It is a little surprising to look back on Shawn Green’s career in major-league baseball and realize that he played in all or parts of 15 seasons. It is almost as surprising to realize that he retired from the game at 34, only four home runs from surpassing Hank Greenberg as the most prolific Jewish slugger in baseball history. His lifetime batting average of .283 and 1,070 RBIs are also impressive achievements.
Green, who played for the Blue Jays, Dodgers and Mets, now lives in Southern California, where he was raised, and has just published an unusual baseball autobiography, “The Way of Baseball,” written with Gordon McAlpine (Simon and Schuster, $24). The book focuses almost exclusively on Green’s spiritual development and how his immersion in meditation and Zen helped shape his career.
Q: “The Way of Baseball” is not the book most fans will be expecting. What was its genesis?
A: The book existed in one format or another for most of my playing career. I kept notes as I read all these books on Eastern philosophy. When I started to apply what I was reading through yoga, informally, I started to see how much of a connection there was to baseball and my everyday life. I knew I’d write a book someday. The parts of my career, the ups and downs, really all came together [with the spiritual elements], and that’s why I couldn’t write the book until my career was over. I had a much deeper understanding of what all these lessons meant when I was looking back on it.
It seems like a lot of your teammates were supportive of what you were doing.
Well, a lot of guys [practice by] hitting off a tee. Most were guys wouldn’t think I was doing anything different. They didn’t notice other than some of the unorthodox drills I did. I didn’t discuss it unless they guys I’d known for a few years and they asked. Then we’d talk about it and if they were interested I might suggest a few books.
Of course, there is a long tradition within Judaism of meditative practices.
Certainly. Once you start exploring the various faith traditions, you realize that all religions are essentially pointing to the same thing. There are different methods of worship, but if you dig down a little deeper past the superficial things, people who are just following the mechanics of the religion, you see common ground. I love Judaism, what it’s about, the traditions, that’s why I observed them in my own way.
You had a fairly secular upbringing. Were you surprised by how important it seemed to some people that you were a Jewish athlete?
I figured that out pretty early—it felt good that the Jewish people embraced me, and I embraced that role as well. There aren’t as many Jewish athletes as there are people of other ethnicities, so it makes it more important that the ones who are out there stand up and be that kind of role model. When I first got to the big leagues I didn’t think it was an issue; Glenn Copeland, who was the Blue Jays team physician (and is again) and a good friend and Jewish, took me under his wing. He brought me to his shul on the High Holy Days, and encouraged me to embrace that attention.
It was telling that the book doesn’t have your stats in the back.
[Laughs.] It would have been odd to put them in the back of the book when a lot of what I was talking about was subduing the ego. One of the other things I insisted on was that I didn’t want my picture on the cover or back. It’s not about me as a player; it’s much more about the philosophy that guided my career. In the book I discuss stats more in the first half, in the second half I don’t talk about the numbers at all. The last few years the numbers weren’t as good but they didn’t mean as much [to me] as they did earlier in my career either.