Bigger Than the Game: Restitching a Major League Life by Dirk Hayhurst

bigger than the game book cover
Date Finished: December 2017
Did I Like It? 9/10

The books Amazon Page

This book almost reads like a novel. Some of the stuff Dirk goes through seems unbelievable given the glamour we see in the public eye of MLB. I’ve cut most of the comments out from others in this piece, but I found some of the insights from the trainers and psychologists he worked with just as interesting. If Dirk focused on publishing books alone, he’d be a household name in that field without needing his baseball ‘fame’.

Click here to the index of sports autobiographies.

What I Highlighted:

I was a teammate before I tried my hand at writing, and I hope to be one long after this book is published
Chapter 1

In the end it was worth every agony-filled second because Mondo got uncontestable results.

That’s the thing about baseball: there is a lot of competition to make it to the top, the most ruthless of which comes from within your own team.

Chapter 2

On April 1, I would join an elite company of player authors. Elite, but unfortunately not beloved, at least not by their teammates.

I was voluntarily breaking the code of the baseball locker room and I had to believe success on the field covers a multitude of sins.

Chapter 3

But I was now the head of a family, always thinking about our future happiness. I understood that it required present sacrifice.

According to the athlete’s handbook, if the pain isn’t consistent it isn’t worth worrying about.

Chapter 4

Consequently, we learn to cut the language of weakness out of our vocabulary, and by the time we reach the pro level, it’s second nature to pretend pain isn’t there.

If he can play, he’s got a chance. If he gets injured, however, he becomes dead weight.

As soon as a player says he’s experiencing pain, a paper trail begins.

It’s the economics of baseball. A player is a commodity at the professional level and injuries factor into their risk-versus-reward.

In fact, being injured in the big leagues is so profitable that players routinely joke about getting to the Show just to pull up lame and check into what players call “Club Med” for a paid vacation.

Chapter 5

I’d never been injured before. I didn’t realize how arm pain could make your whole life hurt. I had always assumed that prosperity would flow uninterrupted from my right arm.

Someone would replace me if I went under the knife—it’s the natural order of the baseball kingdom.

Chapter 6

It was surreal how much life had changed in just a couple of months.

I’d been married long enough to know how important it was to let her believe she could make me feel better.

For me the beauty of baseball has always been that you don’t have to face yourself as long as you get results on the field.

Worse, I realized that I only liked me because I played it.

Confessing my fears to the team was a sign of weakness so I started writing them instead of talking.

Writing helped me balance the things I was supposed to believe as a player, the things I want to believe as a person, and the results I get being both.

Then I wondered if the Baseball Gods did it, if they were getting me back for breaking the codes of the locker room.

Wide awake, I lay next to her, wondering if this would be my last night as a professional baseball player.

Teams use them to combat the sleep cycle wrecking caused by cross-country flights.

Chapter 7

You got hurt training to help us, to make our club better, and we’re going to honor that. We’re going to fix you. You’ll have this whole year to get better.

An Asian doctor came in holding some syringes. Her being Asian made me feel better. I equated that with intelligence.

lI knew that once I returned to consciousness I’d have to deal with what had been done to me.

After seven years of playing, I knew these oxycodone could fetch me about twenty bucks a pop in Triple-A. I first learned pain pills had value when I was in the low minors.

Anti-inflammatories are still given out liberally, but anything more requires a lot of disclosure that could, in the end, be the difference between major league call-up and minor league backup.

When results are the difference between a check with two zeros and a check with five, you don’t want to manage the pain; you want to kill it.

Furthermore, as long as it was something you couldn’t test positive for, it wasn’t wrong.

Discomfort-free play is something we want our athletes to have.

But in baseball, morality is bought and sold by results.

Chapter 8

The organization is also required to get each player a high-quality residence and cover its cost.

Chapter 9

A true team is much more than just names on a roster. It is a group of like-minded individuals willing to buy into the same basic values for enjoyment, success, and even protection. It’s a trust. I understood that I’d committed a crime against that trust.

Every spring training has phases. The first is the Reunion Phase, when everyone is happy to be together again.

Next is the Bonding Phase,

Finally there’s the Identity Phase,

I went from locker to locker, cafeteria table to cafeteria table, spreading my campaign slogan: Dirk Hayhurst is one of you. He’s changed. Forget what you used to know, the new Dirk is here to stay. I shook hands, asked about

at the very least, smacked them on the butt—the ball player’s universal greeting.

Chapter 10

Spring training for the injured is like detention. While everyone else is out having fun, sharing experiences in the game they love, you’re stuck inside doing tedious busywork.

Chapter 11

You can tell your teammates a lot of things. That you’re angry, that you want to get drunk until you can’t see straight, that you need them to keep a secret about you cheating on your girlfriend. But you just cannot talk about your emotions. I told you what happened when I did that before I started writing, remember? Baseball players don’t do that.

I’d been feeling things I didn’t understand, but I decided that I didn’t have to understand them. I just had to turn them off. The sleeping pills made it all go away.

I never turned to hard liquor because that sounded like something a guy who had a problem would do, and I did not have a problem. I just liked sleeping.

Chapter 14

The circumstances regarding any injury would be reported on my permanent medical history.

Jep started the treatment. I was unsure of his answers.

Chapter 15

I guess I assumed with the organization paying me so much money to get better, they would provide the absolute best. And yet, here I was, doing things that wouldn’t hurt me none.

Chapter 17

They weren’t performance-enhancing drugs. They were just performance sustaining.

Chapter 18

Do you have some friends on the team you can maybe get some dinner with?” “Not really,” I said. “That’s part of the issue. Guys who write books while playing aren’t known for their robust selection of friends,” I said.

Going public with a mental one was something entirely different.

“I don’t want the organization to think I’m weak, even if I am. Okay?”

I felt like an animal that, in its own ignorance, had wounded itself mortally and then slunk off to some dark place to die.

Chapter 19

I thought the distinction was fairly clear, but after I heard the words come out of my own mouth and saw how they twisted Bonnie’s face in concern, I realized words were a poor medium through which to convey such emotions.

Everyday dumbasses get on the Internet and debate your worth like you’re a fucking commodity.

People assign scary definitions to things without even knowing what they are.

Chapter 20

Vegas. Probably the best and worst place imaginable to put a minor league baseball team.

The boys start to realize they’re living in Vegas, not one-night-standing it. The reality of trying to do your job in a place where fantasy is the hottest-selling item isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Most guys. Not all. There are always a few who don’t want the party to stop.

Some guys go to the Show and they come back different.

Service time means everything in baseball.

Chapter 21

That is, after all, one of the reasons we play: to stand out.

Chapter 22

There is a saying in the big leagues: “Act like you’ve been here before.”

The off-season had given me a long time to think about what had gone wrong.

At this level, with so many physical talents all capable of doing the same things, the mental side was the separator.

I took a complimentary pen from the drawer and started writing I can do this over and over again.

Everyone appreciated this. Nothing brings a team together like a common enemy.

The guys laughed. On my way back to my seat, I got smacked on the ass, and nothing says good job like a firm, open-palmed smack on the ass.

Chapter 24

The rule concerning rookies in the big league training room is simple: don’t be in there.

A major league locker room can be like a goddamn demilitarized zone.

Routine is something that if you stopped doing it, would prevent you from doing your best. Superstition is something that you think if you stopped doing it, would prevent you from doing your best.

Chapter 25

I knew that with the modern stuff now directly available to the player, he could become his own brand.

Chapter 26

In a way, the media was stripping him of everything he’d ever accomplished. In his mind, anyway.

There was no use in explaining to him that the game was changing, that sports and technology were converging,

This team had guys who cheated on their wives, were functioning alcoholics, and were hooked on painkillers. Potheads, steroid users, and porn addicts.

I was just trying to express a part of myself, my view, my world.

Chapter 27

I’m breaking the code. You’ve heard of the baseball code? A universally understood baseball law? Plus, the older guys and some of the coaches, they have issues with me. They told me!

It’s not okay to let others define your perception of yourself in unhealthy ways.

Chapter 28

I told her I was thrilled because that’s what you’re supposed to say when people tell you big news designed to thrill, but I wasn’t.

I guess that’s the one perk of being mentally unstable: people tend to prioritize your calls.

The public validation that you’re the best is just as much a part of chasing the dream as the money, or the competition.

“When does it all stop being just for fun?” I asked. “When we realize other people have opinions about what we were doing, and those opinions become more important than our own.”

Chapter 29

A couple of the messages even told me that I’d changed the lives of the reader; that their experiences, in or outside of the game, were similar to mine—an underachiever who had trouble reconciling grand dreams with harsh realities and the damage

There was one peculiar side effect, however. The better I felt, the more I wanted to return to competition.

Chapter 30

I thought of all the pills while I finished brushing. I though of how my life might look if I had to take pills for the rest of it just to feel good about myself. How all this seemed to be the result of a busted arm.

Chapter 31

I made a promise to myself that I would let my real feelings play, and stop trying to say what I thought everyone wanted to hear.

Chapter 32

There was no social hierarchy in the Birmingham training room, at least not among the athletes.

If you were a dick, it was because you genuinely were a dick, not because you broke team code.

Chapter 33

He was challenging me, publicly, to react and hold my ground.

One can’t be expected to be good all the time. Otherwise life would be so terribly boring. Wouldn’t you agree?

Chapter 34

It’s amazing how different circumstances bring out different sides of people.

That’s art in a capitalist society: saying what you want to say in a way other people are willing to buy it from you.

Chapter 35

He had a point: sales were sales.

I wouldn’t have to worry about ass-kissing the ruling clubhouse talent if I had stars outside of it selling my stuff.

Chapter 36

I’d done the one thing all the guys I played with feared I would do: I just screwed up someone’s personal life using social media—about a man twice the size and sociopath that TJ Collins was.

Chapter 38

But I think a lot of people have stuff about them that isn’t exactly ‘normal.’ They just never get in a situation where they have to confront it.

Chapter 39

A range of emotions came over me. First relief, because I wasn’t going to be killed. Then release, because Triple H wasn’t really mad. Embarrassment, because a roomful of rehabbers was still staring at me. Finally, remorse. Because Kevin had to die, and I was going to kill him.

Chapter 40

Professional sports in general were all the same. All the freshly baked analytics argued over daily on cable channels; all the pyrotechnics after home runs and touchdowns; all the mascots, cheerleaders, money, and egos—it was all just the industry trying to distract us from the fact that, at the end of the day, we were just grown men putting on costumes and playing children’s games. To take any of it more seriously than that was a mistake.

His retention was impressive, plus he was a trailblazer and an innovator.

Chapter 41

I promise you, Kevin. If I ever get to the point where people care enough about the crap I write, I’ll make sure the world knows you’re the best trainer in the business. And a pretty good dude, too.

Chapter 42

“I always wondered why they don’t stop and think about it more. But I suppose when baseball is all you’ve ever done, when it’s all you’ve ever wanted to do, it’s scary to think that there might be something bigger than the game.”

And as his strength recovered, so did his ego.

Chapter 43

I took a step closer and my voice grew soft—a tactic I’d learned in another life, as another kind of player.

Chapter 44

You know, I thought my life as a player was going to change this year. Now I realize it was my life as a whole. I can’t separate the two, so I might as well quit trying to. This is what I am.

I mean, most of what we do, we do because we think it will create happiness.

We all wind up and deliver our pitch, and what happens after that—strike three, home run, or shoulder injury—is out of our control. We can’t go back, but we can go forward with what we’ve learned.

But I was also a writer, and a writer knows that the risks he takes yield no bad results, just good material.


The older guys like Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were brought in not simply because they were talented vets, but also because they had personalities that fit with the team’s general persona.

Maddon said he wanted to meet us all individually. He wanted to know us, and us to know him.