“What you say here, what you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here when you leave here.”
— Vince Lombardi
The third rail of professional baseball is what happens within the sanctity of the clubhouse. Talking about the private affairs of your teammates off the field is like talking about what happens in the bedroom with your partner. You just don’t do it.
Jim Bouton famously broke that rule in 1970 with Ball Four, the first of many “tell-all” books in the baseball world. The book documented his early career with the New York Yankees, but was largely about his 1969 season with the Seattle Pilots. It’s noteworthy for having exposed what truly happens within the clubhouse.
For his efforts, Bouton became a baseball pariah, shunned by many of his former teammates. He was banned from the Yankees’ Old Timer’s Day until 1998.
Bouton made a nice life for himself with the book, providing a steady income, an occasional pundit appearance, and lasting notoreity in the history of a game that otherwise would have forgotten him once he retired.
A nice living won’t be an issue for Matt McCarthy, who is currently an intern at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. A Yale graduate, it’s clear his future is secure without having to worry about whether his former baseball friends will shun him.
So the question is, why did McCarthy feel motivated to write a “tell-all” book about his one season with the 2002 Provo Angels?
Matt’s book, Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit, will be published by Viking (Penguin Group) on February 19. The book has already been reviewed by the Orange County Register, and will be featured in the February 23rd Sports Illustrated issue.
McCarthy doesn’t answer the motivation question in the book, nor does he conclude by explaining why he thinks his career flamed out after one season. Was it injury? An absence of talent? A failure to train him properly?
The book, apparently, is a fleshing out of a personal journal he kept while employed by the Angels. According to the promotional material:
“Odd Man Out” is a gripping tale of Matt McCarthy’s thrilling ride, from playing in college with an abysmal Yale baseball team, to getting the unlikely call that he had been drafted to play professionally. Through the course of one year in the minor leagues, Matt saw it all, from rampant use of steroids to bigotry in the locker room (white players and Latino players wouldn’t even attempt to speak to each other). Most baseball stories involve a highly sought after phenom who gets paid a record-breaking sum at the age of 18 to be a starter for a major league team. Matt’s story goes to the heart of the game, and shows that most of the players who get drafted struggle to make it through the minor leagues for the shot at making “The Big Show.” Matt never got that shot, but many of his teammates have gone on to make a major impact in the sport.
The steroids and bigotry claims turned out to be more hype than reality, which is what I suspected.
McCarthy recounts a story told him by catcher Alex Dvorsky. Alex was 23 at the time, which is really old for the Rookie-A Pioneer League. He was one of the team’s top hitters, finishing the year with a .321 average, a .453 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage. According to Matt, Dvorsky quoted manager Tom Kotchman as telling him, “You’re doin’ a good job and all, but we don’t need a catcher who hits singles. We need a catcher who drives in runs and hits the ball out of the park.”
Matt claims that teammate Heath Luther, a pitcher, told them this meant Dvorsky needed to use steroids. That’s quite a leap to “rampant” steroid use.
McCarthy was friends with Brian Barnett, the team’s third-string catcher. Matt never gives Barnett’s last name, just referring to him as “Brian” or by his nickname “Sunshine.” He writes that “Sunshine” told him, “I know of five white guys and one Dominican” on the team who are using steroids. Yet he also writes throughout the book that Barnett often exaggerates, so it’s hard to believe anything he says.
Again, hardly “rampant.”
As for the bigotry charge, it seems that a couple teammates from the Deep South had some predictably prejudicial attitudes towards the Latin players. And naturally, when there’s a language barrier in the clubhouse, the people who speak the same language tend to talk to each other, simply because it’s easier. But that’s not bigotry, which is defined by Dictionary.com as “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.” I really didn’t see much of that in the book, more like two radically different cultures clashing in the claustrophobic environment of the clubhouse. Other than one clubhouse fight between a white player and a Latin player, both sides pretty much seemed to tolerate each other’s presence.
The book will be controversial not because of the hype, but because it exposes the dismal and sometimes crude life style of a minor league ballplayer. In particular, it alleges embarrassing antics by future major leaguers, including Joe Saunders, Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo, Chris Bootcheck, and Bobby Jenks. I wouldn’t want to be Aybar when he takes the field in Anaheim this April.
As with Ball Four, the clubhouse humor is not what anyone who was there would want published for the world to read. I suspect Kotchman, who still manages the franchise (renamed the Orem Owlz), will feel betrayed by what’s in the book. How Kotch runs his operation is no secret to those hundreds of ballplayers who’ve come through Happy Valley since 2001, and to those of us trusted to get a glimpse of it now and then. But the public who see Kotch and the players only on the field may be quite offended by some of the passages.
Professional baseball is really all about entertainment. Customers pay to watch a live performance. Only it’s not theatre, it’s not a play, it’s a sport.
How much is the public entitled to know beyond what’s on the field? It’s the same question as how much is the public entitled to know about movie stars, politicians, and other public figures and celebrities. My personal opinion is that they’re not entitled to anything beyond the entertainment they paid to see, but as we all know there’s a huge industry out there that profits from exposés and gossip.
Does the public have any more right to know what Tom Kotchman does in the clubhouse to motivate his players than they do to know what Steven Spielberg might do to motivate his performers? How much do we have a right to know?
The book is as much about Kotchman as it is about McCarthy. I’ve written a lot over the years about Kotch’s success with developing young players. It’s no secret I admire the man for his success, but also his dedication to his family.
That said, since I don’t believe the public has a right to what goes on in private, I won’t comment on the accuracy of what’s in the book about Kotchman. That’s up to Kotch, if and when he chooses to address the book’s contents. I suspect that time will come when he reports to Orem in mid-June, although once the February 23 SI issue hits the stands, he’s likely to be approached by plenty of media types for comment.
How will Angels management react?
I doubt anyone will get fired or punished. But I suspect an organization that already tightly guards the sanctity of its clubhouse will restrict access even more.
McCarthy’s book isn’t the only tell-all about to hit the shelves. Joe Torre has a book about his years with the New York Yankees. According to MLB.com, the Yankees may include a “disparagement clause” in future player and manager contracts to prevent similar leaks in the future.
It’s questionable whether the Yankees could impose a contract clause on their players without the approval of the players’ union, but they could certainly impose it on their manager, coaches, clubhouse attendants, and front office staff.
And they could probably do it to their minor league players, who don’t belong to the union and play for every little.
That’s where I expect this to go. The Angels, and other organizations, will develop legal documents which they will require their minor leaguers to sign that are similar to a non-disclosure agreement.
There’s a certain irony to a player publishing this tell-all book. A couple years ago I had a conversation with a certain Angels staffer about his concern that the players and coaches trusted me too much, that I might see or hear something I shouldn’t. After pointing out that I’ve never violated that trust, I noted that technology is evolving to where we really never have privacy any more. We now have cell phones with built-in still cameras and camcorders. What’s to keep a fan from leaning over a rail, snapping an embarrassing photo of a player in the runway, and then posting it all over the Internet? In fact, there’s a photo making the rounds right now on fan sites of a certain Angels prospect with a hookah pipe in his mouth, apparently at a party. And several players have started their own blogs.
On page 201 of Odd Man Out, McCarthy writes that pitcher Jaime Steward wrote a complaint diatribe on FutureAngels.com. Someone printed it out and taped it to each locker in the clubhouse. Personally, I have no recollection of the episode, but then I’m middle-aged and increasingly forgetful. I can’t find it in my archives.
In any case, the running theme here isn’t who’s trusted with access, it’s the failure of the player to properly conduct himself. That’s where the blame lies.
And that’s really the soul of this book.
McCarthy spends much of his time in the company of teammates who would never amount to anything. They spend their free time drinking heavily, chasing girls, or drinking heavily while chasing girls.
Is it any wonder why they had no career?
Sure, talent has a lot to do with it. Bobby Jenks managed to survive his demons and find a big-league career as a closer with the White Sox.
When you don’t have talent, then you have to work hard if you really want that big-league career.
And as smart as McCarthy is, apparently he never figured that out.
He hangs out with the peripheral players, lets himself be talked into binge drinking, tries chewing tobacco after giving into peer pressure, and seems to do everything except take his career seriously.
Yet he and his buddies wonder why it is they don’t play regularly. They grouse that they’re not given their shot. It couldn’t possibly be their fault, could it?
As a general rule, if a player gets drafted (or signed as an undrafted free agent), he usually has at least one projectable tool. For McCarthy, he was a left-hander who managed to throw a 90 MPH fastball during a tryout. He also had a slider and changeup.
When he pitched, his mechanics were terribly inconsistent. He writes that he was so nervous on game day, he frequently had to sit on the toilet.
Legendary pitching coach Howie Gershberg, who at the time was suffering from the cancer that would take his life the next year, has a cameo in the book. He visits Provo and takes McCarthy to the bullpen. Howie quickly spots flaws in Matt’s mechanics, and tells him what to do to correct them. Yet apparently Matt never does.
The next spring, Casey Kotchman and Howie Kendrick quickly spot flaws in McCarthy’s pickoff moves. Matt tips when he’s going to home, or when he’s going to first. Again, no indication he ever fixed the flaws.
The bottom line is that McCarthy was his own worst enemy, and the same goes for his buddies.
Were the Angels complicit in their failure?
Yes and no. It could be argued that coaches might have failed to detect a flaw in time, or might have suggested a change in mechanics that injured a player.
For the most part, though, my personal observation is that they get it right. Tom Kotchman’s track record speaks for itself. Over two decades, he’s taken teams to the post-season almost every year, some with a lot of talent, some with very little.
McCarthy wrote that none of the players in the clubhouse cared about winning. He claimed they only cared about themselves, and secretly rooted for each other to fail, viewing their teammates as rivals for the next rung on the promotional ladder.
This is one of the problems I have with the book. McCarthy frequently makes gross generalizations that he couldn’t possibly prove. Did he survey each and every teammate? Or was that his opinion? Frankly, I think it was the attitude of the people he hung out with.
Sure, there may be individual instances of players who root against teammates, but my personal observation over eleven years of covering Angels minor league baseball is that it’s the exception, not the rule.
Matt’s perspective may also have suffered from the fact that he never played in the upper minors. That kind of attitude isn’t tolerated in Triple-A, one step away from the majors. The lower minors serve as a weeding-out process. If you have a lot of talent, the Angels will probably be more patient, but if you’re not a Bobby Jenks or Jose Arredondo you’re on very thin ice. Nobody owes you a career, and if you can’t prove you deserve one, odds are you’ll be out of the game pretty quick.
Had Matt concluded with a warning to future minor leaguers not to screw up like he did, the book would have concluded with a clearer focus. Instead, we’re left to conclude that six years later he’s moved on to his medical career and now wants to tell the world about what happens behind closed doors.
Register sportswriter Sam Miller interviewed McCarthy for his article. He quotes Matt as saying:
“I wanted to write an unvarnished book of what it’s like to go through this really intense experience,” he says. “There are some people who just don’t like being written about, no matter what the subject…. I just tried to write a book for people who wonder.”
Apparently McCarthy didn’t contact any of his former teammates to give them a head’s up about the book. Miller wrote that Heath Luther knew nothing about the accusations until the reporter contacted him. Heath said he’s 30 now, married with two children, his life on an entirely different career path. What happened six years ago has little relevance to who he is now. The same is probably true of Brian Barnett, Alex Dvorsky, Brett Cimorelli and others quoted at length. Their names will be on display for all the world to see in a few weeks, and an upheaval come into their lives due to immature behavior by immature people. They’re no longer immature (hopefully), so why hold them up for public derision not just in a book, but in a national sports publication?
I also worry about what this will do to the Orem Owlz operation. McCarthy quotes his teammates as having a lot of nasty (and, frankly, ignorant) things to say about the local Mormon population. Matt was lucky enough to be taken in by a host family who happened to be Mormon, and he figured out pretty quickly that his preconceptions were groundless. But I can imagine that Orem’s host parent program is going to have a lot of problems this year finding volunteers after the comments in the book circulate through the community.
McCarthy apparently hasn’t kept in contact with any of his teammates, so the pain caused by this book won’t affect him personally — unless someone files a lawsuit, which Luther suggests might happen. But as he embarks on his medical career, I have to wonder if Matt has considered what this book might do to the trust his patients will have in him. Doctor-patient confidentiality is as sacred as the confidentiality of the clubhouse. If McCarthy couldn’t be trusted to keep to himself the X-rated antics of his teammates, how will his patients know he can be trusted with embarrassing information?
Matt was right when he described his book as “unvarnished.” I can’t vouch for specific incidents, because I wasn’t there, but for the most part he’s got the look and feel of what life is like in the lower minors. If that interests you, then read the book. But that could have been accomplished without revealing information that will embarrass people who invested a lot of time in trying to help his career. Maybe that would have made the book a less interesting read. Maybe SI wouldn’t run excerpts. Maybe it wouldn’t sell at all.
Matt McCarthy pitched with the Provo Angels in 2002. His book “Odd Man Out” will be released by Penguin Group on February 19.
Back on January 12 I wrote that former Angels minor leaguer Matt McCarthy has written a book about his 2002 season with the Provo Angels.
Sam Miller of the Orange County Register has written a review of the book. Click Here to read Miller’s review.
I finished the book last night, and will have my own review shortly.
(FutureAngels.com makes a cameo on page 201 …)
According to the promotional material included with the review copy, it says that McCarthy will do a promotional book tour. He’s scheduled to be at the Barnes & Noble in Fullerton on March 4.
UPDATE January 30, 2009— The article is on the front page of the print edition of today’s Register.
Two interviews with top Angels pitching prospects are now online. You need Windows Media Player to listen.
Ryan Chaffee was selected in the third round, but didn’t pitch in 2008 due to a broken foot suffered earler in the year. Angels scout Tom Kotchman describes him as “a combination of John Lackey, El Duque and Mark Fidrych.” Ryan ranked sixth on the 2008 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list.
“It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
— Philosopher Yogi Berra
The Statesville Owls played their home opener on May 3, 1961, against the Lexington Indians. Statesville won handily, 11-6, but the game would turn out to be pivotal months later when post-season matchups were on the line.
Well, another baseball season was opened here last night — amid more confusion and errors than anything else.
With the bases loaded in the top of the fourth frame, Lexington Manager Jack Hale charged plate umpire Jim Centineo on a called strike when Larry Hatchell swung — and missed — on a wide pitch by Gail Thomas. THe pitch hit Hatchell.
It was the first rhubarb here this season — and set the stage for a night of questions on playing tactics.
At the start of the Owls’ half of the fourth, Hale told Centineo he was playing the game under protest. Hale’s point was that any one of five Statesville players — and he named them as Frank Cofone, Gail Thomas, John Couch, George Wilson or Peter Curtis — was ineligible. Hale’s protest was lodged in connection with the WCL player rule for veterans.
The rule allows a club to have two veterans and two limited service, one veteran and three limited or four limited in the “four-player class rule.”
At the start of the fifth inning, Wilson countered with a protest that any one of seven Lexington players — he did not name them — was ineligible under the same rule.
At the start of the ninth, Wilson withdrew his first protest and lodged another — that Lexington’s third pitcher, Bill Barr, was not listed as a pitcher on the lineup cards exchanged in pre-game ceremonies. Wilson charged that anyone eligible to pitch had to be listed.
Wilson said, since the Owls had won the game, that he did not plan to file the written protest to the league office, accompanied by the $25 protest fee.
But Hale was firm in his stand and planned to get his off to League President John H. Moss today.
The Owls got off to a 9-0 start, and as the days passed the protest was quickly forgotten.
Until May 30.
Lexington was due in town to play a doubleheader against the Owls on May 31. The day before, Statesville owner Fleete McCurdy received a telegram from Western Carolina League president John Henry Moss informing him that Lexington’s protest had been upheld, slicing a game off the Owls’ first-place lead.
Sportswriter Jerry Josey, who was also the Owls’ official scorer, wrote about the telegram in his “From the Press Box” column. He quoted the documentation he filed with the Howe News Bureau, which was the official statistician for the league.
Josey wrote in his column:
Hale’s protest was that “any one of five” was ineligible. None of the five, at the present time, was ineligible. To me, it’s the same situation of quoting a wrong rule on a protest play and then having the protest thrown out because the rule was not applicable to the situation.
If the bylaws and constitution of the Western Carolina League, we do not have a copy but the club has one, are to be obeyed in strictness, we venture this question to President Moss:
Why did you not rule on this matter in accordance with the Western Carolina League bylaws and constitution?
In the bylaws, article five, section three and paragraph b are these words: “The President shall render a decision on all protests within five days after the game has been played upon which the protest is made.
That game was played on May 3rd.
The protest was allowed via telegram on May 30th!
There are, the elementary school students will easily know, many more than five days within that span!
The next day, on May 31, Statesville played their twinbill against Lexington. As I wrote on December 20, there was a massive brawl on the field during Game #1. During the brawl, Owls’ ace pitcher Walter Darton fell back on the mound and tore the ligaments in his pitching elbow, effectively ending his career. A drunken fan ran on the field during the melee and took a swing at one of the umpires.
Needless to say, Statesville and Lexington didn’t like each other much at this point.
Statesville won the first half of the split-season schedule. In the playoffs, they were assigned to play Lexington in a best-of-three series — and lost, 2-0.
If the Owls’ May 3 win hadn’t been forfeited, they would have finished the year with an overall record of 64-38, tying them with Salisbury for the overall best record. Statesville might have then played Shelby, which had a slightly worse record than Lexington, in the first round.
Jerry Josey wrote after the season:
Statesville could have lost more than a game on that mixup on eligibility. It occurred for five games, but only one protest was filed. It could have been worse than it was, but we’ll not argue about it.
We said then and we’ll repeat that stand that the protest, as lodged, didn’t have a leg to stand on. But the ineligibility question of the other games did have, and it now appears that Statesville may have escaped rather lightly on the infraction of the WCL’s bylaws and constitution concerning the veteran player limit.
Yet another example of the chaos that typified that first year of Angels minor league baseball.
The Orange County Register published tonight its top 13 Angels prospects. (Why 13?! I’ve no idea.) It’s largely an amalgam of rankings by professional and fan sites, with more weight given to input from Baseball America and FutureAngels.com.
The Register list:
- Jordan Walden RHP
- Nick Adenhart RHP
- Hank Conger C
- Trevor Reckling LHP
- Peter Bourjos OF
- Will Smith LHP
- Mark Trumbo 1B
- Kevin Jepsen RHP
- Sean O’Sullivan RHP
- Anthony Ortega RHP
- Mason Tobin RHP
- Luis Jimenez 3B
- Ryan Chaffee RHP
Click Here to read the article. The author, Sam Miller, is a relatively new addition to the Register sports pages. His main assignment is as a beat writer covering south Orange County news, but his love of baseball led him to volunteer for part-time sports writing. Sam has a sabermetric bent but he’s open to learning more about the game beyond the calculator. And he does a good job challenging the preconceptions of the more established writers in their Angels Blog.
The last episode on January 14 interviews Salt Lake Bees broadcaster Steve Klauke. This week they interview Rancho Cucamonga Quakes broadcaster Jeff Levering.
Looking back through their archives, they seem to have quite a bit of Angels minor league coverage.
Mike Scioscia and Troy Glaus at the original Angels-Quakes crossover promotion on January 29, 2001. Yes, they were cold.
UPDATE January 19, 2009 — Click Here to watch video of the youth clinic. Windows Media Player and a broadband (cable modem, DSL) Internet connection required.
The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes held their seventh annual winter youth baseball clinic today at The Epicenter.
This event had its origins in the original affiliation between the Angels and Quakes, signed in the fall of 2000. The Quakes wanted the Angels to do some events in their ballpark, an exhibition game in particular. The Angels said no, but offered to have some workouts at The Epicenter before the players reported to spring training in Tempe.
That turned out to be a bit of a bust, as few of the players on the major league roster lived out in the Inland Empire. The rest didn’t want to make the drive out from Orange County. Troy Percival (Riverside) and Troy Glaus (Norco) showed up, but otherwise it was just local minor leaguers. The fans were disappointed and so was management.
In 2003, the promotion changed to a youth clinic held on a Saturday in January. Children between six and thirteen could participate for free. The instructors were usually a combination of minor league coaches and players. One constant has been former Angels pitcher Clyde Wright, who every year has taught pitching. In recent years, Angels bullpen catcher Steve Soliz has taught baserunning (go figure; but he’s good at it).
This year, the minor league players who taught included Efren Navarro, Ryan Mount, Anthony Norman and Andrew Romine.
Below are photos from the event. I’ll post some video when I have the time.
Angels bullpen catcher Steve Soliz lectures about baserunning.
2008 Quakes outfielder Anthony Norman and Angels scout Bo Hughes teach the basics of outfield defense.
2008 Kernels shortstop Andrew Romine hits a ground ball. Note the hand-drawn Angels logo on the ball.
Left to right, the four players who taught instruction today — Ryan Mount, Efren Navarro, Andrew Romine and Anthony Norman.
The group photo at the end of the event. Click on the photo to see it at a larger size.
Matt McCarthy pitched with the Provo Angels in 2002. His book “Odd Man Out” will be released by Penguin Group on February 19.
I came across a listing on the Barnes & Noble web site that former Provo Angels pitcher Matt McCarthy has a book coming out on February 19 titled Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit.
According to the summary, the book will reveal “inside-the-locker-room tales of teammates who would go on to stardom, including Bobby Jenks, Joe Saunders, and Ervin Santana.” It promises to expose “dirty truths of the minors: the Americans and Dominicans don’t speak to each other, the allure of steroids is ever present, and everyone puts his own stats ahead of the team’s success.”
I’ll withhold judgment until I read the book, but the claims that “Americans and Dominicans don’t speak to each other” and “everyone puts his own stats ahead of the team’s success” simply aren’t true, from my eleven years of observation.
Original future Angel Glade Cookus passed away on December 15 in Visalia.
Jack Hiatt just called to inform me that original future Angel Glade Cookus passed away in Visalia on December 15. Cookus was 66.
Glade was one of the “first four” Angels prospects sent to Statesville in April 1961. The other three were Hiatt, Dick Simpson and George Conrad. All were signed out of the Los Angeles area.
Cookus was in the lineup for the Owls’ first game of the 1961 season, playing shortstop. He hit only .264 that year and left baseball the next spring.
I spoke with Glade last April about our project to reunite the surviving Statesville Owls. He said he was too ill but did ask that I put him in touch with Jack Hiatt. Jack called him and spent about 90 minutes with him. Jack then called me and said that Glade had cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. It didn’t look good, but we were able to fulfill Glade’s one humble wish.
Of the “first four,” we believe that only Jack and Dick Simpson survive. George Conrad appears to have passed away in Washington state about ten years ago.
Glade’s passing reminds us of the urgency to find his teammates while there’s still time to reunite. I found Walter Darton last week, and last night found Alan Flitcraft in Arizona. More on Alan later. But the news about Glade saddens the joy in finding two more of the original future Angels.
It’s an annual feature on FutureAngels.com to record a “State of the Farm” interview with the Angels’ director of player development.
This year I recorded interviews with both farm director Abe Flores and scouting director Eddie Bane. Each interview runs about 30 minutes.
You need Windows Media Player to listen.
One subject discussed with both directors is the “big bat” fixation on fan boards and in the media. Both are asked about the common allegations made so you get to hear their responses.