Odd Man Out, former Angels semi-prospect-turned-Harvard-med-school graduate Matt McCarthy’s book, was mentioned here last month; I thought the Sports Illustrated excerpt was vivid, frank, and pretty much fantastic. Well, according to the New York Times’ Benjamin Hill and Alan Schwartz, it was fantastic in the other sense:
…statistics from that season, transaction listings and interviews with his former teammates indicate that many portions of the book are incorrect, embellished or impossible. It comes during a difficult period for the publishing industry, which has recently had three major memoirs ” James Frey™s infamous œA Million Little Pieces and the recollections of a Holocaust survivor and of an inner-city foster child ” exposed as mostly fabricated. The authors of those books have acknowledged their fraud.
When presented with evidence of his book™s wide-ranging errors and misquotations in an interview Monday morning, McCarthy said that he stood by the contents of œOdd Man Out. He said the book, which was published last month by Viking Press and was ranked No. 29 on the most recent New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, was drawn from detailed journals he kept during his year in the Angels™ minor league system. He declined to show how those journals corroborated his stories.
You’ll have to read the story for a total rundown, including a separate three-screen point-by-point list of the errors. But here’s one highlight:
In early July, while the broadcaster Larry King was in the stadium as the team™s special guest, the young infielder Matt Brown is depicted as being punched in the groin by King™s 8-year-old son, and then profanely threatening to kill the child. Brown is also shown chugging beers while under age and talking with McCarthy on a long mid-July bus ride to Medicine Hat, Alberta. But Brown did not report to Provo until July 30, according to Major League Baseball™s official transaction log.
Tony Reagins, now the Angels GM, then its director of player development, disputes several details in the book, while a lawyer for McCarthy’s former manager Tom Kotchmann sent publisher Viking Penguin a 13-page letter prior to its publication.
Is this a James Frey deal? Probably not, but clearly McCarthy’s note-taking ability is not what he thought it was, or – and this just has to be assumed until he can prove otherwise – those journals simply don’t exist. Memories are unreliable, and reconstructing dialogue and scene (and putting thoughts in people’s head) for the sake of literary effect while still producing actual non-fiction is a tricky game indeed.
But if we’ll never know for sure whether Reagins shed real tears the day he cut McCarthy loose (it’s basically “he said/he said”), or if Brown was simply confused with another player, there are still enough basic errors to require a new edition, if not retractions or apologies. And you would think that both McCarthy and his publisher would have learned from Frey et. al (or any of the steroids-in-baseball stories for that matter) that stonewalling as the first position almost never lasts with further scrutiny.
But most of all, I would think this situation is a problem not because it reflects badly on McCarthy as a writer, but because “hey, isn’t that the doctor who wrote that sloppy, hyperbolic baseball book” is something that you want to hear on Scrubs, not the floor of New York Presbyterian/Columbia. One might prefer the Beat the Reaper guy.