Saturday, April 18, 2009

Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy

Matt McCarthy wouldn't be what anyone would expect of a professional baseball player. He graduated from Yale, where he studied molecular biophysics and biochemistry. He's now graduated from Harvard Medical School, and is an intern. But, for one year, he lived the dream of so many men, to play professional baseball, even if it was in the minor leagues. He tells that story in Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit.

Like so many young athletes, McCarthy's dream was to pitch in the major leagues. Even though he was always on a losing team at Yale, he was hopeful that he might be drafted since he was that in-demand player, a left-handed pitcher. And, like so many young athletes, he had no thought in his head as to what he would do if he wasn't drafted. Fortunately, McCarthy was drafted by the Anaheim Angels, and spent the summer of 2002 playing for the Provo Angels, an affiliate team.

Matt McCarthy pulls no punches. He's honest about the popularity of drugs and steroids, drinking and sex, in the minors. He tells the truth about the racial divide between the Americans, and all of the Hispanic players, referred to as the "Dominicans", no matter where they were from. And, he tells about the rigorous life, playing 76 games in 80 days in the Pioneer League, where players just drafted play. He's also honest about himself, growing from a hopeful young athlete who occasionally gets his pitch up to 90 m.p.h., to a realistic player knowing he isn't as good as some of the pitchers he watches.

Baseball books are always gritty, with language and horseplay that is typical of men showing off for each other. But, baseball books, like Odd Man Out, often have a great deal of heart. It's a sport that's hard to leave behind for those who had a brief glimpse of the good life. McCarthy said, "A year later I'd be on the other side of country in Boston, preparing to enter medical school and begin a new life - a life after baseball, if that's ever possible."

At one point, McCarthy's manager says, "Be thankful that you're out here. Be thankful that you get to put on the uniform every goddamn day, and give it all you got while you still can." McCarthy agrees. "It sounded like a cliché, but his words rang true. We couldn't make a living playing minor league baseball, we could barely subsist. But playing professional baseball was better than not playing professional baseball, and for many of us this was about seeing how long we could play the game and not do anything else."

I found Odd Man Out to be fascinating, and tragic. But, that's my view, as a woman. Most of us will never understand the yearning that men have for just that one opportunity to play baseball. My husband, Jim, read the book with a feeling of melancholy. He had a successful career as a high school catcher, scholarship offers, and a baseball contract. And, then he rolled his car over, broke his shoulder, and lost all chances for that baseball dream. He was so envious of McCarthy, a man who had even one short season in the minor leagues. In reading the book, I don't think it's ever, "Look how far I went. I achieved something other men would give their eyeteeth for. I played professional baseball." Instead, for every man who never achieved that dream, I think this book says, "It was a great year, but, no matter what I do as a doctor, I could have been a baseball player." For all of those men, I don't know that a life after baseball is ever possible. Matt McCarthy's Odd Man Out gives all of those men, and baseball fans, the chance to understand a little of what that life is like, in all of the realistic details.

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Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit by Matt McCarthy. Viking, ©2009. ISBN 9780670020706 (hardcover), 304p.


Pat Browning said...


Sounds like a wonderful book. I hadn't heard of it so thanks for the excellent review.

Pat Browning

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Pat. Jim & I both sailed right through this one. Definitely a book for baseball fans.

Anonymous said...

Did you take a look at the article detailing the fabricated portions of this 'memoir"?

Lesa said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I hadn't seen it. Very interesting article.

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