“Odd Man Out”: Huffington Post Drops the Ball

Blogger Jon Greenberg has posted a review of Odd Man Out on the Huffington Post. Click Here to read Mr. Greenberg’s review.

Greenberg chooses to defend Matt McCarthy, downplaying the inaccuracies as “sloppy,” “mundane” and “trivial.”

He’s entitled to his opinion, although the overwhelming evidence suggested by those (such as me) who have done their homework is that the word “fabricated” better describes several passages.

Greenberg appears to be guilty of his own sloppiness. He writes:

The anger and accusations have come from several fronts. A relentless Angels blogger engrossed with the team’s minor league system has hammered the book for a month, admittedly before he even read it.

Apparently I’m the “relentless” blogger in question. But Greenberg is flat wrong when he says that “admittedly” I have not read it.

Those of you who are FutureAngels.com readers know that I received an advanced copy in January and posted a review on January 30. That was more than two weeks before the Sports Illustrated issue hit the magazine racks with the Odd Man Out excerpt, and more than three weeks before the book itself went on the bookshelves.

In fact, to my knowledge, the only review to appear in print before mine was the Orange County Register review by Sam Miller on January 29.

I’ll also note that in mid-January McCarthy’s publisher promised me an interview with Matt, but asked to postpone it until the week before the book’s release in late February. After I posted my review on January 30, I never heard from the publicist again about the interview. I said I wanted to interview McCarthy with a recorder on the line so all of you could hear for yourself his answers in his own voice, so there would be no disputing what either of us said. I asked her to forward an e-mail from me to Matt so I could contact him directly. She said she would; if she did, Matt did not respond.

Strictly my speculation, but my guess is that once they saw my review, and Sam Miller’s, they knew people were out there fact-checking and the jig was up. McCarthy well knows I was around Provo in 2002 — which is why there are plenty photos of him in the FutureAngels.com Photo Gallery — so perhaps he decided to duck an interview with me, knowing I’d ask hard questions about events in the book I knew didn’t reconcile.

Greenberg buys into McCarthy’s claim that any errors in the book are merely chronological slip-ups.

But back on March 6, I posted this article about a game at Ogden which clearly showed one incident described in the book was more than a chronological slip-up.

In summary, McCarthy claimed that manager Tom Kotchman ordered pitcher Hector Astacio to deliberately throw at an Ogden batter after Provo shortstop Erick Aybar was twice hit by pitches. Right away, I thought that didn’t sound right — (1) because I’ve heard Kotchman many times tell his players the best way to retaliate is to win the game, and (2) it’s against Angels policy to throw at other teams’ batters because beanball wars can result in an injury.

Looking into the facts, I found that Aybar had not been hit by a pitch at all in the game. Neither had any Provo batter. I posted the box score in that blog so you could see for yourself.

McCarthy claims he heard Kotchman order Astacio to throw at the Ogden batter. But that also doesn’t ring true. McCarthy was the starting pitcher the night before; the usual routine for a starter is that he spends the next game in the stands behind home plate charting batters or working a radar gun or just chilling out. If McCarthy was in the stands, not the visitor’s dugout, then he couldn’t have possibly heard Kotchman order Astacio to throw at an Ogden batter.

The next inconsistency has to do with McCarthy’s claim that Kotchman pulled Astacio from the game when Hector refused to throw at the batter. Well, look at the box score and you see that Astacio was getting lit up — he’d already given up five runs in four innings. This game was in the second week of the season, when Rookie-A managers usually have their starters on a relatively low pitch count that works out to three or four innings. So it looks to me like Astacio was done.

In any case, McCarthy claims he went into the visitors clubhouse to use the bathroom and found a distraught Astacio. McCarthy claims he consoled Astacio.

Well, again, this doesn’t make much sense to me. In Ogden, the visitors clubhouse is accessed through a door in the left-center field fence. The visitors are in the first-base dugout. So for a player to use the bathroom, he’d have to run all the way across the field between innings. Presumably Kotchman and pitching coach Kernan Ronan would have noticed a pitcher on his off-day sprinting across the field.

If McCarthy was charting behind home plate, though, he would have been in civilian attire and easily could have used the bathroom on the concourse beneath the stands, which would have been much closer. Having been to Ogden many times myself, I know that it’s possible to access the clubhouse by walking up the third base concourse into the front office, then hang a right and pass through a door into the clubhouse. But that’s a long way to go for a pee, especially when a bathroom was right below you on the concourse.

Greenberg apparently doesn’t see any harm in McCarthy embellishing his stories, but I can see plenty of harm in this one tale. For openers, it makes Kotch look like a head hunter. What if an Orem pitcher this year uncorks a wild pitch and accidentally hits a batter? The opponent’s manager may think Kotch ordered a purpose pitch and may order retaliation. Such retaliation often comes at the expense of a team’s top hitter. Do we want to see an Angels’ top prospect break a hand or worse because McCarthy chose to embellish? What if an umpire tosses an Orem pitcher and Kotchman because he thinks a wild pitch was a purpose pitch? Not to mention that Kotchman could get suspended and fined by the league for ordering such a pitch.

The review in today’s Los Angeles Times quotes Howie Kendrick as saying that McCarthy’s claim he went to dinner with Kendrick and Casey Kotchman was also false. Reviewer David Davis wrote, “[McCarthy] says he was inspired to write Odd Man Out after former colleagues began making contributions on the field. Guys like pitcher Joe Saunders and second baseman Howie Kendrick, who now play key roles for the big-league team in Anaheim.”

Given that McCarthy apparently made up the spring training friendship with Howie Kendrick, and the many denials by other players mentioned in the book who are now in the big leagues, I have to wonder if McCarthy simply used their names to embellish the book to make it more attractive to a potential publisher.

Alan Schwarz, The New York Times sportwriter who wrote the authoritative dissection of McCarthy’s claims, replied yesterday on BronxBanterBlog.com to McCarthy’s claim that Schwarz refused to accept McCarthy’s “point-by-point rebuttal” of the inaccuracies Schwarz questioned. Schwarz said that McCarthy’s claim is “not only preposterous but adds to his growing list of outright falsehoods.” Schwarz has an audio recording of his conversation with McCarthy which he offers to “make available to any interested party” to prove McCarthy is lying. I’ve left a message to take him up on the offer, although I suspect he wrote that in anger and the Times lawyers will stop him.

Finally, on a personal note … As to Greenberg’s claim that I’ve been “relentless” in hammering the book — guilty as charged.

The book is untrue. I don’t like lies. This happens to be a subject about which I’m very knowledgeable, so I can speak with some authority as to the truthfulness of the book.

McCarthy now says he should have used a fact-checker. One reason I wanted to talk to Matt before publication was to offer to fact-check the manuscript for him if there was going to be a revision. I knew right away when I read it that it had a lot of mistakes — some of which were trivial, but others that would be damaging to the reputations of many people. Tom Kotchman can take care of himself, but what about the many guys named in the book who long ago left baseball and now work in blue-collar jobs while trying to feed a family and pay a mortgage? McCarthy alleges underage drinking, attempts to seduce underage girls, and players offering to peddle illegal druges. These are all crimes. The statute of limitations expired long ago, but nonetheless both employers and spouses are going to question if the player actually engaged in these illegal behaviors.

If Greenberg doesn’t like me standing up for the truth and for what’s right … too bad.

The least he can do is post a correction admitting his accusation that I hadn’t read the book was false. It would be even better if he’d post where he got that lie from.


UPDATE March 13, 2009 11:00 PDT — I posted a comment at the end of Mr. Greenberg’s blog entry asking him to retract his allegation that I haven’t read the book yet criticize it anyway. That comment was deleted within a half-hour after I posted it. Read into that what you will.

6 Comments

Stephen, in a post on January 12th, you said:

“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.”

http://futureangels.mlblogs.com/archives/2009/01/odd_man_out.html

I’m assuming that’s what Greenberg is referring to.

I’m aware that I wrote that, but it certainly isn’t “relentlessly” “hammering” the book. As you quoted, I said I would withhold judgment until reading the book. And it was very clear that I read the book as soon as I got it from the publisher two weeks later. Mr. Greenberg’s statement was clearly written to make it look like I’ve been criticizing the book without reading it.

Not to mention totally failing to mention all the evidence documented by me and others proving events in the book didn’t happen.

I’ll also note that I’ve spoken with several people named in the book who don’t want to go public. There are far more incidents described in the book that I’m told by the named individuals didn’t happen, but I wasn’t authorized to quote them by name.

If/when there’s a lawsuit, my guess is these individuals may give depositions and then it’ll be public record that lots more in this book is untrue.

It’s a shame McCarthy chose to go this road. The life of a minor league player is one that should be told. But it should be told truthfully, not making up tales just to make the book more appealing to a publisher.

Mr. Smith, Jon Greenberg here. I never saw the Huffpost comment, or i would’ve commented, nor do i have the power to erase (nor am i, for that matter, a blogger. If you think I erased it because I’m too scared of your complaints, you’re wrong). I was absolutely referring to the Jan. 12 posting where you started ripping the book before reading it. I was also (later) referring to blogs like deadspin that started ripping it without reading it.

My whole point in writing (i made an interview request before the times brouhaha started, almost 3 weeks) to talk about writing a book from memory, hence the term “memoir” about a universal subject, like growing up, getting your first job, dealing with life, through the prism of baseball.

To be honest, most of these details that are being questioned, and i have no doubts he made errors reconsolidating memories, trying to formalize other ones, and just screwing up people and places. But I think it’s been rather lazy of writers (and not really yourself here) to say, well, since Howie Kendrick and Bobby Jenks say they don’t remember some washout they met for a week six years, that they’re right and he’s wrong. Memories are a very tricky thing.

Mostly, I thought the book was an interesting and fun read. I am a writer and I love to read about sports, especially from behind the scenes. And since most books about minor league baseball are crap, I liked this guy’s take on HIS experience.

I read it with as skeptical eye, as far as conversations, quotes, etc., but when you’re reading a memoir, you have to suspend a little disbelief, as it’s not journalism.

i haven’t read alan schwarz’s comments, and he’s a great reporter so i can’t wave off what he said, but i talked to matt for a while and i think the point-by-point rebuttal is a tad misunderstood. i think mostly he’s trying to say these mistakes weren’t malicious (even the head-hunting, which wasn’t really head-hunting, by definition).

anyway, that’s my schpiel off the top of my head.

jon

Jon, thank you for your response.

Addressing your points:

(1) I did not say you erased my comment. I did write, “Read into that what you will.” I searched and searched for an e-mail address to contact you privately, but could not find one. Perhaps that’s Huffington Post policy, but in any case the options for reaching you were limited. An e-mail address would have helped avoid any misunderstanding.

(2) You wrote that I “started ripping the book before reading it” on January 12. Word for word, here’s what I wrote:

*****

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.

*****

That’s a “rip”?! Must be a new definition of “rip” I’ve never read before.

I specifically said I would withhold judgment until I read the book, but I also said that in my eleven years of observation I had not seen the claims that were in the P.R. blurb. That’s a statement of fact, my personal observation, not a “rip.”

So I still believe your statement about me was untrue, and I would appreciate a retraction of that statement in your article.

(3) Regarding Kendrick and Jenks not remembering McCarthy … I can’t speak to Jenks, but as for Kendrick I’m aware of certain facts I’ve been told off the record that support the allegation his spring 2003 friendship with Kendrick is fabricated. It’s up to those individuals with that information to come forward if they wish. I will point out that on page 276, the scene where McCarthy says he went to dine with Kendrick and Casey Kotchman, McCarthy writes that Kendrick wiped honey mustard off his mustache. The problem with that is Howie didn’t have a mustache at that time. I have photographic evidence of it, as I’ve been shooting photos of these players all through their careers. Kendrick himself told the L.A. Times he and Casey didn’t know each other at that point. Along with what I’ve been told off the record, it further supports the argument that this scene was fabricated.

And as I’ve thoroughly documented, the Astacio incident at Odgen appears to have also been fabricated.

(4) As for the “point-by-point rebuttal,” McCarthy has made that claims in many interviews — print, TV, radio. That’s been his mantra ever since the NYT exposé came out — he offered to prove his writings were true, but Schwarz refused to see the evidence. Schwarz says he has an audio recording that proves McCarthy is lying, and offered to make it available “to any interested party.” I’ve contacted Schwarz to see if the offer is still valid, although frankly I suspect the NYT’s lawyers will nix that idea.

(5) I fully understand the wish for this book to be true. Having followed the Angels’ minor leagues since the mid-1990s, I really wanted it to be true. Tom Kotchman’s story is a story that needs to be told. But the truth is that several significant incidents in the book appear to be fabricated, which calls into question the veracity of the entire work.

I’m working on my own book about the history of the Angels’ minor leagues. Everything in that book will be verifiable; I’m a big believer in footnotes to show sources. I understand that McCarthy’s book was a “memoir,” a word that originates from the French word for “memory,” and that seems to be McCarthy’s defense now — this is how he remembers it.

If this goes to court, I suspect that will be his defense. But that doesn’t excuse writing stuff that alleges crimes, drug use, and other incidents that could damage careers, reputations and marriages. (I’m not exaggerating — I’ve had contacts from several people in the book worried about just that.) If an author is going to write a “tell all,” he’d better have his facts documented, because otherwise he’s asking for a lot of trouble.

Thanks again for your response.

No sweat. You have a good point about referring to you hammering the book before it came out. I haven’t gone back and checked all your posts you made before you read the book, a couple, i remember, but I remembered feeling like it was a pre-emptive hit. so i acknowledge being slightly sloppy in my writing of your writing, in that you did the hammering after you read it (but again, i’m writing this without my factchecker).

as for the huffpost, you have to register to post comments, so maybe it has to be verified. i’ll link your post to mine when i have time, as conversation is always interesting.

as for the so-called controversial details that some remember differently, there was no malicious intent here, and McCarthy makes pains to identify each character as someone with different layers, pointing out the good and the bad, including himself.

i, for one, thought he painted kotchman as very real, and in truth, was pretty complimentary on the important facets of his personality, i.e., he was a caring, nurturing teacher who tried to instill the proper fundamentals into his players. yes, he showed his more private, “clubhouse” persona, but anyone who’s covered baseball, or for that matter, been around men in general, knows this is often the case. mccarthy lavishes praise on kotchman in the book and in interviews, which makes me wonder how closely people read this book.

anyways, you obviously have a vested interest in the organization (i do not), so you’re take and mine do, and should, skew quite a bit. i would only tell people who haven’t read the book, that it’s a good read, and that mccarthy’s story is a valid one.

that’s all,
jon

Jon, thanks again for your response.

I’m sure neither of us wants to endlessly flagellate this deceased equine, so I’ll make a couple more points and you may have the last word if you wish.

(1) To read everything I’ve written on “Odd Man Out,” use this link:

http://comment.mlblogs.com/search?tag=odd%20man%20out&blog_id=980

… Or click “Odd Man Out” on the Tags line below any entry, and it will give you all the posts. The oldest is at the bottom; you’ll see that all I posted before the review was the initial report of the book’s publication, followed by a reference to the Orange County Register’s review which was posted online as I was writing my review.

(2) Do I have a “vested interest in the organization”? Hmmm. Well, I suppose you could argue that. I don’t work for them, they don’t pay me a penny, and neither do their minor league affiliates. They grant me access to the minor league camp, which is the only facility under their control, but then anyone can walk into the complex for free and do what I do. The only money I make off this is selling photos of the players, 90%+ of which are bought by their parents and loved ones, but I typically lose a couple thousand dollars a year doing this as a glorified hobby.

I will say this … McCarthy has a big publishing company’s P.R. machine behind him to protect the book. Tom Kotchman can take care of himself, but all the guys named in the book who were accused of committing crimes have to fend for themselves. Most of them went back to obscure lives in blue-collar jobs. Until the NYT came along, I was pretty much the only one standing up to say there were problems with the book. Vested interest or not, I thought it was the right thing to do, and I still do.

(3) As for people being different in private than in public … Well, that’s true of every living being on Planet Earth. That doesn’t mean the controversial passages are true. Nor does it mean that everyone puts shields up when I walk by. The feedback I’ve had from the front office is that they worry I’ll see things I shouldn’t because everyone is used to me being around. Either way, I’m not interested in exposing what should be left private. I knew about the Rally (insert your euphemism). Is Tom Kotchman colorful? Absolutely. I think he’s brilliant at what he does. But why not just tell what really happened instead of embellishing?

(4) As for “no malicious intent” … Strictly my speculation based on what I’ve read so far, but in my opinion I think what happened is that McCarthy wrote an initial draft that was probably pretty close to accurate. He took it to a friend who’s a writer at SI. He was told to write less about his own daily activities and write more tell-all stories to make it more commercially attractive.

That’s where I think the problems began. Who embellished, who fabricated, is yet to be told. He may have chosen to layer into the book close encounters with future major leaguers, when those encounters may not have actually happened, to make the book more appealing.

Before the exposé, McCarthy said the book was based on his “detailed journals.” When asked by the NYT to present the detailed journals to resolve the discrepancies, he declined.

He’s said that he’s in touch with former teammates who support the book. When asked to name them, he declined.

Viking says they rely on their authors to vet their own books, so it doesn’t appear any independent fact-checking occurred.

So we the public wait to see what evidence exists to support the controversial parts of the book. There’s a big difference between sloppiness and fabrication. If even one scene in the book was fabricated, then it puts a big question mark over the entire work. Those of us who would spend our money to buy this book have the right to know that.

And you may have the last word.

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