Batting? Average.

Why I procrastinate by researching the fates of middling baseball players.

Bobby Meacham
Bobby Meacham. Animation by Slate. Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images.

Rabbit Holes is a recurring series in which writers pay homage to the diversity and ingenuity of the ways we procrastinate now. To pitch your personal rabbit hole, email

I’m trying to finish a book. I’ve already missed my deadline by more than a month. Never good, but this particular book is my first with a new publisher. I want to make a good first impression. I’m just a chapter or two away from the end. I should be focused. I can see the finish line. Instead, I’m worried about Bobby Meacham.

Bobby Meacham was the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees in 1985. Though I’ve loved baseball for as long as I can remember, it was 1985 when I started reading box scores and watching games religiously on WPIX.

Yankees captain Don Mattingly had an MVP season in 1985, so I’m not worried about him. I’m not worried about outfielders Rickey Henderson or Dave Winfield either. I never worry about star players who enjoyed long, productive careers. I worry about the likes of Bobby Meacham. Players who came and went in the blink of an eye. Men who brought me so much joy for a summer or two and then faded away like fireflies in the night.

So instead of finishing this book, I’m off to to investigate Meacham’s career. It’s possible he played beyond 1985 with another team. Maybe he managed to knock around the big leagues for a decade or more. Perhaps he even won a World Series. I hope all of this is true.

I only worry about players like Meacham when I’m supposed to be writing. These former major leaguers are of no concern to me when I’m eating cheeseburgers with my family, teaching algebra to my students, or even reading box scores of the Yankees’ current roster. It’s only when a flashing cursor and an imposing deadline collide that I find my mind wandering to the boys of summers past. This is how I procrastinate. tells me that Meacham played for the Yankees from 1983–88, though ’85 was the only season when he started at his position. Because he only played for the Yankees, there’s no need to scroll down to scrutinize his playoff numbers. I know all too well that New York didn’t make the playoffs during Meacham’s tenure. Had this been someone like third baseman Mike Pagliarulo, who also played for the Yankees in 1985 but went on to play for other teams, I’d scroll to his playoff stats and be thrilled to discover that in 1991 “Pags” won a World Series ring with the Minnesota Twins.

Meacham wasn’t so fortunate, so I scroll further, because also provides a record of player salaries. I’m hoping to find a few large paydays—the kind to last a person a lifetime. Pagliarulo, for example, earned $4.65 million dollars over his 11-year career, a number large enough to alleviate some of my worry about him.

Meacham wasn’t so fortunate. only has four years of salary info for Meacham, but it includes his best years. $462,500. Not nearly enough to keep a man in the black for a lifetime.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the closer I get to the end of the book, the more often I find myself researching the lives of these middling players. The completion of a book is a terrifying prospect. I begin the process with so much hope for all that is to come. The great American novel. My first New York Times best-seller. A story for the ages. But with each step I take toward the finish, the true measure of my effort comes into focus. It’s good, I think. Maybe great, but probably not.

Perhaps baseball players like Bobby Meacham understand this best. As they near the end of their careers, perhaps they, too, look back on those first days of summer, when they wondered if greatness lay ahead. If so, do they also fear the end? When it becomes more and more apparent that greatness has eluded them, do they, too, fear the annihilation of possibility? Bobby Meacham was a major league baseball player. He achieved a dream few will ever realize, but it probably wasn’t the dream he dreamed so long ago.

Like Meacham, I’ve done something that many dream about but few ever accomplish. I’ve published four novels. They’re been translated into more than 25 languages. One was an international best-seller. Three more are on the way. Yet I, too, can look back and wonder what might have been had things broken differently.

Maybe this book will be my best-seller. The possibility remains, just so long as I don’t finish it. Right now, it’s all hope and possibility. When I finish, it becomes reality.

Instead of taking those frightening final steps, procrastination takes me to Wikipedia, to the “Personal Life” section. I’m hoping to find something positive in Meacham’s post-baseball life. A career in real estate. A chain of successful sports bars. Anything.

Oftentimes, this information is vague and incomplete. Frightening. But for Meacham, it’s the best possible news. Upon retiring from baseball, he became a minor league coach. Today, he manages the Blue Jays Triple-A franchise. He has a wife and three kids. He’s happy, I think. I’ll pretend as much.

It’s time to return to the book. Bring it to an end. Discover the true measure of its possibility. Except the Wikipedia entry on Meacham included a reference to Paul Zuvella, an infielder who was traded for when the Yankees became disenchanted with Meacham’s play.

I remember Zuvella. He knocked around the big leagues for a while. I wonder what ever happened to him. I hope he’s okay …