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'Odd Man Out' author Matt McCarthy's accuracy is questioned

He defends the veracity of his book, which details his brief time in the minors. His ex-manager says 'it's just flat-out wrong.'

March 13, 2009|David Davis

Matt McCarthy's professional baseball career flamed out after one season, 2002, with the Provo Angels in the lowly Pioneer League. He was quietly released the following spring. Now, McCarthy has published "Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit," and the notoriety the memoir has generated ensures that he will be enshrined in baseball and publishing lore.

In this raucous and occasionally profane book, McCarthy chronicles the chilling racial division that Latino athletes face in the clubhouse, details conversations with teammates about sexual high jinks and taking steroids, and describes an object he calls the "Rally Penis" that his manager used to inspire his charges.

The backlash has been furious. Manager Tom Kotchman and many former teammates dispute the accuracy of McCarthy's account. "I've gone through it multiple times," Kotchman says. "In so many places it's just flat-out wrong or fabricated."

The book has also been put under the microscope by the New York Times, among other media outlets. Reporters Benjamin Hill and Alan Schwarz scoured old box scores and transaction listings and confirmed dozens of errors. "[M]any portions of the book are incorrect, embellished or impossible," they concluded.

McCarthy concedes that he made factual errors, but he stands by the book's veracity. "If you're somebody who needs your sports stories sugarcoated, don't read the book," he says. "But if you want to feel closer to the game, then that's what this is about."

Still to be determined is McCarthy's legacy. Will he be remembered as this generation's Jim Bouton and Pat Jordan, authors, respectively, of the baseball classics "Ball Four" and "A False Spring"? Or, is he the latest iteration of James Frey, author of the faux memoir "A Million Little Pieces"?

Now 28, McCarthy is a trim 6-footer with close-cropped brown hair. He wears a blue-and-white striped Oxford shirt and a harried expression as he perches on a couch in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton hotel.

The previous day, the bombshell article in the New York Times had appeared. The newspaper wasn't the first media outlet to weigh in; articles disputing elements of "Odd Man Out" have run in the Orange County Register, the Chicago Tribune and Stephen C. Smith's blog FutureAngels .com.

But the Times' thoroughness and harsh tone shook McCarthy, who says he offered the reporters a "point-by-point" rebuttal.

"This is a book that has tens of thousands of details in it," he says. "The article doesn't mention that, of the 200 details from one game, there's 199 that were accurate."

McCarthy was a standout high school player in Florida and earned a spot in the rotation at Yale. He developed into a solid left-handed starter, with a decent slider and a fastball just north of 90 miles an hour. The Angels drafted him in the 21st round, gave him the minimum $1,000 signing bonus and sent him to the lowest level of the minors.

What he discovered was a culture far removed from the Ivy League. Many teammates were high school grads away from home for the first time; young Latino ballplayers, who typically speak little English, were segregated and mocked. McCarthy discussed steroids with teammates and, in the book, intimates that several players used them. He depicted Kotchman as, alternately, a father figure who doled out money to needy players and a maniac. All this in a conservative community dominated by the Mormon church.

McCarthy doesn't shy from relating personal humiliations. He admits to avoiding interactions with Latino players as well as an embarrassing stomach ailment. He performs poorly, with a 6.92 ERA in 15 appearances. "I loved my time playing professional baseball," he says. "I realized -- and the Angels realized -- that I wasn't good enough to be one of their big leaguers. I don't have an ax to grind."

McCarthy's post-baseball career has been more successful. A molecular biophysics major, McCarthy attended Harvard Medical School. He traveled to Cameroon, Malaysia and South Africa to study tuberculosis and AIDS. Now, he's an intern at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital, specializing in infectious diseases.

He says he was inspired to write "Odd Man Out" after former colleagues began making contributions on the field. Guys like pitcher Joe Saunders and second baseman Howie Kendrick, who now play key roles for the big-league team in Anaheim.

The book, McCarthy says, came from two Mead notebooks of material he kept during the 2002 season, writing at night and during mind-numbing 17-hour bus trips. Four years later, he began to shape the narrative. He showed a draft to a college friend, Sports Illustrated staff writer Ben Reiter, who gave it to Chris Stone, the magazine's baseball editor. Stone steered McCarthy to Scott Waxman's literary agency, which sold it to Viking.

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