Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Faulty Memories

The story of Matt McCarthy and his only kinda-sorta-not really accurate memoir of a season in the minor leagues has been making the rounds in the last few days. Both Neyer and Shysterball have covered it, though the story has sadly tucked itself back behind the New York Times' subscription-only wall. The upshot, according to the NYT, is "statistics from that season, transaction listings and interviews with his former teammates indicate that many portions of the book are incorrect, embellished or impossible . . . Several times in the book, which he devotes mostly to the antics of libidinous teammates and his manic manager, Tom Kotchman, McCarthy directly quotes people stating incorrect facts about their own lives and tells detailed (and mostly unflattering) stories about teammates who were in fact not on his team at the time. The book’s more outrageous scenes could not be independently corroborated or disproved; several teammates who were present said in interviews that they were exaggerated or simply untrue."

Baseball memoirs, with the exception of the Jim Bouton classic Ball Four have tended to whitewash the game's seedier aspects, and focused on inspirational coaching and great moments, rather than on the day-to-day interactions between overgrown adolescents. And having spent time in a minor league clubhouse, The Common Man is certain that some of the baudiness that McCarthy describes went on during his time with the team. The atmosphere tends to be crass and sophomoric, and there are a lot of idiots.

That said, it's important to remember with a minor league memoir, that the players and people being profiled and portrayed are not celebrities. Most of them played a couple years in the minors before washing out. Only five of the forty-four players who compiled statistics for the Provo Angels that season have made it to the major leagues. And to rake them (and the manager, who seems to be in the same boat) over the coals seven years later for things they may or may not have said or done, when there is no evidence to back up those claims is distasteful and unacceptable to The Common Man.

And, as former pitcher Blake Allen points out in the NYT article, there is a chance (albeit a slight one) that his life will be unduly affected by the memoir and the publicity that surrounds it. Allen complains that, in his attempts to find a job, he doesn't want potential employees to read that "he admitted to faking his injury so he could 'just sit back and cash the checks,' [a story that] appeared in the Sports Illustrated excerpt." Allen denies he ever said or did that, and doesn't want potential employers (who may very well read SI) getting the wrong impression of his work ethic and his honesty in the workplace. And given that Allen has no memoir of his own to sell, the options available to him to combat McCarthy's claims are limited (options that may be available to wealthy players in the majors who have a great deal of visibility and exposure to get up on a soapbox).

McCarthy's book, as it's been described, is suspicious. Its inaccuracies and salaciousness (and the inaccuracy of its most salacious claims) call the entire project into question and suggests that he's done his teammates an injustice. It attacks defenseless men who don't have the wherewithall to fight back. It feels slimy and ugly. Almost as ugly as McCarthy's 6.92 career ERA.

1 comment:

Stephen C. Smith said...

The NYT article seems to be publicly available at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/03/sports/baseball/03book.html

I've been covering the Odd Man Out controversy since I found out in late January the book was coming out. You can read all my blog posts (which includes links to many, many other articles on the book) at:

http://comment.mlblogs.com/search?tag=Odd%20Man%20Out&blog_id=980