BY FRED MILLS
What started a few years ago as a busman’s holiday—aw, hell, let’s make that a batboy’s holiday!—for Scott McCaughey and Steve Wynn has gradually blossomed into a bonafide and enduring side project for the Minus 5 and Miracle 3 dudes. Accompanied by M3 drummer Linda Pitmon, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Pete Buck and Boston Red Sox organist Josh Kantor, the duo has also managed to turn what initially may have been taken as schtick—cutting an album composed solely of baseball-themed tunes—into a witty, cerebral and thoroughly rocking homage to our National Pastime.
3rd, the smartly titled third BBP album, picks up where its predecessors left off, singing the praises of heroes, wannabes, almosts and also-rans with equal enthusiasm, additionally dipping its resin-stained fingers into baseball’s sprawling culture, from fans’ obsession with statistics (the blazing garage-rock anthem opening track is titled, fittingly, “Stats”) to the fading art of collecting and trading baseball cards (the banjo-fueled, countryish “The Baseball Card Song” tells the fanciful story of one young aficionado’s experience, and it’s hard not to imagine it being a long-lost Jim Stafford tune). Clearly, the topic provides plenty of songwriting fodder for the musicians. For example, fuzztone’d thumper “The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads” details the true story of how surly pitcher Dock Ellis, legendary for his claim that he was on LSD while pitching a no-hitter in 1970, decided to “go mental” on the mound. Meanwhile, “The Babe” pays tribute to you-know-who (“he was a giant among men” affirms the solemn chorus, over a stately piano ballad arrangement); glammy, T Rex/Stones-styled rocker “They Are the Oakland A’s” similarly celebrates the life and times of the Moneyball men; and “A Boy Named Cy” fetes the legendary pitcher Cy Young and manages to work in a smart nod to the Johnny Cash hit “A Boy Named Sue.”
And don’t miss the outrageous, harmonica-powered “They Played Baseball,” which ticks off some of the sport’s more, ahem, colorful characters—among them, “racist” Cap Anson, “dumbass” John Rocker, “filed with bile” Ty Cobb, Leo “The Lip” Durocher, A-Rod who apparently “thinks he’s a centaur,” plus sundry faces of the steroid/doping era, including Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Ryan Braun—to conclude that no matter their idiosyncrasies, character flaws or transgressions, we still love and idolize ‘em “because they played baseball,” period. Ain’t it the truth.
The album wraps up with a rousing reprise of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” but as it turns out that’s just the warm-up because in July and August the group heads out on tour, bringing their musical base-stealing to sundry clubs and stadiums (including an appearance at the Durham Bulls ballpark July 12 as part of the 2014 Triple-A All-Star Game Fan Fest & Block Party, followed by a Raleigh show July 13 at the 40th anniversary celebration of BLURT’s sister business Schoolkids Records). Rock ‘n’ roll, baseball and beer: was there ever a more fitting alliance? Only in America.
The only thing missing is an official Baseball Project mascot. Volunteers?
DOWNLOAD: “They Played Baseball,” “Extra Inning Of Love,” “They Are the Oakland A’s”