"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice


“It bothers me to have been careless on some of these small details, especially when I was painstaking about most others…I trusted my notes and my memory on some smaller details, and there were obviously a few instances in which I didn’t have things quite right. That’s my fault, and I’ll take the blame…But if people are waiting for me to break down and confess that I made everything up, it’s not going to happen.”
Matt McCarthy, USA Today

Mr. McCarthy has asserted that the Times has “crafted a chronology that simply doesn’t exist.” We did not create any chronology. The chronology already existed and we merely followed the chronology of the season that Mr. McCarthy claimed to be writing about. Obviously, some errors are endemic to publishing. No one understands that more than a daily newspaper such as ours. Rather, what we wrote about were events and quotations attributed to real people that could not possibly have taken place as Mr. McCarthy asserts. Given that many people to whom those events and quotes are ascribed are claiming that they didn’t happen, the examples that we found to be provably false lend credence to those concerns.

Alan Schwarz, New York Times

Last week, Benjamin Hill and Alan Schwarz wrote an article in the New York Times about Matt McCarthy’s recent memoir, Odd Man Out. The piece pointed out a series of factual errors made by McCarthy while calling into question the authenticy of the book.  A second article lists the errors that the Times reporters found.

I read Odd Man Out and enjoyed it.  I also interviewed McCarthy for this site.  Needless to say, I was disturbed when I read the two articles in the Times.  

If he was guilty of embellishing the truth or of flat-out lying, I reasoned, McCarthy deserved condemnation. That said, I was struck by how forcefully the Times went after McCarthy.  I thought it was a stretch on their part to associate McCarthy with James Frey, infamous for his memoir fraud in A Million Little Pieces.  Many of errors that were listed seemed innocuous to me, and suggested sloppiness on the part of McCarthy and Viking, his publisher.  I didn’t find anything malicious behind it.  On the other hand, the sheer amount of mistakes the Times brought to light was troubling.  They had McCarthy placing people in places where they were not, having conversations that could not have occured, at least not as how they have been presented in the book.  

I don’t think McCarthy was trying to be lurid necessarily, but the accumulation of so many errors led me to question his authority as a writer.  I was left wondering, “What was really true?” Whether McCarthy was being naive or arrogant, I can’t say.  But his carelessness, as reported by the Times, did not reflect well on either him or the book. 

As a writer, my greatest concern is how this could potentially make things more difficult on the rest of us, simply by creating a standard of excellence that can’t be met without stretching the truth.

McCarthy toured the country promoting the book last week.   He first responded to the Times’ articles in this piece for the USA Today.   Here is one TV interview McCarthy did later in the week, and another.

I conducted a second Q&A with McCarthy via e-mail this week, and I also spoke to Alan Schwarz.  McCarthy has been amiable and professional with me.  I know other journalists in the industry who think highly of him.  I also know he’s in the business of promoting his book.  I’ve known Schwarz for several years and think he is a first-class reporter, as well as an exceedingly ethical and even-handed journalist. 

I will leave it to you to decide what to make of this fine mess.

BB: Your book has achieved a good deal of early success, but that was marred last week by the New York Times article which reported many inaccuracies in your story.

MM: I stand by the contents of Odd Man Out. The journals I kept were very specific and extremely detailed with regards to dialogue. I was a ballplayer keeping a journal, not David Halberstam, and so I made several mistakes in chronology. But I can say this with absolute certainty: not a single one of them changes the tone or meaning of my story, or makes me doubt the truth of the experience as I wrote it down in the book. The lies James Frey and Herman Rosenblat told were fundamental to and pervasive in their narratives – to compare that with a mix-up here and there in dates in Odd Man Out, which has no true effect on the book’s nature, is at best grossly unfair and at worst sensationalistic on the part of a newspaper.

BB: So do you believe this is an unfair attack on the part of the Times?

MM: It appears to me that Benjamin Hill and Alan Schwarz in the New York Times story are writing a partisan article and acting as advocates for Tom Kotchman et al., and using their lawyer’s letter as gospel truth and accepting their statements as fact. I find it interesting that Benjamin Hill and Alan Schwartz have constructed a detailed chronology of dates, which is 90% of their “error’ argument, when in Odd Man Out I do not use dates. I use only general references (a day later, two weeks earlier). Many of their claims to so called “errors” in the book have been created because Hill and Schwarz assign dates to events that I did not assign dates to. Each of the players and former players quoted in the New York Times piece are naturally nit-picking at minor details since they are not represented in a positive light. They are not going after the fundamental truths in Odd Man Out.

BB: I understand that you didn’t use dates, but since you are writing about a specific season it is easy enough to re-construct one. Why do you think the Times would want to pick on you?

MM: I don’t know if I should be the one to speculate about why the Times wrote their article. But I encourage your readers to check out my book and read the Times article and decide for themselves. I’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response from people who have read both.

BB: You mentioned that you were a ball player keeping journals and not David Halberstam. Still, you were writing a book for publication, and I’m sure that Halberstam, too, needed someone to double-check his reporting at times… Can you understand how people might feel that if the facts that can be checked don’t check out how it throws the rest of the material into doubt, lending credence to the criticisms by Kotchman, etc?

MM: My book contains tens of thousands of details that I recounted from journals I kept. For example, from pages 102-104 I recount my performance against the Ogden Raptors inning by inning (and pitch by pitch in some cases) and it was all accurate down to the type of pitch I was throwing. At one point I write that Manuel Melo popped out to end the inning when it turns out someone else popped out to end the inning. In no way does this oversight change anything material about the book.

BB: Based on the kinds of errors you admit to, why should readers not question the veracity of the remainder of the book?

MM: I have acknowledged several errors related to box scores and chronology. Not a single one of them changes the tone or meaning of my story.

BB: The Times pointed out dozens of errors in their piece. Were they in fact correct on the amount of errors?

MM: No. Numerous situations were taken out of context. Is it an error for me to write “Breslow had something like 9 scoreless innings” when in fact he had 12 scoreless innings? They also consider it an error for me to quote Jon Steitz as saying, “I’ve pitched in 11 games and lost all of them,” despite the fact that he went 0-11 that season. They say it’s an error for me to say Joe Saunders “made batters look silly” because he gave up four runs in a game even though batters were swinging at balls over their heads and in the dirt.

BB: I think it is understandable that you could make some of these errors. However, the more puzzling ones include the incident on Larry King night where a person is placed at a scene where, as the Times claims, he was not. Was the Times correct in pointing out this mistake? And if so, do you see how that could effectively undermine your credibility as an author?

MM: Regarding Larry King Night: I said that King’s kid went around punching a bunch of my teammates in the groin and I mistakenly included Matt Brown in this list. I regret including him in the list, but it doesn’t change the fact that King’s kids were in the clubhouse before the game wreaking havoc on our midsections.

BB: I thought the suggestion that your book was like A Million Little Pieces was a stretch. Still, while a fraud, Fray was writing about himself, while you are being accused of hurting other people’s reputations. Do you regret any misleading characterizations that were the result of an error on your part?

MM: No. This book wasn’t about the box scores. It was about brining people closer to the game and I’ve received countless emails from fans who now feel closer to the game. It’s a great feeling.

BB: Have you had any direct contact with the authors of the Times piece since it appeared?

MM: No. I offered to correct the errors they have attributed to me and the errors that appear in their own article, but they said it wasn’t necessary…

BB: Who at the Times did you contact to correct the errors? Did they give any reason why it wasn’t necessary?

MM: I created a point by point rebuttal and gave it to the head of publicity at Viking who was in frequent contact with the Times authors. She offered them my rebuttal but they said they were going ahead with their story and didn’t need my side.

BB: How did the writing process work with your publisher?

MM: I worked closely with my editor on the organization and the overall tone and message of the book and it went through copy-editing and was vetted by legal.

BB: Looking back on it now, would you have used a fact-checker? Or do you feel that the mistakes that have been publicized are essentially innocuous?

MM: I suppose the simple answer is that I would’ve used a fact-checker.

BB: SI ran an excerpt from the book. What involvement, if any, did they have with the publication of the book?

MM: SI read an early draft of the manuscript and requested the opportunity to excerpt a portion.

BB: I know you faced some criticism even before the Times article came out last week. An Angels blogger left a comment in the thread for our original interview. Still, what was your initial reaction when you read the article in the Times?

MM: There have been a wide range of responses to the book and at some level you prepare yourself for anything.

BB: But how did it make you feel? Angry? Do you feel that in essence, the Times’ article is making legitimate criticisms or do you feel that it is an unfair attack?

MM: You’re upset any time someone takes things out of context, but that’s to be expected and there’s nothing you can do about it but defend your work.

BB: You say that you stand by your book. Would you have changed anything in your process knowing what you do now? What has this taught you?

MM: In hindsight it would have been nice to have gone through the box scores from the 350 to 400 high school, college, and minor league games that I played in.

BB: I read that Viking is considering putting out a revised version of the book. Doesn’t that suggest that they are unhappy with the book, or that they could be facing a lawsuit?

MM: Viking was misquoted in the USA Today article when it says, “McCarthy’s publisher, Viking, said it’s likely a revised version of the book will be released…” There are no plans for a revised version at this time.

BB: How has this controversy impacted sales?

MM: Sales have remained strong- last week the book was number 21 on the New York Times Best Seller List.

* * * *

I contacted Schwarz to get his take on some of McCarthy’s responses. I have set up Schwarz’s answers in paragraph form for easier reading.

Mr. McCarthy’s claims that he was denied an opportunity to, in his words, ‘rebut’ his own errors are not only preposterous but adds to his growing list of outright falsehoods. Our interview spanned more than an hour and was comprised mostly of my describing to him every substantive error — sometimes literally showing him things like transaction logs that proved he had the wrong person involved in some distasteful scene, and a copy of his own original contract that proved one quote-laden episode with Tony Reagins to be completely fabricated — and explaining its relevance to the larger picture. He offered explanations for each of them (and I put the most relevant ones in the article so that his side was fairly represented). This went on for probably 10 or 12 of the most substantial errors, with my explaining at every juncture that, while some were clearly not that big of a deal, they called into question the veracity of many other, less provably false scenes that real people said had not happened as he described.

I said that I would be happy to quote portions of the journals he said corrorborated what he had written in the book; he declined to let me do so. I asked to speak with the teammates he claimed supported him; he declined to say who they were.

At the end of the interview, I asked Mr. McCarthy if there was anything he wanted to add, anything that was important given what the story was going to be about. He thought for a moment and said no. I then told him that if he realized there was anything he wanted to add or clarify, that he had my cell phone number and I would be available to him all day for as long as he wanted. He said OK. I have not heard from him since.

The only person I did hear from, in mid-afternoon, was a call back from the Viking publicist. She said that Matt had given her explanations for each error, and would I like to hear them? I said that, to be honest, I had already gone over the errors with Matt in great detail, and that the purpose of my call was to provide opportunity for Viking to comment itself on the situation, its vetting procedures, et cetera. With no objection or hesitation she continued the interview, answering a few questions and offering a few comments — the relevant ones of which I put in the article. She asked if I had talked to Craig Breslow to seek corroboration of McCarthy’s version of events; I explained that Mr. Breslow, McCarthy’s best friend from Yale, was not on the Provo team and could not possibly speak to what happened in 90 percent of the stories told in the book. I mentioned that I had asked McCarthy for the names of the Provo teammates he said supported him so that I could call them, and that he had declined. At the end, knowing that the story was running that evening, the Viking publicist said she wanted to check with Matt on some things and she would call me back. She never did, which is of course her prerogative.

Mr. McCarthy is now saying that the New York Times told him about his list of rebuttals, and I am quoting him here, “We don’t want to hear it. We’re running our story.” Once again, he is putting words into people’s mouths that are blatantly untrue only to further his distorted (and false) image of reality.

And once again, he has done so forgetting that there is 100 percent proof of his dishonesty — in the form of my recording of his interview and a transcript of my conversation with Viking, which I can make available to any interested party. Last I checked, he still has my number.


1 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 12, 2009 1:00 pm

If "The Wire" has taught us anything, it is that McCarthy will now win a Pulitzer

2 williamnyy23   ~  Mar 12, 2009 1:36 pm

Without having read the book or the Times article, my only reaction is to be amused at the NY Times questioning the credibility of someone else's written word.

3 bp1   ~  Mar 12, 2009 1:44 pm

Looks like someone misremembered something. Maybe Rusty Hardin can help out here.

4 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 12, 2009 2:17 pm

[2] I didn't even connect the dots on the Blair thing right away, so true.

5 jason17   ~  Mar 12, 2009 2:30 pm

I just want to see if other people are thinking the same thing as I am here.

Is this guy Schwarz a reporter or a columnist for the Times? If he's a reporter, it really seems to me like he has a negative biased opinion about McCarthy that makes him unfit to write on the subject. Some of the comments he made in this post are very personal and hateful. McCarthy answers the questions in a professional manner in my opinion, but Schwarz seems to just go on the defensive like he's backed into a corner, and then he starts mocking and attacking McCarthy. I just get a sense from both the nit-picky Times article that I read and this article that Schwarz is being very subjective with his work. The Times seems like they have a bone to pick with McCarthy.

If you look around the Internet, if this were really that big of a deal, it would be all over the place, but aside from a couple blog posts here and there, the story is dead. And not one of the players that has said none of the stuff is true have done anything about it. It's just the typical deny, deny, deny defense that we saw with the Canseco book a few years ago.

Anyways, does anyone agree with me that Schwarz seems to be getting personal with McCarthy, which questions his intent on his original article?

6 ny2ca2dc   ~  Mar 12, 2009 2:48 pm

I get the sense that Schwarz sized McCarthy up, didn't like him or didn't trust him, and let that seep into his reporting and evaluation. People do it all the time - I'd say it's the norm.

7 RagingTartabull   ~  Mar 12, 2009 3:18 pm

I think the tone of Schwarz's piece leaves his objectivity on the subject in doubt. That being said however, I can understand how a reporter is going to have limited patience with someone who it appears is a classic fabulist. McCarthy seems to downplay the gaps in his work, but this is a published work with his name on it he owes it to his publisher and his readers to come up with something better than "Hey come on, I'm no Halberstam!" Damn right you're no Halberstam buddy.

And I actually wanted to read this, has anyone here given it a look? Worth the time? This is gonna be a great summer for baseball (and especially Yankee) books.

8 Mattpat11   ~  Mar 12, 2009 3:41 pm

Obviously, some errors are endemic to publishing. No one understands that more than a daily newspaper such as ours.

Well, I will give The Times that. If there's anything the New York Times knows, its publishing factual errors

9 jonnystrongleg   ~  Mar 12, 2009 3:56 pm

Hey Alex,
re: the Larry King incident.

The Times made it seem like McCarthy quoted Matt Brown (a player who wasn't there) making profane threats to King's kid. McCarthy makes it seem like he included him in a list of people who got punched in the nads.

If it's the latter, I agree that could be seen as nit-picking.

But, if it's the former, and this is all McCarthy has to offer to clear the air, I'd be disappointed. And it would seem to me that McCarthy hasn't come to terms with the damage he may have caused by misattributing certain quotes and misrepresenting certain facts.

10 PJ   ~  Mar 12, 2009 5:30 pm

/sarcasm on

Well the book is obviously packed with lies. I mean there isn't one thing in there about "A-Fraud" or David Wells making lives difficult for everyone on the planet at all, so how truthful can it be really?

/sarcasm off


11 ms october   ~  Mar 12, 2009 5:33 pm

[1] ha. man templeton was just so smarmy.

as someone who does qualitative research, i know the difficulty in recreating observations and coversations if you were unable to take notes at the time. so i can understand some of the small details being off.
the bigger concern to me - and this is over any kind of non-fiction work - is if actual events or conversations were flat out created or intentionally distorted. like say pretending a serial killer called your cellphone (that damn templeton again).
the two things from the excerpt that were disputed in the nyt article that are most concerning to me are 1) the player who said he did not pretend to be hurt to collect his check and 2) reagins saying he did not cry when he cut mccarthy (which was something i was frankly slightly skeptical of when i read it in the si excerpt- obviously i wasn't there - i don't know what happened - and am not intending to call anyone a liar - just my immediate reaction was i am suprised about that)

what sucks about these stories is how much gets tainted - extending to alex's concern on the impact to other writers.

12 Eirias   ~  Mar 12, 2009 5:36 pm

Thanks for writing this, Alex. I've been curious as to what your reaction would be ever since I read the Times piece.

13 Dockside Courtesies   ~  Mar 12, 2009 6:57 pm

[9] jonnystrongleg wrote:

re: the Larry King incident.

The Times made it seem like McCarthy quoted Matt Brown (a player who wasn't there) making profane threats to King's kid. McCarthy makes it seem like he included him in a list of people who got punched in the nads.

If it's the latter, I agree that could be seen as nit-picking.

But, if it's the former, and this is all McCarthy has to offer to clear the air, I'd be disappointed.

The punching incident is on p. 173 of the book, where McCarthy writes:

A few of my teammates were brought to their knees just minutes before game time.

"That little bastard!" mumbled Matt Brown, a baby-faced third baseman from Idaho, as he lay doubled over on the dugout floor. "I'm gonna kill that little shit."

On this point, at least, the Times has it right. Although probably not slander in the legal sense, McCarthy landed a very low blow indeed (no pun intended) by falsely putting those words in Brown's mouth. He owes Brown, at least, an apology, and the passage should be corrected.

Moreover, McCarthy's obfuscating defense - admitting a trivial error to divert attention from a much larger mistake - strikes me as really quite slippery, if not downright shady.

14 randym77   ~  Mar 12, 2009 7:23 pm

[13] Uh, boy. I have to agree. That is not what I would call a nitpicky error.

15 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Mar 12, 2009 8:21 pm

Maybe in the minority here but I thought McCarthy comes off very weak in the interview with Alex..also, the Times' past transgressions (Blair, Judith Miller, etc) has no relevance here. (note: I don't think it's bringing partisan politics into it to say that many newspapers and tv networks wish they could have a do-over on the events leading up to the Iraq-war, not just the Times..)

also, i don't see any personal attacks by Schwarz in his comments...

16 randym77   ~  Mar 12, 2009 9:25 pm

Okay, having read the Times article and this post again...I don't see anything wrong with the tone of the article. I really didn't see where it got personal or anything.

I think McCarthy is being seriously disingenuous, trying to cast this as just mistakes in remembering box scores. It's a lot more than that. Claiming that the manager ordered retaliation for two HBPs...when the box score showed no batters were hit on either team, in the entire series? That's not a misremembered box score, that's totally made up.

And he wouldn't show his supposed journals to the reporter. Why not? If it was an honest mistake, why not put your cards on the table?

17 Horace Clarke Era   ~  Mar 12, 2009 9:28 pm

This is even further afield from the Yankees than we have been getting lately, but ...

Alex I honestly don't see why you worry that McCarthy's fables set some unreasonably high bar for other writers. I'd say unmasking him as dishonest a fiction writer reaffirms the standards that ought to apply to all non-fiction writers. I'd also think that 'carelessness' is a very generous word to use. Was he truly careless, or was he sexing up a story to get to the bestseller list? If the latter, then the analogy to Frey is closer than it looks at first.

I admit I also find it a bit unfair to go after the reporter here because the newspaper has had issues in the past of ... well, let's say more than carelessness!

In fact, as I think about it, those attacking Schwartz this way are kind of making Alex's point ... the lies of some end up reducing the credibility of all.

There is no real reason to doubt Schwartz's indignation and even outrage at McCarthy (and his publicist's) 'handling' of the post-interview sequence. In fact, I believe the reporter on this flat-out, simply because it is so basic a process. He loses nothing by allowing the interview subject to offer additions or clarifications here ... the interview is done, the heart of the story (which is in the book and the facts that refute it) isn't going to change at that late hour. McCarthy saying he was denied a chance to rebut AFTER the interview based on his misrepresentations is really lame, and suggests spinning, big time.

18 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Mar 12, 2009 10:04 pm

[17] yes, wayyyy beyond "careless" mistakes here..but where were the editors on this?? i don't know much about the publishing industry but seems someone fell asleep on this..

19 jason17   ~  Mar 13, 2009 3:04 pm

I thought this guy Kotchman was tough based on what McCarthy wrote about him in the book, but outside of the book, he's proven to be a big baby, crying just like McCarthy says Reagins did. The whole Angels organization just seems to be crying about stuff that's not even a big deal at all. I honestly thought the Angels were cool based on the stuff in the book, but now they just seem like a loser organization. Now I'm really wondering why Kotchman has that "rally penis."

20 Harry   ~  Mar 14, 2009 10:33 am

Hey, is it true that Schwarz is a baseball statisitcs guy and that he wrote a book on the subject?...In his review of Odd Man Out he failed to reveal this conflict of interest. Now I understand professional jealousy, but using the New York Times as a bullypulpit for ones perspective is over the top... By the tone of his review it is obvious he never snapped a towel in a locker room...

21 Dockside Courtesies   ~  Mar 14, 2009 1:09 pm

Consider this anecdote:

...Bobby Botz, a soft, white, plump little man who resembled "Spanky" in "Our Gang," and was just as abrasive. Botz was 26 years old and a proven Triple-A pitcher, although his best fastball would not bruise a baby's skin. He compensated for his lack of speed by developing pinpoint control, which was sufficient to bring him to the major leagues for a month... before he returned permanently to the minors. Botz would learn nothing at Bradenton... nor did he expect to. He had come only to give his wife a vacation, which, he hoped, would help her forget her recent miscarriage. Bobby never talked about the miscarriage, although he never tired of telling us about his and his wife's sexual encounters, which he detailed so graphically in the clubhouse each morning that it never failed to embarass me. Bobby took nothing seriously. His humor was acerbic and mostly carnal in nature. He equated the deficiency of his fastball with a deficiency in the length of his penis. He would point to a well-endowed teammate stepping from the shower and say, to our delight and that teammate's blushes, "Jesus, if only I had one like 'The Snake' there -- what a fastball I'd have!"

That's from p. 210 of an old edition of Pat Jordan's A False Spring, which has more than a few biting comments about minor league players, coaches and managers.

I wonder if Alex's friend, Mr. Jordan, has an opinion about the McCarthy-Times dust-up?

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver