'My Love Of The Game Has Deepened': Author Greg Larson On His Baseball Memoir 'Clubbie'
Author Greg Larson says that his new book Clubbie didn’t start out as a personal memoir; in fact, he didn’t want to be a character in the book at all. “I would’ve preferred it if this weren’t a memoir,” he says. “But once I started digging deeper, I realized that I was – against all of my wishes – the main character of this story.”
The book chronicles two seasons that Larson spent as a clubhouse attendant for the Aberdeen IronBirds, a single A minor league baseball team in Maryland. Just out of college and with lingering dreams of playing professional ball himself, Larson quickly found that life in the minor leagues wasn’t what he expected. And he thought there was a story worth sharing there. “Like two weeks into that first season, I just started taking obsessive notes, not knowing what the story was but just knowing that there was a story,” he says.
“When I wrote the first draft, I thought it was just an exposé,” Larson says. “I thought that I was a journalist and I was writing it as my grad school thesis.” He says a friend in his class pointed out that Larson was conspicuous by his absence in the book.
“And I thought, ‘Oh crap, I’ve been avoiding this really challenging perspective,’” Larson says. “I think unconsciously I didn’t want to grapple with those really challenging feelings. I also didn’t want to tell these stories about my relationship’s demise because I was working as a clubhouse attendant. That’s hard to write about. I wanted to avoid it. It’s like going into therapy for the first time, you know? It’s really hard to try and face your demons in that way.”
The book eventually became more personal, while still addressing the broader issues Larson saw in the minor league baseball system. “These guys, most of them are making below-poverty-level wages, even with increases in salaries this year with minor league baseball players,” Larson says. With those recent pay raises, Larson says, players at the single A level now make around “$500 a week, in season. So these guys are making less than $11000 a year,” he says. “They only get paid during the season. [But] they have to stay in shape in the off-season. They’re not compensated for that. And a lot of people also don’t know that minor league baseball players are not compensated for the work they do during spring training either.”
One of the problems with player compensation, Larson says, was the (now defunct) system by which clubhouse attendants were paid. Players had to pay dues to the attendant, which were meant to cover clubhouse food and expenses, with any leftover money staying with the clubbie. That was a system that all but encouraged abuse – something that Larson still feels some guilt and regret over. “Part of the challenge and part of this book was that I became a part of a system that was exploiting these guys that were my friends and my roommates and my heroes in some ways,” he says. “Part of the deals that I was swinging to survive and thrive in that clubhouse were at the expense of the players. So they would have to pay me dues to do their laundry and food... and then on top of it there was this culture of guilt around tipping where players would feel compelled to tip [the clubbie]. Nobody knew why – it was just… custom. It didn’t make sense to me, but I definitely exploited it, for sure. I mean, that’s part of this book – that I was a part of this system that exploited these guys.”
Larson says his experience in the clubhouse didn’t kill his love of the game, but it did change it. “My love for baseball has completely transformed because of those seasons,” he says. “I used to think that I was cynical because of those seasons… but I’ve come to realize that I think my love of the game has deepened, where I don’t care about the box scores, I don’t care about the stats… but I do care about the people.”
He says he hopes that love of the game comes through in the book. “As a baseball fan, I want people to see what minor league baseball is really like, warts and all,” he says. “And I want people to see – even with all of the terrible pay and even with the poor nutrition and some of the facilities crumbling – what keeps people like me and the players coming back and getting deeper and deeper into the game.”