MadFriars' Interview: Dirk Hayhurst

We caught up with Dirk Hayhurst, who was selected in the eighth round of the 2003 draft by the San Diego Padres and was a member of the organization from 2003 to 2008. After leaving the Padres Dirk played with the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays' until retiring in 2011.

However what he's best known for is his New York Times' bestselling book The Bullpen Gospels and the follow-ups Out of My League and the e-book Wild Pitchesand now his newest, Bigger Than The Game.

Dirk was always and interesting and thoughtful player to interview when he was playing and was kind enough to take some time to tell us what he's been up to.

You have now written about four baseball books on different subjects within the game.  Now that you are in media will the next subject be on your career there?

  Dirk Hayhurst: I played baseball for 25 years before I picked up the pen to write about it—what it did to me as a person and how it shaped my life. I've only been in the media for about 2 ½ years… Talk to me again in 25 if I haven't scribbled something about the crazy, egocentric, political madhouse that is broadcasting.

You came back and pitched in 2011 with Durham in the Rays organization.  How hard was it for you to walk away from the game?

Dirk Hayhurst: Not hard at all. Actually, I didn't walk away, I ran. I felt the need in my bones to get out. Two years of disabled list time turned what was once a dream job into a prison cell, albeit one shaped like a minor league training room. I'd come to realize that, with my health now a liability, my future in the game was more out of my control than the normal, accepted lack of control your fringe, right-handed relief pitcher is willing to put up with. It was a pragmatic decision made easier by consecutive seasons of sitting idly on the sidelines.

As I wrote in the review, the most interesting part of the book I found was how much control you seemed to have over your rehab despite the Blue Jays paying you a major league salary.  Is that standard practice for most players once they are injured?

Dirk Hayhurst: The union's clout gives the player a lot of control over how he gets fixed. I guess for higher profile players with millions at stake, this is a nice thing to have. For the player unfamiliar with being hurt, this can be a stumbling block. You want to get fixed, the organization wants you to get fixed, but no one can tell you what you MUST do to get fixed besides you. The organization can suggest, but you can trump them if you want. Everyone has differing opinions on who the best doctors are. If you, the player, feel a great urgency to act, that feeling can run contrary to the opinions given to the organization. They are lobbying one way. You are lobbying the other. It's your body, but it's their investment… It can make the player/organization relationship go sideways in a hurry. 

We used to discuss this quite a bit when you played.  Now that you are a member of the media what are the general guidelines for critiquing a player when he doesn't perform so well on the field?  Also as an ex-player is it harder for you to be critical of someone that is having a tough time out there compared to a colleague who may not have played?

Dirk Hayhurst: I actually think that players have it easy. They get dogged when they fail, and worshipped when they succeed, but at the end of the day they don't have to talk to or read the press if they don't want to. This is a luxury the most powerful people in the world don't even have.

The problem is many players can't separate their on stage life from their personal identity. Most (not all—and they know who they are) media figures can keep critiques professional. However, most players can't help but take professional critiques personally. 

I don't find it hard to critique players or those I've played with. It's my job. I do, however, think players find it hard to take it for what it is: narratives built around randomly generated numbers. Add some personal preferences and a dash of moralizing on the meaning of a child's game played by grown men and *poof*  you've got yourself entertainment.

Brace yourself for this little nugget of hypocrisy: I personally feel that sports analysis is one of the most fruitless activities a human can do. I might even consider doing something else if it didn't pay so damn well! 

But you can't look at it at this kind of perspective when you're in the thick of life as a competitor. Being the best, dubbing what normal folks call everyday living as a distraction, it requires a near brainwashed level of focus. Honestly, I'd worry about some players if they weren't getting pissed when some triple-chinned media squawk-box burned them.

Last question, what's next?

Dirk Hayhurst: Bush League. That's the title of my IOS video game coming in April. You play as a minor leaguer fighting his way to the big leagues. There is only one catch: The only way you can make it to the top is by using copious amounts of performance enhancing drugs. Yeah, you read that right. It's a spoof of real MLB life, with caricatures of real MLB players. It's a hell of a lot of fun. Just wait until you lose a turn thanks to catching a mysterious rash from a cleat chasing groupie. {laughs}

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