I had somewhat ambivalent reactions to The Bullpen Gospels, but on the whole I was entertained. Hayhurst looks at baseball from the unusual perspective of a perennial minor leaguer. He’s someone (this is my judgment, not his) without enough potential to get promoted rapidly to MLB status, but too potentially useful as a sort of understudy to bounce out of the system completely. Hayhurst also brings plenty of less unique Kid-With-Family-Issues to the table.
One thing that struck me throughout the book is that life in the minors seemed more than a little bit like life in a small-time touring indie rock band: very little financial reward, a weird mix of accolades, derision, and indifference from audiences, the rigors of road-life, and tantalizing glimpses of the the next tier. Based on my own extremely limited experience, the near-constant ribbing and sophomoric pranks also seem like points of commonality.
Speaking of sophomoric: Hayhurst penned this book while still in his 20’s, so it’s a bit unfair to accuse his narrative voice of immaturity. But there’s also a dichotomy between his I’m-smarter-than-all-these-guys-I-play-with attitude — he’s the kind of guy who uses the word “inculcate” almost correctly — and his immersing himself in all the crass hijinks that I found a little grating.
But it’s an unusual and interesting baseball book in that it’s not really that much about the sport of baseball. Just a handful of innings get pitch-by-pitch descriptions; Hayhurst dismisses games (and even chunks of seasons) with an off-handed fatalism: “We lost, showered, and packed up.” What he’s really interested in, other than his own gradual maturation, is the shifting and complex dynamics between team members and managers. And amid all the fart jokes there are some intriguing musings about how teams coalesce and why they fall apart.