Minor league pitcher turned major league author Dirk Hayhurst takes readers inside the clubhouse and inside the mind of a professional athlete. His New York Times bestselling memoir, Bullpen Gospels, tells the story of a ballplayer pursuing his dream of playing big league ball while his own demons give chase. Through it all Hayhurst keeps his sense of humor and, more importantly, maintains a perspective on what is truly meaningful in his life. His recently released follow-up, Out of My League, continues his journey and earned him a second call-up to the bestseller list.
In this interview with Autograph University, Hayhurst shares his thoughts on signing autographs, our celebrity-obsessed culture, and the distinction of getting a Garfoose.
Autograph University: Tell me about the first time someone asked you for your autograph and how it made you feel.
Dirk Hayhurst: First time I can remember since turning pro was the first time I walked out onto the field as a Eugene (Oregon) Emerald. That was Short Season A Ball with the San Diego Padres organization. I believe I was 22 at the time. When the kids ran down to me, I thought they all knew exactly who I was, my whole back story, that I was going to be a future big leaguer. It was a very surreal feeling. Like the way I stretched my name across ticket stubs and programs was more than just ink, but some form of baptism. I was pretty impressed by it.
AU: Which athletes did you look up to as a kid and whom have you asked for an autograph?
DH: I’ve idolized many of the great pitchers. Never cared too much for hitters. I asked Hoffman for his autograph. Maddux and Peavy, as well as several others… I don’t care too much for the balls. It’s the memory it represents. It’s a little shrine to a time we shared together occupying the same space. We were teammates once—more than simply numbers on a roster, but human beings that had a relationship to one another. That’s what those things mean to me when I see them. I don’t find joy in collecting dead items, but to me, those things are still very much alive.
AU: What memorabilia have you collected over your career and what are your plans for it?
DH: I have some signed baseballs, a few jerseys. No cards, no bats. I give some of it away to charity auctions or close friends—all but what has something meaningful to me. I don’t like to spend time accumulating stuff that doesn’t mean much to me just so I can tell other people I have it. I got to play the game for a living, which has sated most of my desires for memorabilia since the experience of playing is something most people will never get to collect. I think that’s really why I hold onto anything—it has somehow helped me collect an experience I don’t want to lose.
AU: Many athletes have a set of autograph signing rules—whether self-imposed or part of contract terms—about where, when and what they sign and whom they sign for. What are your autograph signing rules?
DH: I don’t really have any rules. I’m not famous enough to have to worry about coming up with such things. It’s still a treat for me when people want me to sign something for them. I suppose if I was at dinner or with family or in a situation where it would be terribly rude to drop what I was doing and tend to autograph requests, I might say “Sorry, I can’t right now.” Fortunately, I don’t see that happening. I sign until I don’t have any more time to.
AU: One of your autograph variations includes a sketch of the Garfoose. How did that invention because part of your autograph and how do you decide when to include it?
DH: In baseball, you can either become famous for doing the same things other people do, only better, or by doing things no one else does. It’s amazing how many people choose the former over the latter. There is some back story to The Garfoose, but, suffice to say, I decided to draw it on fan swag because it made both the fan and myself happy to do it. It made me special. Over the years, you realize that most fans, and most autograph hunters, don’t see you, the players, as terribly unique outside of where you fit in their collections. In some ways, it’s dehumanizing to be a check off in a collection. In other ways, it’s a great opportunity to do something that will make you stand out in said collection. No use getting into an existential crisis about it all, there will always be autograph hunters so you might as well give them something fun to hunt. I made up the Garfoose for that very reason. Anyone can get a signature, but not just anyone can get a Garfoose.
AU: The commercialization of autographs has dramatically affected the signing habits of athletes. How does it make you feel to know some of your autographs are being resold and how has that affected your own habits?
DH: I could care less. In fact, it’s flattering to know your stupid little scribble is worth money, when you think about it. I can’t control what the populace thinks is valuable. If they think my Garfoose or name or number is more valuable than the ink and parchment it’s printed on, so be it. As a long as it’s making someone happy to possess it, that’s all that matters. I still sign for just about anyone at any time. What they do after that is their business.
AU: In our celebrity-obsessed society there are certain professions we put on a pedestal such as actors and professional athletes. Collectors don’t spend hours camped outside hospitals to ask the nation’s top oncologists—or a person like your wife who helps children with special needs—for their autograph. What are your thoughts on the idolization of ballplayers?
DH: We can do better. Players, by and large, aren’t that educated, insightful, or worthy of our attention. I think the money that the industry generates is a great bellwether of our society as a whole: we like to be entertained. That’s fine, but entertainers make poor role models. Partially because they aren’t well balanced people, and partially because we expect them to be super human in character and physical expression. We have a expectation for our famous elites to be above us in accountability, integrity, and value because they possess what we value most: celebrity. The desire to worship, follow, and even collect sports figures is a by-product of the contagion of celebrity obsession our culture is terminally ill with.
AU: In Bullpen Gospels you wrote about feeling a lack of fulfillment as a baseball player and that you never wanted to be identified only by your profession. How has the reception to your first book and early returns on Out Of My League changed your feelings about the work you do and impact on people, both as a writer and ballplayer?
DH: I can tell you honestly that no one has ever come up to me after a game in which I pitched and said that the way I threw that little white ball changed their lives. I have, however, had many people come to me and tell me that something I’ve written did. That’s a powerful feeling, and that’s why I value writing over baseball. Despite the dominance of sports media, the instruments of social change have rarely been sports—they have been artists capturing the human condition, activists, scientist, teachers and the like.
UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who participated in the giveaway. I really enjoyed reading your comments. The winner was randomly selected from all eligible entries and the lucky reader is Jason Christopherson! Jason, look out for an email from me.
I purchased an autographed copy of Out of My League (featuring the Garfoose!) and I’m giving it away to a lucky Autograph University reader! Leave a comment and tell me which athlete’s memoir you would like to see published and why. The giveaway closes on Friday, March 30, 2012 at 7 p.m. ET.
I will randomly choose a winner (each comment will be assigned a number and I will use an online generator) and post the result on this page. One comment per person and please use a valid email address so I can contact you if you win.
Have fun and good luck!