Doug Glanville Speaks His Mind on Baseball and Its Future
The Penn alum and Phillies fan favorite says baseball should look more like America.
Former Phillies centerfielder Doug Glanville is one of those rare pro athletes who won’t need a ghostwriter to write his autobiography.
In fact, he’s already done quite a good job of telling the story of his major-league career with his book The Game from Where I Stand (2011), his chronicle of the day-to-day experiences of a major league ballplayer, namely, himself. The book grew out of columns he wrote for The New York Times while playing in the major leagues. And he produced the columns and the book while maintaining the grueling schedule of a big-league ballplayer.
Glanville has no trouble expressing his views on baseball or on any other subject that interests him, which serves him well as a sports commentator for ESPN and NBC Sports Chicago, a writer for The Athletic, the Times and other publications, and an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut Neag School of Education.
Clearly, Glanville has made the most of his Penn education. (He graduated in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering.) That education also made him a rarity in the world of pro baseball: only four other Penn grads have played in the majors since 1951, and he was the first Black Ivy grad to do so. We got together to talk about his life and career prior to his appearance at his alma mater Monday and Tuesday as a Kelly Writers House Fellow.
I was working at Penn when you were an undergraduate there. I remember you wrote a paper, I think it was your senior engineering thesis, on [SEPTA’s] Regional Rail.
Yeah. It was kind of a two-parter, because I had a feasibility study of the stadium as well, building one [a possible Phillies ballpark] at 30th Street, but I went into it learning about the Regional Rail system, the difference between it and the subway and all these things. And I keep in touch with Dr. [Vukan] Vuchic [a Penn engineering professor who is an expert on transportation and advised Glanville on his paper; he was one of the faculty members whose work I promoted in Penn’s communications office] as well.
But one time [Phillies General Manager] Bill Giles called me into his office while I was playing. Sort of out of nowhere, the phone rings, and they said I gotta go see Bill Giles. I thought it was trading [him to another team], but he actually called me to ask me if he could get a copy of my paper because he heard it had some good transportation ideas in it.
Had you intended to have teaching as your ultimate career even when you were in college?
Well, no. I can’t say that I had a plan. I operate more organically, and things just kind of come along, and I say, Okay, this might be an opportunity to explore.
Teaching was in my family, for sure. My mom taught math all through high school and spent many years as a respected educator. And my dad was an educator in Trinidad and Tobago before he moved to the United States. So they both had this perspective and sensibility around education and how to communicate. So I paid a lot of attention to how they delivered and shared information in various settings.
So it was kind of in the blood when I had this opportunity to teach and take some of the things I wanted to share about my career, but mostly through the lens of how baseball and sports can help us connect with society at large. I felt it would be a great fit.
So that’s where my teaching comes from. … And I’ve certainly learned as much as I teach, and so the students have been great educators for me as well.
Speaking of education, Ivy League-educated athletes in the pros tend to be rare. Did you find being a Penn grad playing professional baseball led to any stereotyping assumptions?
For sure. I would say all players carry with them some label that they’re trying to shake, so I don’t think it was exclusive to me. But what was unique to being the Ivy League guy, I guess, is the label of being too smart for your own good, or that you have all these other options and you’re not going to be that committed or focused on this craft of baseball. The stereotype that you may not be able to get along and talk to other people because you’re at this other level, so to speak.
So there’s a lot of perceptions I had to shake, some of which started from the time I was being looked at as a potential draft pick. And I think it was tough, but over time, [my education and background] became more and more assets, especially once I got to the big league. Because I think a lot of parents that had young fans started to see it as a great example — that you can be an athlete and finish college are things that parents care about. So I got more positive [response] from the fans. And I think that gave me a lot of confidence that I belonged there. But it took some time to shake that off, to prove I had a great work ethic and that I was going to be committed, that I really wanted to do this and that I had this toughness to endure.
We just celebrated the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. And yet it seems that interest in the game is at a low ebb among young Blacks in the United States. Does that trouble you at all? Do you see this as something that baseball should be addressing, and if so, is it addressing it?
It’s troubling in that I always wanted to see my presence as part of a way to celebrate the fandom of everyone, and [all people] are represented everywhere, in leadership and in fans across the country and the world. I think that first of all, it grows the game. You have a chance to have all these people from different walks of life celebrate the game and see the game in their own image. And so in baseball, like in many other sports and businesses in America, the challenge is [overcoming] the homogeneity that could lead to a lack of diversity not only in image, but lack of diversity of thought, of perspective, of experience, all of which I found valuable in a team setting when you are playing another team.
And I think baseball is aware of this. I do think they try many things. Tyrone Brooks [senior director of the Front Office and Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program at Major League Baseball] has done a lot of good work on the behind-the-scenes diversity, thinking about how to create opportunity for everyone to support the game. But I think the fundamental challenge is when you have ownership that at the highest level is not diverse, and that’s what informs and rolls down into the other ranks.
In terms of interest, I don’t think there is one reason why the percentage of Black players in Major League Baseball is at a near low. I think it’s a combination of a lot of factors and trends that go back decades. There are still so many opportunities, but I think it’s a bigger challenge now than it was even 10 years ago because there are so many other distractions, so many other interests…there’s so much entertainment out there.
And getting into [major league] baseball [as a player] is tricky because you have to go through these levels. It’s not like you’re a top college player that goes and gets drafted right into the NBA system. You have to go through the minor league system. And if you have middle management that’s not sensitive to your experience, you’ll just get stuck, you disappear.
It’s like me going back to my old high school when I was still in the minor leagues, and people would ask me, “When are you going to make the pros?” Well, I am, but [I] just fell off. You’re in a minor league somewhere and nobody knew where you were. And that’s a lot of power of leadership, of managers and coaches, over your future, where you can literally be sent into an abyss if you’re not progressing.
I think that the game would be better served by being representative of everybody. I think that grows the game. I think it creates a special kind of sensitivity that makes the game better not just on the field, but off the field.
Glanville will give a reading and talk on Monday, April 25th, at 6:30 p.m., followed by a brunch and conversation with Kelly Writers House Faculty Director Al Filreis on Tuesday, April 26th, at 10 a.m. at the Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk on the Penn campus. Space is limited for both events, and reservations are required. More information, including how to RSVP, is available at the Kelly Writers House Fellows website.