A little over a year ago, We spoke to former Cub and Phillie Doug Glanville. That’s our leadoff hitter. Today, we’ve got some middle of the order power. Shawn Green spent 15 years in the majors, making 2 all star teams and finishing in the top 5 in the MVP voting three times. He’s out with a new book, called “The Way of Baseball,” about the mental side of the game. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
We spoke about facing down the Big Unit, his role as the best Jewish player of his era and the film, “Mulva 2: Kill Teen Ape!”
SCP: This seems to be part baseball memoir/part self help book/ part spiritual guide. What led you to take that approach as opposed to simply writing an autobiography?
SG: My primary objective was to write a self help book/ spiritual guide that connected meditation and Eastern principles to baseball – more specifically to hitting. The memoir aspect of it was a natural fit because my career was that very journey. I felt that the readers would find it interesting to experience the process with me, while at the same time enjoy some fun baseball anecdotes and insider information.
SCP: At what point in your career did you begin embracing meditation and the concept of slowing down the game? Was there a moment that marked the shift or was it gradual?
SG: In 1997, my third year in the big leagues, I was forced to work on my hitting alone each day with the batting tee hitting into a tiny net. I had recently been benched and had experienced conflicts with some coaches regarding my approach to hitting. As I worked each day at the tee, I began to find peace in that work and quickly realized that this practice was becoming a form of meditation. For the next ten years, I hit at the tee before every game – as much for the spiritual benefits as for the hitting benefits. The growth of the meditation was steady during that first year, and then it leveled off. I would say that halfway through the ’98 season was when the actual games began to slow down for me on a more regular basis. From that point forward, there was an ebb and flow – for some stretches I was completely present in the action of hitting and for other stretches I was back in my head. But, I had developed the tools to recalibrate my focus when things had gone south.
SCP: Take us through the process. Let’s say your stepping in against a guy like Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens. What goes through your head? How do you block out all the distractions and focus entirely on hitting a 100 mph fastball?
SG: When I was stepping in the box, whether I was facing Randy Johnson or a rookie, I had the same basic approach. As I walked from the on-deck circle, I thought about the game situation and what my job was for that particular at bat. This was the time that I needed to be “in my head.” Maybe I needed to move a baserunner over, maybe I needed to drive a runner in from third, or maybe I just needed to get on base. Once in the box, I would move through my pre-pitch rhythmic routine. These movements acted as the bridge that took my awareness from my head and shifted it into my body. From my body, my awareness was then free to lock entirely onto the pitcher, without the filter of the mind.
SCP: What was your defining moment as a major league baseball player? Is it a single season? single game? single play?
SG: Most people would point to my 6 for 6, four-homer game as my defining moment. I couldn’t argue that that particular game, and week of games, was the pinnacle of my search for pure awareness on the baseball field. But, I would probably take that entire 2002 season as a whole and call it my defining season. More than any other year, it was filled with extreme hot streaks and extensive slumps. I had become both wiser as a player and wiser as a person over the previous years, and it was in this season that so much of what I had learned about myself was tested. And of course, the deep lessons continued forward in the years that followed.
SCP: During your time in Toronto, you made up a very potent one-two punch with Carlos Delgado. He’s another guy who always took a cerebral approach to the game. Did having a star teammate like that help free you to embrace an alternative approach to the game?
SG: Carlos is a very cerebral guy. Having played together for nearly 10 seasons (counting three in the minor leagues), we were more like brothers than anything else. We constantly bounced swing ideas and theories off one another, as well as information on opposing pitchers. Together, we learned how to hit as young players, and then as more experienced hitters we pushed each other to get better. Even though our swings appeared to be very different (his was more violent and mine more fluid), they were actually very similar when it came to our power sources. We both relied on creating separation between the upper halves and lower halves of our bodies. Though we went about our daily cage work differently, we were both ultimately after the exact same feel in the middle of our swings. Aside from our hitting conversations, we also often delved into much deeper, philosophical conversations about life.
SCP: You filled a number of roles during your career; young star in Toronto, incoming savior in LA, then older contributor in both Arizona and New York. During which period were you at your best? When were you happiest? Any regrets?
SG: I enjoyed each phase of my career. Unlike guys like Pujols and A-Rod who have been top-performers for their entire careers, my career was very segmented. There were many times when I lost perspective and wished I was somewhere other than where I actually was. For example, as a young player, I often yearned to be an All-Star or better yet, a “franchise player.” And then in 2000, when I began my years with the Dodgers as that guy, I learned how many pressures and expectations came along with that role. During many sleepless nights, I thought about how much happier I would have been in a lesser role. By the next season, though, I had reached a point where I was able to embrace the present moment and accept it as it was. As a result, my performance took off again. Looking back now, I can say that I was the most content when I accepted the moment and didn’t lose myself in the roller-coaster of baseball, and of life. Keeping that perspective is the greatest challenge for all of us, but it’s an essential ingredient in living a peaceful life.
SCP: You left the game at the relatively young age of 34. Why?
SG: I left the game at 34 because I wanted to be in one place with my family. I had some very tempting offers prior to the 2008 season (as well as the following two seasons) to play for some great teams in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Even though I had made my decision to retire in the middle of the 2007 season, I would have possibly re-considered that decision if a California team came knocking. A lot of players in the big leagues have a wife and kids, yet family dynamics are different for everyone. As much as I loved baseball, I knew that in my case the right place for me was to be home with my wife and two daughters.
SCP: Obviously, a lot of fans, myself included, started following you closely after finding out you’re jewish. I would imagine that was part blessing and part curse. But since then, a number of prominent jewish players, including guys like Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler, have emerged without it becoming a defining characteristic. What do you think changed? How much did your success have to do with it?
SG: When I got to the big leagues in the mid-90’s, there were several Jewish players in the game. Some of the guys, who had only one Jewish parent, didn’t really embrace their Jewish identities. Some of the Jews who did embrace their identities weren’t everyday players. I, on the other hand, was both open about my Jewish heritage and was having success on the field. By the time I reached the All-Star Game in ’99, my being a Jewish athlete was the first thing that everyone thought of when they thought of me. Now, there are quite a few highly successful Jewish baseball players. I don’t think anything has changed in the Jewish community – they still embrace their top players. But, I do think that guys like Youkilis, Kinsler, and Braun have each other to “lighten the load” that comes along with being a rarer commodity in the big leagues.
SCP: How closely do you follow the game now? Any predictions for the season moving forward?
SG: I follow the game now mostly via the internet. With all girls in my house, I’m outnumbered as to what we’re going to watch (more often than not, it’s iCarly or Wizards of Waverly Place). But, I do think the game is in a great place. It’s much more interesting, in my opinion, when the pitching is keeping the hitters in check. I like to see teams like the Giants and Phillies doing well because they’re constructed intelligently (pitching, pitching, pitching…)by their respective front offices. Moving towards the pennant stretch, I like these two teams the best. The Phillies also have a great lineup (when healthy), so they definitely get the edge. Boston will be very tough because of their hitting and solid pitching. I think the one team that could sneak in there is Atlanta. They have quietly rebuilt that franchise, once again, due to great homegrown talent. Their scouts and player development staff in the minor leagues definitely has it figured out.
SCP: According to Wikipedia, you appeared as an actor in Mulva 2: Kill Teen Ape! What is that?
SG: If it’s on wikipedia then it must be true! I never did anything for that movie, but I’m guessing they used footage of a Dodger game??? I did, however, film a scene for a movie called, The Core back in 2003. It was filmed at Dodger Stadium before a game against the Rockies – a fun experience.