By any yardstick, sixteen-year old Matthew McGough had it made. His cold-call letter to George Steinbrenner, the irascible owner of the New York Yankees, gets him the coveted job of batboy for the venerable baseball club for the 1992 and 1993 seasons. He gets paid a not-too-trifling amount for a teenager to wear the Yankees uniform, have a vantage seat to watch the game, and, above all, to hobnob with his hero Don Mattingly and the other Yankees. That he gets Steinbrenner to fund him a scholarship to attend Williams College in Massachusetts is the icing on the cake. In this sometimes riveting, often meandering memoir, McGough provides an inside look at the operations of a professional team, the interactions among the personalities, and the rapid growing up that the author undergoes in the testosterone-fueled clubhouse.
The book’s best passages are those that deal with the seemingly mundane activities on game days. As the rookie batboy in 1992, McGough is at the low end of a pecking order where the more glamorous jobs (helping out at batting practice, collecting foul balls during games) are the responsibilities of veterans. McGough’s descriptions of the preparations that players go through prior to the game and the palpable tension in the clubhouse ring true and is told with an outsider’s awe.
The book also deals well with a variety of tangential factors that have little to do with the on-field game itself or a batboy’s regular job responsibilities. The nexus between merchants coveting close relationships with players and the money and goods that change hands to enable this proximity leads to McGough’s rapid loss of innocence. A CD store owner attempts to parlay Yankees slugger Danny Tartabull’s interest in music to get uncomfortably close to the clubhouse using the young batboy as his conduit. A trip from Florida to drive catcher Matt Nokes’ car back to the metropolis after the end of spring training is told with an adolescent’s joy and exuberance at the sudden and unfettered independence.
It is when McGough details his second year as the Yankees’ batboy that the book loses its way. In the interim between the 1992 and the 1993 seasons, McGough gets drawn into a pyramid financial scheme in which some of his clubhouse colleagues take part. This detour is both unpleasant to read and jarring in its seemingly lackadaisical moral tone.
Several baseball icons come through as sterling characters in the book. Don Mattingly is not only the unquestioned leader of the team; he also shows a canny sense of humor when he makes McGough an unwitting victim of a practical joke. Jim Abbott develops an easy friendship with the young batboy at first and becomes a caring big brother to him later on.
Notwithstanding its less focused second half, this is an interesting and ultimately enjoyable book where a sixteen-year old grows up quickly and publicly in the fishbowl of a major league clubhouse. Told from a catbird seat, its candor and self-deprecating humor form a nice complement.