Saturday, February 28, 2009

Book: -Odd Man Out-

UPDATE: Thanks to Anonymous below for pointing me in the direction of these two damning articles about the book. Looks like McCarthy's version of events is not trustworthy--and often impossible. In my eyes, the New York Times has eliminated McCarthy's credibility. I no longer recommend this book.

I've just finished reading Matt McCarthy's book Odd Man Out. Sports Illustrated ran an excerpt I liked recently, so I grabbed it right before Hedgehog was born and have managed to read it over the last few days. It helps that it's a fun read.

McCarthy profiles the only minor league team he ever played for, the 2002 Provo Angels in the Pioneer League (Rookie level). The Yale-educated McCarthy is a little different from his teammates. In the tradition of lefty pitchers everywhere, he views the world through his own, unique lens. I'd say that he mulls over the conflicting motivations and goals of the players and coaches he spent that summer with, and the result is several very interesting character sketches.

But man oh man. I never thought that ballplayers were choirboys. But McCarthy lays out all the icky misogyny, racism, sexism, and homophobia that happens everywhere he goes. I'm sure that the 2002 Provo Angels (including those who have since attained fame in the majors--a surprising number, actually, for that low level of ball) are angry at McCarthy for the same reason that people were angry at Jim Bouton for Ball Four. He broke the sacred clubhouse tenet of keeping everything on the inside, blah blah blah. But Bouton's revelations--that players liked to scope women out, particularly through binoculars--were pretty damned tame compared to the exploits of these guys. It's not the exploits that bother me, of course, it's the horrific way they speak of the many women they bed (or seek to). The racist attitudes of the Caucasians towards the "Dominicans" (their catch-all term which includes any player from anywhere in Latin America) are also quite ugly. The homophobic bullshit that the players and their manager speak and say is awfully disgusting.

I guess none of that surprises me, because while I haven't been in a pro locker room, I have been in a locker room, and men tend to act like misogynist homophobic assholes in there, from junior high all the way up to (I assume) the senior center. I was surprised, however, by the contempt with which the Angels--both players and staff!--treated the Mormons in the Provo community. The team has since moved a few miles down the road to Orem and renamed itself the Owlz, but if the field staff is still the same, I wouldn't be surprised if the Provo/Orem community, once they get around to reading this book, demanded an apology or even a removal of the team. When the team trainer, Clayton Wilson, says (according to McCarthy) "Remember, we're in Provo, and these people walk around with sticks permanently jammed up their asses," and when, speaking of players' possible host families, he says that "you'll stay at their home, likely for free, and they'll cook for you and some will even clean your shit for you...but these fuckers are Mormon, so be prepared for that..." well, I'm glad that's been aired.

Wilson is now the trainer for the Binghamton Mets, so Orem/Provo doesn't have to deal with him anymore, and all the players are long gone, but one wonders if they'll decide that an affiliated minor league team is worth it when they have overt contempt for their community and its people. Maybe, at the very least, the community will encourage the Angels to look elsewhere for their rookie affiliate and seek out a team that doesn't tacitly approve of this crap.

I wouldn't be surprised if McCarthy is facing blowback from his book, like Bouton did. There's probably more than a little anger from players who were presented negatively or who were called out for steroid use (quite common in 2002, of course). The dude violated the sacred code of the locker room.

My response: Good.

When you've got a code of silence, it's because something is rotten at the core of it that people don't want to be heard. This book proves it.

Anyway, it's a fun ride. McCarthy lays it all out there, and if you're a fan of minor league baseball, it's worth a read.

14 comments:

Stephen C. Smith said...

I just wanted to point out there's two sides to every story.

I've been tracking this book since late January, when I was approached by Sports Illustrated. They wanted to acquire photos I shot of McCarthy in 2002; I run a web site that covers the Angels minor leagues.

I got an advance copy of the book from the publisher. While it had the general sense of what life is like in the lower minors, many specifics didn't sound true to my experience. Once the book came out and the magazine was published, several players and others around Provo that year contacted me to say that stories in the book weren't true, never happened, or were embellished.

The Orange County Register located Heath Luther, one of the players described at length in the book. He was very angry and said it was all untrue. Bobby Jenks, now with the White Sox, was contacted about what McCarthy wrote about him, and said he'd never met the guy much less did what McCarthy claimed.

I should also point out that the promotional materials for the book promised revelations of "rampant steroids," but a read of the book showed that's untrue. All it had was four or five non-prospects sitting around a table at Applebee's wondering if they should use steroids to save their careers. The team's third-string catcher claims he can get them steroids, but McCarthy writes that the guy tells a lot of tall tales, so why should we believe this one?

The bigotry stuff is also untrue. One player described in the book as a bigot angrily told me that one of his Latin teammates was one of his closest friends, that they went to dinner all the time.

A lot of the book simply doesn't add up.

If you have an interest in the articles I've found about the book, the link on my blog is:

http://comment.mlblogs.com/search?tag=Odd%20Man%20Out&blog_id=980

TeacherRefPoet said...

Mr. Smith--

Thanks for this.

Naturally, there are two sides to every story, and it's absolutely appropriate for McCarthy's teammates to respond. I'm just not sure that I buy many of these responses. The accusation that McCarthy is lying in an attempt at fame and fortune seems strange, given that he's got himself financially set in the field of medicine, and that his worst portrayals are of peole nobody's heard of. The "I barely know the guy" defense (used most notably by Jenks) is totally irrelevant, since McCarthy himself says that he only met these guys briefly and that they wouldn't remember him. And Jenks claiming that McCarthy is merely "trying to jump on the bandwagon of the whole book era right now"? That's both hilarious and non-responsive.

McCarthy took a journal down as the year went on, and I don't see where he has any lingering axe to grind against these individuals. He hardly makes himself look innocent (he admits to providing alcohol for a minor and to telling a few lies himself, and certainly in some pretty lousy going-along-to-get-along behavior). Because of this, the book feels more like a memoir to me than an attempt to be salacious.

As for the bigotry, yes, it'd be hurtful to be presented like that. But with the exception of the trainer Wilson, I don't remember any individuals' bigoted actions in the book; just a general bigoted stink in the entire culture (which includes the Latin players) that McCarthy captures at every level he played, including at Yale. The "But some of my best friends are Latin..." cliche defense appears awfully weak against it, especially when some players (like Randy Burden but NOT like McCarthy) are presented as dodging that culture.

So yes, there's two sides to every story, and I'll read the responses to this book with interest. McCarthy's book isn't the final word, and everyone has the right to defend themselves. But many of the responses aren't relevant, and many are based on the notion that nobody should ever write anything bad about any teammate. I don't see it that way.

I appreciate the fact that your criticism came in a thoughtful, non-flame form. I'll keep a eye on your blog.

Stephen C. Smith said...

Thanks for the reply.

As for the "bigotry," I've been doing this for ten years and I've never really seen it. What I have seen is a clashing of cultures. Keep in mind that Provo -- now, Orem, they moved in 2005 to a new ballpark six miles west -- is the first stop for most of these guys. You basically have a lot of Americans lumped into a cramped clubhouse with a bunch of Latin players, and it's the first time it's happened. Because of the language barrier, naturally they're going to pair off with people who speak the same language. But my personal observation is that, as they move to higher levels, that goes away.

The Angels have a program at their minor league complex in Tempe to help teach Latins not just English but also the American culture. When they're at Orem or Tempe, they're just starting to learn English, so needless to say they're a bit intimated. But give it a couple years and most of them are interacting with American players -- and vice versa.

(McCarthy says all the Latins are referred to as "Dominicans," but in my ten years of doing these I have never seen that. It's always been "Latin," and if someone is from the Dominican then you might say he's Dominican. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Mexicans, all have different cultures. It would be pretty ignorant to refer to all of them as Dominicans, and I've never heard it.)

As for McCarthy's journal, I find it hard to believe that after six years he can quote verbatim so many conversations. As noted, I've been told by several people present that these events are untrue, or at least embellished.

McCarthy said in recent interviews that he got his book published through the help of a friend who's a writer at Sports Illustrated -- which explained how the book wound up being excerpted in SI. He said the friend told him to tell more stories in the book, and write less about his daily routine.

Now, just my speculation, but that sounds like McCarthy was being told to spice up the book to make it more attractive to a potential publisher. Do I have proof? No. But after hearing from so many people that events depicted are untrue, and adding my own personal knowledge, that's my personal opinion.

It should be noted that we're basically dealing with a bunch of 18-21 year olds, most of whom aren't exactly Einsteins.

Tom Kotchman just notched his 1,500th career last year, and that's after managing in short-season ball for over 15 years. Some of his methods may seem wacky, but you have to consider the age and mentality of who he's working with. Kotch will have to speak for himself about what's in the book, but you can't argue the success of his method. I will say that I find it hard to believe that Kotch would urge the players to go out and find a "slump buster," because he's a family man and also understands the importance of teaching these youngsters responsibility.

As for Aybar and Callaspo, they were really close -- they were called "the Siamese Twins" within the organization -- but I never saw them simulate humping. In ten years, I can't recall ever seeing Latin players (or anyone else) simluate humping. Does that mean it didn't happen? No. But if it was as common as McCarthy claims, you'd think I would have seen it at least once.

TeacherRefPoet said...

Mr. Smith--

Thanks for responding again.

As for the ability to "quote verbatim so many conversations," that's part of all memoir genres, from Elie Wiesel down to Jose Canseco. Of course the exact conversations will not be there verbatim. But I'll trust the guy with the notebook.

Again, I'll wait for people to respond and defend themselves. You're mostly saying that "if it were around, I would have seen it over ten years." I'm not certain what your relationship is to the Angels' minor league organization, but most of what McCarthy describes is inside stuff that I assume would not be forthcoming to any outsider. Not in a conspiracy-theory kind of way, but just an understanding that the culture doesn't put it on display for you. (This also is a bit part of the anger at revealing it.)

And as far as salaciousness, again, McCarthy won't be making headlines by making accusations about guys who never got close to the major leagues, or even about major league regulars like Callaspo or Aybar. Plus, he genuinely likes Kotchman and his approach to managing; I find it hard to believe he'd lie about him. But, again, I'd like to see what responses there are. Jenks's is all I've seen at this point, and it's weak at best.

Where's Heath Luther's interview?

TeacherRefPoet said...

Never mind the Luther question. I found it. (Readers: it's at http://www.ocregister.com/articles/mccarthy-angels-book-2294101-luther-don ).

Simply put, Luther's rant in the comments is a fairly accurate match of McCarthy's characterization of him. It makes me more likely, not less, to believe McCarthy, since his assessment of Luther as an angry, semi-paranoid guy certainly appears to be accurate from his comment here.

Of course, it's not the accusations of individual guys that I'll remember or care about from this book. It makes no real difference to me that players drink, do drugs, provide alcohol to minors, or womanize. I'm more taken by the general sense of what the culture of a minor league team is like. So far, the players' responses have made me more likely, not less, to trust McCarthy.

Of course, I do know that none of this counts as any kind of proof of anything.

swankette said...

From my experience in the low-minors (and I would suspect it translates to all of baseball, but can't speak to that, and we're talking low-minors here anyhow) the clubhouse is fairly sacrosanct, and what happens in the clubhouse does not leave the clubhouse. I worked for a team and knew little of what went on in there - and what I did learn was primarily learned after the season was over and the players were long gone, most likely never to return again, and even then much of it was not attributed to any specific individual. I was the person who created credentials for staff and media, and the team was VERY protective of who they wanted to have clubhouse credentials.

I'm not saying that the book is accurate or not (haven't read it yet, so really not my place to even speculate), but I will say that the experience of someone who covers the team does not mean much to me when considering clubhouse goings-on.

These guys are young and stupid, and it shows through a lot of their actions. Especially when they're only among themselves. And of COURSE people who have made something of themselves in the baseball world are going to deny any less-than-stellar stories told about them, because those who advance up the baseball ladder understand not only how to play the game, but also how to conduct themselves within the business of baseball and how to market themselves to teams and to the public.

Anonymous said...

I have read the book as well and know some of the men bashed. Most of this book is untrue and/or greatly embellished. Check when some of these guys were in Provo, there are instances that supposedly had occurred before the player was even there. As for McCarthy, I hope he is ready for the legal battle that is sure to follow his tell-all crap.

Anonymous said...

I think this (along with the sidebar) says it all.

TeacherRefPoet said...

Anonymous--thanks for calling that to my attention. That's overwhelming, anti-McCarthy evidence the -Times- lays out there.

I'm convinced, now, that this book is fiction, and I'm a little pissed off that I paid the $25 for it. I hope that -Sports Illustrated- has an adequate response.

If I can't trust McCarthy with the little things--so very, very many little things--I can't trust him with the big ones, so the whole book is pretty well toast.

I'll update my posts and add one to indicate this.

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute. Has anyone bothered to follow-up on this story? The New York Times invented almost all of the so-called errors in McCarthy's book. Odd Man Out isn't being retracted. They're not even publishing a revised edition. All of you who feel for the Times article were duped. The book continues to get great reviews in Fortube, Forbes, Huffington Post, etc. Don't believe everything you read! The Times should be held accountable for such irresponsible journalism.

TeacherRefPoet said...

Anonymous,

I can't prove that you're Matt McCarthy, but you'll need to do better than to search from Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in NYC. It means you're either Matt McCarthy or a co-worker of his. I suspect the former for a couple of reasons:

1. If you were a co-worker, you'd be inclined to say "I know Matt McCarthy, and he's a good guy" rather than anonymously bashing the Times, and

2. If you were a co-worker, you'd be FAR less likely to have gotten all the way down to the 290s on your Google Search for your name.

If you ARE Matt McCarthy, please feel free to post here under your name and defend yourself. What do you have to say to the Times' many, many specific attacks on your book? Just saying "they invented them" isn't enough. Do you have access to Provo's game logs and transaction logs from 2002? Can you get them to me or tell me where to find them? That would prove who's right and who's wrong. If I lived in Utah, I'd have half a mind to go to the library and figure it out myself.

The -Times- had facts to back everything up. Many of them are not matters of poetic license or interpretation. Can you prove your pretty wild accusation that they "invented" the dozens of discrepancies they exposed in your book?

And if you can't, can I have my $25 back for buying your book under the false pretenses of it being non-fiction?

Anonymous said...

I cannot confirm or deny what is in the book, but I have read the Sports Illustrated article. I played on one of Kotch's teams, and I can, without a doubt, confirm that most of that story is true. As I read it, it was like McCarthy had been on my team. Crazy.....

I assume that some of the stories in the book are embellished.

S.B. McD said...

Lots of players are coming forward to confirm McCarthy's portrayal of Kotchman. Here it's Davitt and Smith:

http://gazetteonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090428/SPORTS/704289919/1008

Maryum Styles said...

Just for the record, this article comes up on the first page of google search.