The Baseball Project – 3rd

Honestly, I assumed the well would’ve run dry by now. I sorta figured it’d be a one-album lark and then everyone’d go back to their day jobs. But here they are, three albums in and it’s far and away the strongest roster of songs they’ve assembled yet. It finally feels less like a “project” and more like a band. This is a delightfully clever, impassioned, witty and unexpectedly poignant record, and while your ultimate appreciation of it will compound tenfold if you’re an obsessive baseball fan, the sort that pores over box scores (and there’s a song here especially about you!), these tunes are so entertaining that ultimately I don’t think it’s a big issue. Still, they really should play this album at games, in parks all across America – major, minor and little league – in between innings and during rain delays. Stuffed with great song after great song, each of them uniquely inspired and from various perspectives, it just reinforces the occasionally nostalgic but ultimately accurate notion of baseball as an endless fountain of stories, characters and legends.

So are the stats being recited in “Stats” actual stats, perhaps significant ones for significant players, or just random numbers? I’m not enough of a baseball nut to know, so I’ll defer to you box score readers. It’s an odd way to kick off the album, but after that things get really fun. In “From Nails to Thumbtacks” Lenny Dykstra (as played by Scott McCaughey) recounts his riches-to-rags tailspin. “¡Hola America!” comes from an opposite perspective, pointing out the bewilderment of fame, fortune and (for some) familial displacement that has rewarded many a scrappy player from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other Third World Hispanic shitholes.

Steve Wynn rails in righteous indignation (and ultimately, in defense of the integrity of the game itself) against Alex Rodriguez’s steroid abuse in “13,” a song whose dark tone and lyrics contrast sharply with the rest of the album, but it’s one of its best. “It might’ve helped if you showed remorse,” Wynn spits, “but you don’t know what that means.” For something lighter, Steve’s “The Baseball Card Song” reminisces on the importance of “flipping, trading, collecting and saving” in a young boy’s life. Heck, they don’t even put bubble gum in the packs anymore! Eh, it was always shitty gum anyway.

McCaughey hits a few grand slams on this record too. My favorites of his are probably “The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads” about acid-dropping loose canon pitcher Dock Ellis’s nearly successful attempt to bean the entire Cincinnati Reds, and “They Are the Oakland A’s” about, well… yeah.

And fret not, Braves fans. You’d rightfully expect a lineup that includes Peter Buck and Mike Mills to salute the home team, and here we get not one, not two but three killer songs about our soon-to-be Cobb County Bravos.  McCaughey’s “They Don’t Know Henry” gets into the head of Hammerin’ Hank, while Mills’ “To the Veterans Committee” makes a solid case for inducting Dale Murphy into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Best of all is “Pascual on the Perimeter” which returns us to “the days before GPS” and that famous tale of Braves pitcher Pascual Perez missing a game in 1982 because he kept driving in circles around 285 looking for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Sung by drummer Linda Pitmon, it mentions both Skip Carey and 688 in the same verse! And it sounds like a classic R.E.M. song!

I’ve had little to smile about so far this year. This album makes me giddily happy.

The Baseball Project
[Yep Roc]