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Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: "Odd Man Out" by Matt McCarthy

Matt McCarthy went to Yale.

He played baseball there.

The Angels drafted him; he played one year in the minors.

After getting released in spring training the following year, he went to Harvard Medical School. He's now an intern at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

He wrote a book about his experiences in the minors -- five years after he left the game.

In it, you will learn the following:

1. That Padres' starting pitcher Chris Young went to Yale on a recruiting visit the same weekend that McCarthy did.

2. That Young thought the Yale baseball team was populated with, yes, assholes. (That observation, in and of itself, would make a Princetonian proud). Young was proven right (Yale was awful during McCarthy's four years there, although the Elis had more players drafted by Major League teams than any other Ivy). McCarthy, though, had fun at Yale. Young probably had fun at Princeton, and he made it to the Majors in his mid-20's.

3. That Major League scouts think Ivy Leaguers are an alien life form.

4. That most minor leaguers (if not all) care more about their personal performances than how the team does.

5. That most American players (whether Caucasian or white) view Hispanic players as an alien life form, and that they waited to take their showers until after the Hispanics concluded for reasons ascribed to cultural differences. Before you get judgmental, read the book, although it is odd and sad that the language barrier separates players who are spending so much time together.

6. That you wouldn't want your teenage daughter hanging around minor-league players.

7. That Casey Kotchman's father, Tom, a long-time manager in the Angels' system, is a good guy and good to play for.

McCarthy kept a diary and wrote the book five years after his career ended. In the book, you'll get a sense of some current Major Leaguers, including Bobby Jenks, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Howie Kendrick, among others. McCarthy gives us a great sense of what it's like to be a minor leaguer, how the struggle for consistency plagues all players, but most particularly pitchers. You feel for him ever time he describes his warming up in the bullpen and his going into the game, and you sense his frustration when he cannot put two good games together.

You also learn that most baseball players don't go to college, let alone Yale. McCarthy paints a good picture of the relative intelligence of baseball players without being condescending or mean-spirited, and he writes with a light enough touch to give the reader at least half a dozen moments of laughing out loud.

This is a good, fast read. If you have a long flight or a vacation coming up, get this book and read it.

You won't be disappointed.

Because while Yale didn't teach McCarthy to throw over 90 miles an hour consistently, it did teach him how to tell a story.

Yes, even Yalies can tell one well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite Ivy baseball writer is Doug Glanville former Penn Quaker (and engineering student) and quirky Phillie.

His op-eds for the NYTimes have been hilarious and insightful.

1:12 AM  
Anonymous Stephen C. Smith said...

You may be interested in knowing that the New York Times ran a lengthy article on March 3 documenting that many parts of the book appear to have been fabricated:

I've followed this story on my blog with further documentation of discrepancies:

Can't speak to the Yale part of the story, but the Angels part of the story doesn't hold up.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This NYTimes article is revealing and annoying.

I imagine the truth is somewhere down the middle (as it were), but this guy seems a bit classist and holier than thou.

One baulks at reading it after this.

11:46 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

A few things to think about:

1. A mentor once said that when you write, you can't worry about who you offend. McCarthy, like Jim Bouton, wrote with that point of view. Is he a classist? I'm not so sure. My best man (who is a college grad from an elite institution) played minor-league baseball and can tell you stories that will make McCarthy's seem tame. Were some of his teammates less intelligent and less educated? Absolutely. Some did have character flaws, and that came through in his stories. Let's be fair to McCarthy on the point of his observations of behavior -- he saw what he saw and wrote about it without varnish, something that many writers don't do today (especially the elite baseball media, which somehow missed the entire steroids era and neglected to cover it for what it was). I'm not so sure that his coverage of behaviors was classist or elitist -- it was what it was.

2. The factual inaccuracies are more troubling. Look, Chris Young,the Padres' pitcher, is from Dallas, not Houston, and McCarthy and the publisher's fact-checkers missed that, so I can't imagine what else they missed. But let's consider whether McCarthy's entire premise is false (a la James Frey) or that he committed one-off errors in a less than acceptable magnitude. I'm not so sure that his foundation is weak, but the one-offs are a problem and, obviously, serve to weaken the foundation.

3. All that said, Stephen, thanks for checking in. I saw the Times article after I read the book and posted my post, so I'll be sure to link to your post and to the Times article.


8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your elitism filter has been desensitized by your loyal lionizing of the Ivy League . This writer really comes off as condescending in the NY Times interview quotes--his many failures of facts and memory, your second point that we agree on, are swathed in a kind of impervious style that basically says "Don't question me, I'm the smart guy in the room."

I doubt there is any more moral superiority among Ivy league graduates over the rest of the world including ball players. Are character flaws revealed in different ways in differing occupational, educational and status settings? Yes, but this fellow strikes me as potentially abusing the trust of his teammates. His lack of due diligence alone suggests that. Medical
doctors who make those kinds of mistakes get sued.

A socially interior informed non-fiction book like "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" about Savannah GA society (by John Berendt), shows that even in a popular tell-all book it's possible to keep the mix of honesty, humor and tragedy without resorting to the superior tone or alienating many of those who are genuinely appealing as characters. Yes the chips may fall, but McCarthy seems to have one pegged to his shoulder.

It sounds like his lack of success on the mound impelled him to have to recreate it as a moral high ground--well schooled writer or not.

2:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book continues to get strong reviews in Entertainment Weekly, Fortune, Palm Beach Post, etc and isn't being retracted.

What Stephen C. Smith fails to note in any of the hundreds of comments he's left about Odd Man Out is that his website is mentioned in McCarthy's book. Just like Alan Schwarz, the Times author, fails to note that two of his articles are referenced in McCarthy's book.

9:03 PM  
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11:34 AM  

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