Why Tyler Glasnow Can Be a Voice That Baseball Needs

We talk a lot about the “face” of baseball — a player who has the look, the excitement, the highlight reel, the things that make them an ideal candidate to be a poster child for the game. “Here,” we say, to would-be fans. “This is what you’re getting when you start to watch that sport.” It could be Bryce Harper with his GIF-worthy hair tosses, or Aaron Judge with his giant frame and home runs. It could be Mookie Betts or Mike Trout, whose talents defy generational lines and who we will likely be talking about for decades after they retire.

As baseball faces go, there are lots of options, even if it feels like no one can agree on them or decide who would be the best candidate to usher in a new generation of fans. Whose poster would these kids want on their walls? Whose stance would they most likely emulate in Little League games? Which superstar can surpass the limitations of team fandom to become beloved by all? It’s a tough request to fulfill, and that’s likely why there are no firm answers.

In recent months, I’ve begun to wonder if what baseball needs is a face at all. Perhaps what baseball needs instead is a voice.

I don’t mean voice in terms of Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell. What baseball could benefit from is an ambassador whose reach extends beyond just 30-second clips or incredible numbers and is able to connect with new fans — young fans — on a real, emotional level. What baseball needs is someone who can believably say, “Yes, I’m a famous athlete, but I’m also a human being.” It’s not an easy thing, and not everyone is cut out to manage it. But one player who seems to be doing it is Rays ace Tyler Glasnow.

Glasnow has evolved substantially as a pitcher since joining Tampa Bay. Now 27, he has shown himself to be more confident and capable than his early years with the Pirates suggested. But it was those early years, marred with failure, that brought Glasnow to where he is today. And over the past few months, he has become outspoken about how it felt to fumble on such a big stage, and why coming to the Rays has been such a turning point for him.

He has been so open about himself that there are few topics he hasn’t addressed in guest spots on numerous podcasts — with Rob Friedman on the Pitching Ninja Podcast, Chris Rose on Jomboy Media’s The Chris Rose Rotation, and the YNK podcast — answering questions on everything from his rough World Series starts to his hair routine. (So you don’t need to Google it, it’s just generic shampoo and “lotiony oily stuff,” per Glasnow.)

The episode that stood out the most was The Chris Rose Rotation, of which Glasnow is now a bona fide co-host. “It’s an important distinction,” Rose said, adding that Glasnow was on a short list of players who he thought would be suitable for the gig. “He’s a rising star, he’s got an amazing look to him… amazing hair. My wife is jealous of his hair. He’s a conduit for the fanbase. He connects with a young audience while understanding what the game is about.”

In an appearance on YNK last month, which was a deeper one-on-one chat, Glasnow talked openly about successes and failures, and the rigors of the game on a young mind.

“I’m humble but I know I’m talented,” Glasnow said. “I always had a lot of success in the early minor leagues.” But then he went on to talk about how that the drive and motivation to become a good big-league pitcher was hard on him. “When you’re a young kid and you’re thrown into pro ball and your whole life is pro ball, you don’t have an identity yet. I was like 17 when I got out of high school, and then just going through the minor leagues is from 18 to 22… and my personality was very much only baseball, so I didn’t have any kind of identity other than that. So when baseball was going well, I was going well… and then when I started to struggle it was very much ‘this is some dark days.'”

This was similar to something he mentioned months earlier on his first episode of The Chris Rose Rotation; Glasnow was candid about his failures with the Pirates. “In Pittsburgh, that was my lowest of lows,” he told Rose. “I experienced the worst I think I’ll ever feel on a baseball field. The anxiety and everything of how poorly I pitched in Pittsburgh really built the foundation for mental toughness for me.” This was something Rose circled back to when I asked him about why he thought Glasnow was such a good fit, not just as a podcast co-host but also as a voice for baseball. His most vital message, Rose said, was, “Failure doesn’t define you. It’s okay to learn from it and move on.”

In a sport that seems to value toughness and a rub-some-dirt-on-it mentality, Glasnow’s willingness to be vulnerable is a rare treat. He’s open in a way that makes him feel like an old friend, and there’s nothing about his stories that feels downtrodden or miserable. You get a sense he just wants to be honest.

That honesty came to the fore recently when Glasnow was sidelined by injury in the wake of the “sticky stuff” scandal sweeping baseball. He believes that not being able to use the previously accepted blend of sunscreen and rosin forced him to adjust his grip, leading to a partial UCL tear and a flexor tendon strain. “I 100 percent believe that contributed to me getting hurt,” he said after the game.

What stands out to me is how, during what was surely a painful, stressful moment at the peak of an incredible season, Glasnow took the time to explain in detail what happened to him, the risks that MLB’s change poses to others, and the mechanics of his adjustments. Later in the interview, he plainly expresses his frustration with the execution of MLB’s crackdown: “My lifelong dream, I want to go out and win a Cy Young, I want to be an All-Star, and then now it’s all just s— on. Now it’s over.”

It’s that ability to toe the line between being honest and oversharing that makes Glasnow a good fit as an ambassador for the game. He’ll answer the questions you throw his way, but not in a way that puts a teammate under the spotlight; “He speaks his mind while protecting the clubhouse,” as Rose put it. That makes Glasnow the kind of person well suited to sharing the hard truths about a life in baseball without making baseball itself feel unwelcoming.

Glasnow also makes a point of discussing the rigors and realities of what it means to be a pro. “I wasn’t ready for the big leagues at all,” he said on YNK. “I had never faced adversity in that type of environment… My chickens were out of their coop.” He talked extensively about hitting his version of rock bottom and dealing with the depression and anxiety associated with failure, saying that those struggles “a million percent” got him to where he is now. That kind of honesty is refreshing and welcome, and it can be particularly helpful for younger players getting into the game to hear about a star player going through a hard time.

Glasnow wants to share the struggles he’s been through and how they shape how he’s gotten where he is today. Baseball isn’t magic; it’s hard work. What Glasnow does is make baseball more human, something that people can connect with whether they’re a kid who wants to play or someone who just wants to appreciate the sport on a level that isn’t just about the stats or highlight reel plays. His willingness to be open about the mental lows he experienced is also vital in a sport where mental illness is often forced into the shadows. What Rose believes Glasnow offers is an openness that fans new and old will find appealing.

“He’s got a really good heart,” he said. “He’s the kind of dude you just want to hang out with and talk, and grab a beer with.” But beyond just being the kind of person you can talk to, whether it’s baseball or life in general, Rose thinks Glasnow plays an important role in the game: “He wants to be part of the wheel that moves [baseball] forward.”

Ashley has spent the last several years writing for various SB Nation sites, including Bless You Boys, DRaysBay, and Bleed Cubbie Blue. Her bylines have appeared here at Fangraphs; Hardball Times; BPro Short Relief and more. She hosts a baseball YouTube channel called 90 Feet From Home, and co-hosts the baseball podcast Who's On Worst.

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2 years ago

Analogy: speeding is overlooked, to a large extent, in most parts of the country.

Tomorrow, the local police say, “one mile an hour over the limit and we are writing tickets”. Two days later, I crash my car because I’m more tired than normal because I have to get up earlier in the morning because I can no longer speed on the way to work.

Should the government pay for my wrecked car? Do I have a good heart? I just want to be a good worker and put food on the table for my family. After all, it’s not really cheating if no one is looking, right?

Also: I’m humble but I know I’m talented.

2 years ago
Reply to  airforce21one

To continue with your analogy, some might criticize the local police in this scenario for focusing their limited energy / resources on a relatively inconsequential issue when there are more meaningful concerns that haven’t been addressed.

Travis Lmember
2 years ago
Reply to  airforce21one

A car crash – something serious that involves law enforcement – is a very different situation than an entertainer’s struggles. Your metaphor choice is odd, but your questions are bizarre.

Glasnow has a right to speak his mind about something he’s upset about. He’s not asking the government to pay for anything, nor is he asking you to judge his tender heart.

I don’t see how someone with significant MLB success would think they aren’t talented. Do you prefer your entertainers to be unaware of their skill?