The Baseball Project Has the “Stuff”
A rock and roll band that performs all songs about baseball sounds like something of novelty — an idea that might possibly be good for a one-off album or at least an EP. Even knowing that the band was going to be a supergroup made up of Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), and Wynn’s wife, drummer Linda Pitmon, would likely would likely only serve to provide hope that the one album would be a good one.
The fact that The Baseball Project have been together eight years and produced three critically acclaimed albums seems is a credit less to the past (and present) success of the members and more to a mutual love of baseball lore and a rich creative well.
Unbelievably, Saturday night’s show at City Winery Nashville marked the band’s first Music City appearance ever and points to the gap that the still relatively new venue has filled in a city known for live music.
The band (which featured Wynn, McCaughey, Pitmon, and Peter Buck’s former bandmate, Mike Mills who is now a permanent part of the lineup) opened the show with a run of songs from their latest album 2014’s 3rd. They opened with “Monument Park” which they dedicated to Bernie Williams.
“They Don’t Know Henry” took on the complicated story of Henry Aaron. “The Dock Went Hunting Heads” recounts the events of May 1, 1974 when colorful Pittsburgh Pirates’ pitcher, Dock Ellis, set out to hit every Cincinnati Reds’ batter with a pitch.
“Larry Yount” yells the poignant story of the older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount who holds the distinction of being the only pitcher in Major League history to make an official appearance without facing a single batter (he threw out his elbow while throwing warm-up pitches). “Pascual on the Perimeter” recounts the story of the Atlanta Braves’ pitcher who got lost driving to the stadium and ended up circling the city on I-285.
The band introduced, “13” a scathing song about troubled Yankee Alex Rodriguez – by explaining that the song was written prior to his one season “time out” and stating that they hoped the year off would do him some good.
The band brought out guest guitarist and Nashville resident Rich Gilbert, and moved to their second album, Volume 2: High and Inside for a couple of songs. “Pete Rose Way” is a partially sympathetic profile of the disgraced Cincinnati Reds player.
The band explained that they tend to write more songs about baseball’s bad boys because their stories are generally more interesting. Steve Wynn demonstrated by singing an impromptu ten second song about Derek Jeter.
“The Straw That Stirs the Drink” was taken from a quote by outspoken Yankee great Reggie Jackson, who upon joining the team is noted to have said, the team is alright, but I am the straw that stirs the drink.
“Box Scores” from 3rd, is a sentimental look at one of baseball’s most perfect achievements, the simple but effective game summary from which one can get a glimpse of every game in a compact format. The song evokes childhood memories of eating breakfast and reading the box scores from the morning paper.
“Buckner’s Bolero”, from Volume 2, is a complex and thorough defense of Bill Buckner – a major league player with a long career which was notable for his hard play and for having amassed over 2,700 hits, but who is best known for an infamous fielding error during the 1986 World Series between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox. The song builds a strong defense by enumerating the multiple set of circumstances which could have prevented the error from having had any significance at all.
“!Hola America!” is a tribute to the many great Cuban major league players. “Harvey Haddix” from the band’s first album, “Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails”, recounts how the 1950s pitcher threw 12 perfect innings only to lose the game in the 13th and includes a plea to have his name added to the roster of pitchers who have thrown a perfect game.
“Stuff” is a rocking tribute to the fact that almost every pitcher in the big leagues loads up the baseball with foreign substances.
“To the Veteran’s Committee” is a heartfelt plea for Major League Baseball to induct Atlanta Brave’s slugger Dale Murphy into the Hall of Fame.
The set proper closed with the first two songs from the band’s first album. “Ted Fucking Williams” and “Pastime”.
The band returned to the stage with the nostalgia laced tribute to the later Detroit Tiger Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, called “1976”. “They Played Baseball” was a litany of less than savory characters who were nonetheless admired for their ability to play the game. The band dedicated the last song to Barry Zito who is currently playing for Nashville’s Triple A team, the Nashville Sounds. The band sang the National Anthem at the Sound’s new stadium and met Zito, who has been referenced in two of their songs. “The Panda and the Freak” is a song from the band’s second album and is about San Francisco Giant players Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum.
The Baseball Project have proven that they are not a novelty act, and that with baseball’s long history of colorful characters and events, they are not anywhere close to running out of ideas.
Nashville’s Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen electrified the crowd with their unique brand of psychedelic blues that included a song called “Josh Gibson” about a Negro League slugger, which is featured on a limited edition hand lathed vinyl release of baseball songs that also includes The Baseball Project’s song about Dock Ellis.