Any boy who has ever played Little League dreams of making it to the majors – the riches, the fame, the chance to spend our working days playing a game. But what most of us fail to recognize is that every player has to at least spend some time slumming it in the minors, where excruciating bus rides and dirt-cheap motels are the least of your worries. In Odd Man Out, Matt McCarthy picks up where Bull Durham left off, offering an insider’s account of a year in the life of a minor league ball player.
What makes this book fascinating is that McCarthy isn’t your ordinary minor leaguer. Just before signing a $1,000 contract with the Anaheim Angels after being drafted in the twenty-six round of the 2002 Amateur Draft, he graduated with a degree in molecular biophysics from Yale. His story starts at the end of his college season and takes us through everything that happened during his year in Provo, Utah, which includes hilarious stories about future Major Leaguers Bobby Jenks (drunk), Joe Saunders (the bonus baby) and Eric Aybar and Albert Callaspo (two guys who spent the majority of the season pretending to be gay).
It wasn’t all fun and gay jokes, though. McCarthy describes the pressure to use steroids and amphetamines, the constant fear of being the next player to receive a pink slip, and especially, the jealousy in the clubhouse. We grow up hearing those “team first” clichés, but McCarthy admits to occasionally rooting for his teammates to fail so that he could prosper. Winning, apparently, isn’t nearly as important as advancing in the minors.
Perhaps the most disturbing theme in Odd Man Out is the ongoing feud between the American players and the Latin-Americans. In a sport that spends every summer celebrating Jackie Robinson and all that he did for athletes of color, McCarthy suggests that baseball is still segregated. The Americans and Latin-Americans don’t eat, shower or hang out with each other. In fact, they barely acknowledge one and other. It’s a lot like the beginning of Remember the Titans.
Unfortunately, unlike in the movies, there isn’t a happy ending for most minor league ball players. The majority, McCarthy explains, end up washing out within a few years just as he did. The difference, of course, is that he went on to med school while many had nothing else going for them. It may have been inadvertent, but I think the most important message McCarthy offers aspiring athletes is: have a backup plan. It doesn’t take a Yalie to recognize the statistical improbability of making it to the majors.
Overall, Odd Man Out paints an entertaining, exhausting and occasionally sad picture of minor league baseball. For lifelong baseball fans, especially those that live in a minor league market (I grew up minutes from New Haven and now live minutes from Pawtucket) this book will make you appreciate the guys that do make it a little more. It might also make you stop heckling that barely out-of-high school kid who keeps giving up long balls in Lowell Spinners’ games. Chances are baseball is all he’s got.