Inside Pitch: Life in Professional Baseball

Inside Pitch: Life in Professional Baseball

Inside Pitch: Life in Professional Baseball

Inside Pitch: Life in Professional Baseball


From the spark of ambition to play baseball professionally to the necessity of reinventing life after baseball, the anthropologist and former Minor Leaguer George Gmelch describes the lives of the men who work at America's national game.

Twenty-four years after his own final road trip as a minor leaguer, Gmelch went back on the road with ballplayers, this time with a pen and pad to record the details of life around the diamond. Drawing on more than one hundred interviews with Major and Minor League players, coaches, and managers, Gmelch explores players' experiences throughout their careers: being scouted, becoming a rookie, moving through or staying in the Minors, preparing mentally and physically to play day after day, coping with slumps and successes, and facing retirement. He examines the ballplayers' routines and rituals, describes their joys and frustrations, and investigates the roles of wives, fans, and groupies in their lives. Based on his own experience as a player in the 1960s, Gmelch charts the life cycle of the modern professional ballplayer and makes perceptive comparisons to a previous generation of players.


For fans, baseball is entertainment, a diversion from the tedium of everyday life. For players, baseball, though a game, is a demanding occupation so encompassing that it becomes a way of life. For those who make it to the big leagues it is also the fulfillment of boyhood dreams, and the savings from even a short career in the majors can set a man up for life. Behind the fame and fortune, however, is the daily grind with few days off, half of each season spent on the road, frequent separations from wives and children, unrelenting pressure to perform, and the trauma and uncertainties of inevitable slumps and injuries.

My anthropological interest in baseball, the most cerebral of the team games, began in the 1960s when I was a minor leaguer in the Detroit Tigers farm system and attended college in the off-season. Returning to campus after my fourth season, I took an anthropology course called “Magic, Religion, and Witchcraft” in which my professor described the rituals of the Trobriand Islanders. I was struck by the similarities between what these so-called primitive peoples did to ensure their safety and success with what my teammates and I did to bring ourselves luck. I wrote a paper about it (“Baseball Magic”), and my professor encouraged me to examine other aspects of the game. But at the time I was too young and inexperienced as a fieldworker and too immersed in baseball to see it clearly.

Once in graduate school, and out of baseball, I turned to more traditional topics—development in Mexico and urbanization in Ireland—and put baseball out of mind. For the next two decades I scarcely noticed the game; I did not even watch the World Series. I was still fond of baseball, but I was often abroad in summer, and following baseball was too painful a reminder of failing to achieve my boyhood dream of playing in the big leagues. But as the popularity of baseball boomed in the 1980s and a few . . .

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