicitly at the end, you keep throwing vibes of "I know it's Dirk, but ballplayers aren't supposed to be able to write like this."

Loved the review, and loved how the book sounds. That you were talking about it more as a book and not just a baseball book has me a bit excited. I'm going to have to temporarily set aside my internet-induced ADD and pick up this book, aren't I?

Chuck - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 10:19 AM EDT (#213931) #
I concur with both Matthew's review and Spifficus's interpretation of that review. I am one third of the way through the book and have been very impressed thus far. This is no ordinary baseball book.
Dewey - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 10:36 AM EDT (#213936) #
Hey, Matthew, you made me want to read the book:  that's a test of an good review. 
HollywoodHartman - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 11:04 AM EDT (#213939) #
I won one of Dirk's trivia contests, so just yesterday I got the book (signed no less!) sent to me in the mail. I can't wait to dig into it.
Matthew E - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 11:07 AM EDT (#213940) #

Thanks, all.

Spifficus: I'm actually being more complimentary than that. I'm not just comparing The Bullpen Gospels to other great baseball books; I'm comparing it to Hamlet! (Hayhurst pitched for Lake Elsinore; Elsinore is the setting of Hamlet; I say that this is appropriate.)

Spifficus - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 11:29 AM EDT (#213942) #
Huh. I did not pick up on that, though it's been 15 years and I have always had a love-hate relationship with my memory. If you consider it apropos to make Hamlet allusions... I may have to find the nearest bookstore or e-tailer today.
China fan - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 11:42 AM EDT (#213943) #
I thought it was an excellent review by Matthew:  thoughtful, provocative, insightful.   The sign of a great book is that it inspires great reviews.
christaylor - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 02:05 PM EDT (#213948) #
Of course, excellent writing as always.
Wayne H. - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 06:12 PM EDT (#213976) #
It's not every book review that contains Strauss and Howe Generational Theory. Kudos to Matthew E. for that insightful addition to the book review.

The book sounds great by the way, and the review made me want to read it. That is a sign of a positive review.

Matthew E - Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 09:22 PM EDT (#213985) #
It's not every book review that contains Strauss and Howe Generational Theory. Kudos to Matthew E. for that insightful addition to the book review.

Believe me, it's my pleasure. I'm about as big a fan of Strauss and Howe as I am of the Jays; I could talk about that stuff all day.
Wayne H. - Thursday, April 22 2010 @ 01:58 AM EDT (#213998) #
That makes two of us. I find generational theory fascinating to study and discuss.
Dave Till - Thursday, April 22 2010 @ 01:56 PM EDT (#214015) #
I bought a copy of the book, and enjoyed reading it.

My impression was that it was written with the eventual goal of being adapted into a screenplay: the descriptions of Hayhurst's family would make a good plot line for the eventual movie.

Chuck - Thursday, April 22 2010 @ 04:51 PM EDT (#214021) #

would make a good plot line for the eventual movie

Let's hope Disney keeps their stinkin' paws off of it.

vw_fan17 - Friday, April 23 2010 @ 02:05 PM EDT (#214051) #
Thanks for the review. I've asked my dear wife to get me a copy for Father's Day. Sounds quite interesting..
04/10 Blue Jays Library in a Box: The Bullpen Gospels | 20 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.