Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit

Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit

A Season on the Mound with Minor League Baseball's Most Unlikely Pitcher Matt McCarthy never expected to get drafted by a Major League Baseball team. A molecular biophysics major at Yale, he was a decent left-handed starter for a dismal college team. But good southpaws are hard to find, and when the Anaheim Angels selected him in the twenty-first round of the 2002 draft,...

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Title:Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit
Author:Matt McCarthy
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Edition Language:English

Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit Reviews

  • Tim Basuino

    Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” remains the best expose of a baseball season I have read to date. Part of what made that book so intriguing was the fact that it was essentially the first of its type – Bouton’s description of the 1969 Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros took the nation (if not the world) by storm – up to that point the general idea was that ballplayers generally toed the company line, and were generally unable to think for themselves. To put it mildly, “Ball Four” altered that perception.

    Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” remains the best expose of a baseball season I have read to date. Part of what made that book so intriguing was the fact that it was essentially the first of its type – Bouton’s description of the 1969 Seattle Pilots and Houston Astros took the nation (if not the world) by storm – up to that point the general idea was that ballplayers generally toed the company line, and were generally unable to think for themselves. To put it mildly, “Ball Four” altered that perception.

    Since then, there have been various attempts to replicate Bouton’s effort, with mixed degrees of success. Until I found “Odd Man Out” at a used bookstore, I had not heard of Matt McCarthy, and given his career, that’s not the least bit surprising. The book details McCarthy’s exploits during the 2002 season with the Provo Angels, Anaheim’s Pioneer League affiliate.

    Some of his adventures were not terribly surprising, i.e. minor leaguers don’t get paid a lot, so they have to supplement their income in the off season, they look around for girls, and they like fast food. But what makes this book worthy are the details I hadn’t thought of:

    1. White and Dominican players didn’t mix well (come to think of it, my limited view of Major League dugouts and warmups would not contradict that).

    2. Casey Kotchman’s dad was a minor league manager, and a rather amusing one at that – certainly he seemed much more amicable than Ball Four’s Joe Schultz.

    3. The residency options of a Rookie League player (discounted rates at a hotel, a sponsor program, or sharing an apartment).

    4. The number of future MLB players that McCarthy played with and against – granted it’s a case of sample bias, but I’d always thought that a minor league team wouldn’t have many players I’d heard of many years later.

    By and large, a good, quick read. And a good start to McCarthy’s post-baseball career in the medical field.

  • Craig Pittman

    Matt McCarthy grew up in Florida playing Little League ball, earned a spot as a southpaw pitcher on a dismal Yale University college team and then somehow became the twenty-sixth-round draft pick of the 2002 Anaheim Angels. He was assigned to their minor-league affiliate in Utah, the Provo Angels, for a year, and while there McCarthy kept a brutally honest journal. This memoir is the result.

    First the good: McCarthy is an excellent writer and his prose goes down easy. He's self-deprecating and he

    Matt McCarthy grew up in Florida playing Little League ball, earned a spot as a southpaw pitcher on a dismal Yale University college team and then somehow became the twenty-sixth-round draft pick of the 2002 Anaheim Angels. He was assigned to their minor-league affiliate in Utah, the Provo Angels, for a year, and while there McCarthy kept a brutally honest journal. This memoir is the result.

    First the good: McCarthy is an excellent writer and his prose goes down easy. He's self-deprecating and he knows how to set up a scene and he's got a good ear for dialogue. He also does not shy away from depicting some of the really ugly stuff that went on in the locker room and elsewhere: the blatant racism toward non-white players, the homophobic cracks between players and coaches; the discussions about steroid use and abuse.

    Now my criticism: In relaying those ugly aspects of minor league life, McCarthy never offers a judgment of his teammates or coaches. He simply relays the information and lets the readers absorb it unfiltered. While he generally does not take part in any of the bad stuff, he doesn't condemn it either -- not then and not now. Perhaps he was trying to be a mirror, showing exactly what he saw without any commentary, but I think what would have elevated this story above its current quality is if McCarthy had put some of these things into a broader context and talked about WHY he chose to be an observer but not a participant -- neither joining in nor trying to stop it.

    One of the most affecting scenes in the book comes when a Hispanic pitcher is ordered to throw at an opposing batter and refuses to do it. Despite having thrown a good game so far, he's yanked by the coach and sent to the showers for his refusal. McCarthy goes into the locker room and finds the guy with his head in his hands. He explains to McCarthy he didn't sign up to hurt people, just to play baseball. McCarthy offers him sympathy, but that's all. He doesn't become an advocate for the guy with the coaches, nor does he say what he would have done in similar circumstances.

    McCarthy is out of baseball now -- the end of his pitching career sent him to med school -- so it would have been instructive, too, to get his medical viewpoint on some of the bizarre suggestions his coaches made on changing his pitching stance. Seems to me his best advice came from fellow players who told him he was tipping off batters to his pitches with his set-up. Perhaps that's why he chose to play his own emotions -- except for when he's finally cut -- so close to the chest.

  •    M

    There's a lot of criticism of this book for time/place/statistical mistakes -- most of which read something like "McCarthy describes this happening on July 15 but so-and-so didn't join the team until July 30." To place this criticism in the context of the book, first of all, I don't think the author makes a single reference to a specific date of a game in the whole book -- so fact checkers FIRST have to figure out what date McCarthy is IMPLYING something occurred and THEN they can tell us all it

    There's a lot of criticism of this book for time/place/statistical mistakes -- most of which read something like "McCarthy describes this happening on July 15 but so-and-so didn't join the team until July 30." To place this criticism in the context of the book, first of all, I don't think the author makes a single reference to a specific date of a game in the whole book -- so fact checkers FIRST have to figure out what date McCarthy is IMPLYING something occurred and THEN they can tell us all it didn't happen that day. Ugh. Who cares.

    I think most readers of minor league stories are interested in the atmosphere and experience of that time -- and this book is a plausibly real memoir of that. Sure, McCarthy's not a star, wasn't really expected to be a star, and so his story lacks celebrity glitz. This book is NOT an expose or even much of a paparazzi-esque candid look at future big-leaguers -- in retrospect, it is an easy and fast read, light on plot, and nothing really revelatory/super-insightful. But for armchair baseball, it works for me.

  • Will Byrnes

    In the 2002 ML baseball draft, Matt McCarthy, a Yale lefty with a fastball that had occasional familiarity with 90+mph was drafted in the 26th round by the Anaheim Angels. He was urged by friends and relations to keep a journal of his experiences, and those journals form the basis of this 2009 story of his single season in the sun of professional baseball.

    When the book came out, there was a bit of a firestorm. McCarthy got some of his names, dates, and possibly facts wrong enough that the New

    In the 2002 ML baseball draft, Matt McCarthy, a Yale lefty with a fastball that had occasional familiarity with 90+mph was drafted in the 26th round by the Anaheim Angels. He was urged by friends and relations to keep a journal of his experiences, and those journals form the basis of this 2009 story of his single season in the sun of professional baseball.

    When the book came out, there was a bit of a firestorm. McCarthy got some of his names, dates, and possibly facts wrong enough that the New York Times highlighted them in two articles. (The links are at the bottom of this review.) It does sound to me that he got a few things wrong. It is even possible that his characterization of this player or that might cause those people some harm. I have no way of knowing the truthfulness of McCarthy’s writing. But I am familiar with how difficult it can be to reconstruct events several years after the events, based on handwritten notes, so am inclined to give McCarthy the benefit of the doubt, and ascribe no malice to his writing. I expect that mistakes which do appear in the book are simply off the plate and are not intentional beanballs. In several instances, I expect that people are simply embarrassed at some of the revelations and it is easier to deny them than to take responsibility.

    There are some items in the book that might be troublesome for some of the players. McCarthy describes behavior between players that indicates a gay inclination. And that is a barrier that MLB has not yet faced up to. McCarthy also reports on his Rookie League manager’s antics. These include directing his pitcher to hit an opposing batter in retaliation for Provo players having been hit, some mood-swinging, and a remarkable and humorous substitute for the team’s rally monkey. Some players are reported to be milking their disabled list status to avoid playing, and the ethnic separation of players is distinctive, with all Hispanic players, of whatever national origin, designated as “Dominicans” and all others as “Americans.”

    So what’s the big deal? Frankly, I do not think there is one. I have read my share of baseball books, and I did not find this one to be exceptional. There were some bits of information that were not at all surprising, such as the use of steroids, (The only surprise might be that there were players who were not using) and the horrors of massive bus rides, the low-wage life that most of these players endure, and the mix of fresh blood on the way up and older players on the way down, high draft picks being handled with kid gloves, and lower draft picks being treated with far less kindness. Class as defined by draft rank may be different from class as defined by wealth or race, but the results are similar. The eagerness of some families in Provo to take in players for a season was a bit of news for me. Aside from a laugh here or there it was mostly pedestrian material, IMHO. That the coach was a character offered some spice. And a ballpark visit by Larry King, his much younger trophy wife and a vile offspring was amusing in a horrifying way.

    While McCarthy writes in a very readable, breezy style, there are plenty of baseball books that offer more substance. Jim Bouton’s

    remains the standard beaver-shoot-and-tell example if you are looking for player shenanigans.

    is another that offers a look at the minors, although for a much more defined moment in time.

    by Neal Karlen gives the reader some sense of the non-ML minors.

    McCarthy, realistic about his pro-ball prospects, always kept a hand in his other career option, and continued working and studying towards a life in medicine, no, not sports medicine, but infectious diseases. He is now a practicing physician.

    is neither a grand slam nor a strikeout, but more of a seeing eye single ahead of a stolen base.

    =============================

    Two articles noted above, from the New York Times, both by Benjamin Hill and Alan Schwarz, both published March 2, 2009

    and

    And a more respectful interview -

    by Dan Friedell

  • Kid

    Like most of Matt McCarthy's teammates on the Provo Angels minor league team where he spent one season, I'm sick and tired of Ivy League bullshit.

    A dude pitches on a losing team at Yale, gets drafted in like the 25th round and then writes a book about his one season playing minor league ball. What's remarkable about McCarthy's book is not the casual entrenched racism and homophobia that is middle America's stock in trade - because who is shocked that every asshole in this country hates fags and

    Like most of Matt McCarthy's teammates on the Provo Angels minor league team where he spent one season, I'm sick and tired of Ivy League bullshit.

    A dude pitches on a losing team at Yale, gets drafted in like the 25th round and then writes a book about his one season playing minor league ball. What's remarkable about McCarthy's book is not the casual entrenched racism and homophobia that is middle America's stock in trade - because who is shocked that every asshole in this country hates fags and foreigners? It's more that this book is a big whatevs of poorly drawn characters, sloppy reportage (this is suspected to be part of the illustrious 'memoirs that are kinda faked' crew along with James Frey and company)and typical Ivy league condescension of people who are perceived to be less intelligent or worldly than our esteemed narrator. McCarthy's assumed entitlement leaks onto the pages with the misremembered facts and off-handed comments about his teammates' quaint faith in God or casual dabbling in steroids.

    Add to all this that McCarthy's tale is told from the safe confines of the hospital where he's now a doing his residency.

    There are more interesting stories to be found in the minor leagues and there are way better books by pitchers who have struggled in the minors (see Jim Bouton's Ball Four). . .

    I did finish it though. . .but this is not a sports book I would recommend especially since a number of factual errors have been brought to light recently.

    See this link for details:

  • Pete

    Matt McCarthy reminds me of Paul Shirley. Neither seems to realize how cocky they come off, and neither can write nearly as well as they think they can. The problem with being a semi-literate pro-athlete is that, relative to your peers, you seem like Shakespeare, but to the rest of us, you write as well as the average blogger.

    Other notes:

    Probably the only baseball book to begin a chapter with a "The Waste Land" reference.

    The Bobby Jenks anecdotes are entertaining but not surprising.

    I read this

    Matt McCarthy reminds me of Paul Shirley. Neither seems to realize how cocky they come off, and neither can write nearly as well as they think they can. The problem with being a semi-literate pro-athlete is that, relative to your peers, you seem like Shakespeare, but to the rest of us, you write as well as the average blogger.

    Other notes:

    Probably the only baseball book to begin a chapter with a "The Waste Land" reference.

    The Bobby Jenks anecdotes are entertaining but not surprising.

    I read this book in a day, and you can, too.

  • Tom Gase

    Didn't like this book that much basically because except for maybe one character, who the reader doesn't meet until the end, you hate everyone. All the athletes are racist, homophopic and just plain dumb. This includes the writer. Well, maybe he's not dumb since he went to Yale, but you end up not liking him at all. For one, all the facts are wrong I guess, since there has been a lot of controversy around it. Also, he calls someone else a mole in the book, although HE'S DOING THE SAME EXACT

    Didn't like this book that much basically because except for maybe one character, who the reader doesn't meet until the end, you hate everyone. All the athletes are racist, homophopic and just plain dumb. This includes the writer. Well, maybe he's not dumb since he went to Yale, but you end up not liking him at all. For one, all the facts are wrong I guess, since there has been a lot of controversy around it. Also, he calls someone else a mole in the book, although HE'S DOING THE SAME EXACT THING. He makes fun of mormons (which by the way I'm not) but then uses them and their huge mansion.

    That being said, it was a page-turner, for all the wrong reasons. Some interesting stuff too on some MLB players such as Joe Saunders (who comes off as too arrogant), Bobby Jenks (even more arrogant), Erick Abyar and Alberto Caispo, and then briefly Howie Kendrick (who comes off as a super nice guy) and Casey Kotchman (nice guy)and his Dad, who manages McCarthy's team.

    For die-hard Angel fans, since it takes place in their system during the 2002 year, but there are better baseball books out there and would not recommend this to just a casual baseball fan. There are even better minor league books out there.

  • Laura

    An interesting and readable, but also depressing, warts-and-all look inside the world of minor league baseball. Depressing mainly because there are a lot of warts. The author does not spare himself. He's not very likeable. He is also a little too condescending and bitter to pull off the "wacky world of baseball" tone I think he was trying for. There is a moment near the end of the book when a spring training coach yells at a group of pitchers he is working with, including the author, because

    An interesting and readable, but also depressing, warts-and-all look inside the world of minor league baseball. Depressing mainly because there are a lot of warts. The author does not spare himself. He's not very likeable. He is also a little too condescending and bitter to pull off the "wacky world of baseball" tone I think he was trying for. There is a moment near the end of the book when a spring training coach yells at a group of pitchers he is working with, including the author, because they are all self-obsessed and don't understand that they will win or lose as a team. You would think that this would be a moment of epiphany for the author, who has spent his entire first season in the minors being competitive with his teammates and neurotically obsessing about his individual performance, but you would be wrong. He wraps up the anecdote by stating confidently that all of the pitchers standing there knew that the coach was wrong. Perhaps not surprisingly, a few weeks later the author is released from the Angels organization. He doesn't strike me as a guy given to self-reflection so I guess it has never crossed his mind that the two things might be connected. Let's hope he's a more empathetic and compassionate doctor than he was a teammate!

  • Brett Thomasson

    As Yale senior Matt McCarthy neared graduation, he was like a lot of his classmates in trying to figure out what was next for him in life. The only difference was that he was looking to find a baseball organization to pay him to pitch for them, something he managed when he was drafted in 2002 by the Anaheim Angels organization. He spent a year playing for the rookie-ball Provo Angels in the Pioneer League and went to spring training in 2003 before being cut. In 2009, now a practicing doctor, he

    As Yale senior Matt McCarthy neared graduation, he was like a lot of his classmates in trying to figure out what was next for him in life. The only difference was that he was looking to find a baseball organization to pay him to pitch for them, something he managed when he was drafted in 2002 by the Anaheim Angels organization. He spent a year playing for the rookie-ball Provo Angels in the Pioneer League and went to spring training in 2003 before being cut. In 2009, now a practicing doctor, he wrote about those experiences in

    .

    Rookie-level ball features a wide mix of players -- hot high school prospects who've been signed for seven-figure contracts, unknowns that the organization is willing to risk the rookie ball salary on, college grads who are seeing if their college stuff is really something someone wants to pay money to see happen, players really too old but who the organization is giving one last chance to show something. McCarthy meets them all during his year in Provo, a tee-totaling Utah community that is not an exact fit for a group of young men with a lot of time and testosterone on their hands.

    relates the long bus rides across the northern plains and the colorful lineup of the Provo Angels. McCarthy finds himself questioning his commitment to baseball when it seems has no way to solve the problem of consistency -- he'll pitch well one night and serve up batting practice the next. Different coaches in the program offer him different solutions (no one suggests breathing through his eyelids) but none seem to work. Although his Yale education would seem to set him apart from his teammates, it's really just one of the quirks they all have, which McCarthy detailed in journals he kept through the season and used when he wrote his book.

    Or did he? After an excerpt was published in

    , some of the people McCarthy names said that they didn't remember doing or saying anything like what he wrote that they did or said.

    writers did some investigating and saw that McCarthy said some things happened when they couldn't realistically have happened. For his part, McCarthy stood by his manuscript even though he wouldn't produce the journals he said were contemporary accounts of the events he wrote about.

    My guess is spotty memories, exaggerated and embellished tales and journal entries that aren't as detailed as McCarthy says they are combine to cause most of the inaccuracies and disputed stories. Plus some of his teammates might not have known they were being documented and acted in ways they would rather not admit to.

    is an easy and largely fun read with a mostly likable if quirky cast that show a few cracks here and there. Given that McCarthy took his notes and is writing about experiences that happened when he barely into his 20s, there's not a lot of reflection going on or much to add to other books about of the weird world of minor league baseball. The largely surface-level narrative and questions about some of the just-a-little-too-perfect sequences and events make this an excellent buy when you pick it up at the local library's "clear the shelves" $1.00 apiece book sale.

    Original available

    .

  • Autumn

    An interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying read. It is the story of a minor league pitcher who lasts just over one year in the minors. There are a lot of behind the scenes stories about the lives (on field and off) of the players on his minor league team. There was some controversy when then book came out about some of the stories in the book, but I don't know how anyone could be that shocked about the antics of young, uneducated, sexed- up young men living thousands of miles away from home in

    An interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying read. It is the story of a minor league pitcher who lasts just over one year in the minors. There are a lot of behind the scenes stories about the lives (on field and off) of the players on his minor league team. There was some controversy when then book came out about some of the stories in the book, but I don't know how anyone could be that shocked about the antics of young, uneducated, sexed- up young men living thousands of miles away from home in the middle of Utah. The stories are actually pretty tame - McCarthy only briefly mentions steroids and states up front that amphetamines were everywhere and leaves it at that. The most unsatisfying part of the book is everything McCarthy leaves out. Does he keep a journal during the season because he thinks he might write a book later, or has he always kept a journal? He mentions that he starts Harvard Medical School just 6 months after ending his baseball career, but doesn't say whether it is something he has been thinking about or how he came to that decision. He sort of tries to be one of the guys, despite his Ivy League education, but the fact that he lives with a wealthy host family and can get into Harvard Medical School after baseball sets him apart. He acknowledges this, but the reader isn't given any insight about how this makes him feel or how it affects how seriously he takes his baseball career.

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