A week ago, Matthew Perry made an observation that reflected his latest TV character, a sportscaster on the show "Go On." "The Oakland A’s have won 9 in a row," the erstwhile Chandler Bing wrote on Twitter. "MoneyBall anyone?"
Perry got a quick reply from one of Oakland’s starting pitchers. "No no," Brandon McCarthy said. "The stories around this team are WAY better."
A few days later, McCarthy inadvertently became the lead actor in the team’s most compelling drama of the year. A line drive caught him on the side of the head, fractured his skull and put him on an operating table to relieve pressure from an epidural hematoma. He had walked off the mound, apparently healthy, but brain trauma often disguises itself right after an accident. When the team trainer declared that McCarthy’s survival would remain in doubt for two to three days, the baseball world kept vigil via every possible outlet. Fans and fellow athletes turned to social media. The A’s hung his No. 32 jersey in their dugout in Seattle.
Then, on Saturday, the object of this sympathetic outpouring took to Twitter again. He posted typically wry comments, sending the message that, "No no, this man is WAY more than a victim."
In his first tweet, McCarthy alluded to a line from the comedy "Arrested Development": "Crazy about this children’s tylenol, can’t believe they give it to kids.” Several hours later, this dispatch appeared: "The good news in all of this, is that I set up my fantasy lineups beforehand. So there shall be no excuses at this point."
You expected maybe a somber, sentimental re-entry? Then you don’t know the Brandon McCarthy who speaks up for gay rights, who reshaped his pitching career after an embrace of sabermetrics that rivals Billy Beane’s commitment, and who takes equal pleasure in mocking mindless orthodoxies, self-important celebrities and himself.
He is, in short, Tina Fey with a killer two-seam fastball.
When a Twitter follower asked how landed his stunning wife, Amanda, he posted: "I have a HUGE" ... Then he posted again: "heart. Sorry I got cut off."
Amanda is the truly bawdy half of the couple. Shortly after another A’s pitcher, Bartolo Colon, was suspended for a failed drug test, she tweeted: "Hey @MLB, Extenze is offering a two week free trial that I want to get @BMcCarthy32. That’s cool with the PED rules, right?"
The two posed together on the cover of ESPN The Magazine last winter, next to a headline that said: "Chicks Dig the Ground Ball." In the story, McCarthy discussed his conversion to the gospel of Bill James. He surrendered the ego gratification of trying to overpower hitters and compile conventionally impressive numbers, settling for the efficiency of cut and split fastballs. The shift revived his career and made him the 2011 American League leader in FIP, or fielding-independent pitching.
McCarthy’s ability to see past the obvious led to some of his most interesting commentary this year. He denounced Kiss Cam; the ritual of showing couples on jumbo scoreboards and exhorting them to kiss had always bothered him, he said, but the addition of prank close-ups on two men, often players on the visiting team’s bench, struck him as "offensive homophobia."
"There's that stupid, little comedic value of it if you don't really think about what it implies," he said in an interview a few days after tweeting his disgust. "It kind of got old on that level. Then I actually started thinking about why we were supposed to be laughing, and it bugged me." Two weeks later, the A’s joined the list of sports teams that had produced an "It Gets Better" video, aimed at helping young people who are bullied because of their sexual identities. McCarthy was one of the stars.
When he finishes playing baseball, McCarthy should absolutely enter the media world. He could shame the clichés out of the usual commenters, and what a service that would be.
And he doesn’t have to confine himself to broadcast. He has already proven that he can craft prose longer than Twitter’s 140-character allotment. Jimmy Traina turned his "Hot Clicks" column for SI.com over to McCarthy one week, with ideal results. The work was so good that, if his brain injury precludes any more pitching this season, McCarthy should follow through on his comment to Perry and become the A’s designated storyteller.
The scary times haven’t ended for McCarthy. They may go on for years. That’s a sad prospect, yet it’s hard to see McCarthy as a sad figure. After that first post-operative tweet, when he sounded so thoroughly like himself, it became delightfully impossible.