The Baseball Project
Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails ( Yep Roc, 2008 )
Unslushed because: Songs about baseball arcana (“Ted Fucking Williams,” “Satchel Paige Said,” “The Death of Big Ed Delahanty,” “Harvey Haddix”) played by an ’80s-indie supergroup led by Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), Linda Pitmon (Golden Smog), and some guy named Peter Buck (R.E.something or other). And I love baseball. And it’s the All-Star break.
Factors not initially considered: That an album with credentials like this might not be the awesomest album in history.
On further review: Let us imagine a hypothetical listening/sausage party that covers this album’s demographic.
Dude #1 digs the constituent rock bands but doesn’t know anything about baseball. Musically, he’s going to be disappointed: It’s fun and loose, but it also has an unmistakable throwaway quality to it. If he’s twelve years old and just learning about baseball history, maybe he’ll like the lyrics. Otherwise he’ll probably be somewhere between indifferent and annoyed.
Dude #2 digs the bands and knows a lot about baseball. The music isn’t much, but he’s got to admit that the lyrics have their moments. “The Yankee Flipper”—about Jack MacDowell getting drunk with rock stars, then giving the finger to 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium the next day—that’s pretty great, and the song about Curt Flood is long overdue. But “Jackie’s Lament” is too obvious, and the chorus to “Harvey Haddix,” a list of every pitcher who’s ever thrown a perfect game, looks better on paper than it sounds through the speakers.
Dude #3 doesn’t know anything about the bands but knows a lot about baseball. Not knowing what these guys are truly capable of, he might actually like this album. Then again, he probably only listens to WFAN, Rock Jams Vol. 1 featuring Gary Glitter, and his “Enter Sandman” cassingle. So maybe he won’t.
Dude #4 doesn’t know anything about the bands or baseball. He only came to the party for the guacamole. (But he thought the mariachi-flavored “Fernando” [as in Valenzuela] made it taste even better.)
So basically you have four dudes who aren’t connecting with the material. Story songs are tough to write, never mind a whole album of them. And baseball, it turns out, doesn’t make it any easier. Dylan did “Catfish” and Warren Zevon did “Bill Lee,” but I don’t think those guys could’ve pulled off a whole baseball album either. American tropes like running from the law, complaining about mean women, being a lonesome cowboy—they’re fanciful, yet somehow they hit a universal mark. (Maybe because there’s nothing more universally American than aspiration.) Yet as fundamental as our national pastime may be to the American fabric, a song lamenting Mark McGwire’s fate (“Broken Man”) can’t even galvanize people who like baseball; who else is going to care? These songs were written out of love, no question, but it may well be love in vain.