Matt McCarthy had a language of his own, a vernacular you had to be around often to truly appreciate, much less understand. Born and raised in Putnam Valley and an early-’80s graduate of Peekskill High School, we could fill this newspaper with tall tales of McCarthyisms. Prior to his passing last Wednesday, the 55-year-old McCarthy battled alcoholism for much of his life; that was never a secret or something he was ever ashamed of. It was beyond his control and he knew full well – at an early age — that he was essentially powerless over it. It was the only thing holding him back.
McCarthy could throw a baseball as hard and as far as anyone I ever met; the stuff of legend. He could hit in the clutch like few dudes could, whether he stumbled up to the plate (most nights) or was just getting started. “On beer, on base,” he would proclaim!
He used to tell me all the time in the 90s, when I was the End Zone bartender that drove him home more often than I didn’t: “You’re gonna tell my story, Graymon,” pointing that long, dangly finger at me. Of course, he called me “Graymon” because it rhymed with “Raymon” and he knew before most that I had dyed my once-blond mullet on account of Father Time’s inevitable brutality. He later told me, just months before I conceded defeat: “You’re going bald like a b!+ch, kid!”
Frankness was his strongest point. The “Catcher on the Rye”, as we often called him, told you — on and off the field — how it was, whether you wanted to hear it or not: “Ya know what would look good on you,” he’d bark at every new End Zone barmaid in ‘90s? “Me!”
So, he did ask me to tell his story, and all I can say is that Matt McCarthy, a middle son of four McCarthy boys (plus one sister) on Peekskill Hollow Road, was one heck of friend and one of the finest teammates I ever played with, but also the cruelest example of what can happen when you let yourself go. He once speared a brown trout in the Peekskill Hollowbrook and then bit the head off it in a bar full of people (I kid you not), but he woke up the next morning ready to win another game; something we did more than any team around as the O’Connor’s/Westbrook/End Zone/Pronto Printer teams back in the day.
McCarthy was up for any challenge, including the time we took our softball team into Sing Sing Prison to challenge a squad of inmates, who mocked him openly on account of the raging red birth mark that covered the back half of his head and neck: “That’s a true redneck right there, y’all,” one inmate shouted from the opposing dugout as he approached the plate for his initial at-bat. Matt’s retort, as always, was beyond anything anyone would say aloud in a prison stocked with hard-core murderers: “I’d rather be a redneck than a bunch of locked-up (losers),” he shouted back in full throat.
By the time the game was over, these cold-blooded inmates at Sing Sing had essentially befriended him and joked with all of us throughout the game. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and most anybody who played softball in Putnam Valley, Yorktown and Cortlandt from 1985 to 2005 has a similar Matt McCarthy story.
I often wondered how Matt never made his way back Sing Sing, what with his penchant for fast times, but Matt evaded the law and was usually my first customer every day I pulled the sticks. He didn’t have a lot to offer folks by way of means, but he’d give you the shirt off his back and would do whatever he could to do right by you. His one-toothed smile was infectious, but his tale is one of woe.
There are so many things about him that I would warn young athletes about. Heck, I’d caution anyone against such passage! But he was one of the best teammates/friends we ever had, there through thick and thin when we needed him.
A lot of you student athletes who read this space on a regular basis have just wrapped up your high school careers and are set to enter ‘The Real World’, which can be cruel if you don’t get your ducks in a row and prioritize the heck out of your lives. This new world we leave the next generation is a harsh existence, one in which we barely coexist across divergent political lines anymore, so play nice and stop demonizing each other despite our vast differences. Civility and total respect for our constitution is the key to our future, and this next generation will steer the course of history.
Life is no joke if you’re the butt of it, so let Matt McCarthy be a lesson to you: You are entitled to nothing, no matter how good you are at it (and he was damn good), so work your craft, and demand the very best you can be – physically and socially — each and every day, because nothing is guaranteed.
RIP, my brother! As far as characters go, you were unrivaled. Now, cast your blue Rapala into the heavens and catch us a big one.