Friday, October 02, 2009

Shuffle play Friday-The October stage edition

Baseball and rock and roll are interchangeable in my way of thinking. Many an athlete wishes he was a rock star, and many a rock star would love to swap his axe for a bat and wield it with the ability of a hitter like Manny, or ARod.

Over the course of 162 games, there are classic duels and battles, some of them epic in scope, much like songs in an artist's catalog, at least back when albums ruled the rock and roll world, pre iPod. Some of these songs are classic and something you can listen to over and over. There are also those songs, like a 12-0 stinker by your favorite team that you'd prefer to skip over, but true fans battle through.

Summer's gone, and the lingering fragrance of it's bloom is kept alive for those fortunate enough to have a baseball team headed to the postseason. New England's team, the Boston Red Sox, got in via the Wild Card once more. They'll do battle with the Halos from Southern California. Fans in New York, Philly, Colorado, Los Angeles (California is doubly blessed), St. Louis, and either Detroit or Minnesota will have their summers extended by the league championship series and their hopes of making it to the Fall Classic, aka the World Series.

In the spirit of playoff baseball, I bring you this week's baseball playoff version of Shuffle Play Friday.

The Baseball Project (Steve Wynn)-Ted Fucking Williams/Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails

If Steve Wynn was a baseball player, he’d be the cagey veteran that keeps reinventing himself. As a young player, he might have been a combination of power and speed. As his career progressed, and his wheels no longer allowed him to swipe bases at will, like in his 20s, he would have learned to adapt, gravitate to a new position, and still help his team onward, often displaying his best during October’s trip to the big stage.

From his early days as an influential member of LA’s Paisley Underground in the 80s, leading The Dream Syndicate, through various incarnations, Wynn’s music has always maintained an integrity that was about the music, rather than merely cashing in, commercially.

In 2008, Wynn formed The Baseball Project, with REM’s Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, formerly of Seattle’s The Young Fresh Fellows, as well as serving as REM’s fifth member for the past decade, or more, and Linda Pitmon, Wynn’s wife.

The group’s first outing, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, besides its great baseball-related title, weaves its way through baseball's past with songs about the game’s great players (like Teddy Ballgame and Willie Mays), as well as obscure players like Harvey Haddix. Do you know Haddix’s baseball claim to fame, besides once serving as a Red Sox pitching coach?

Here's a great interview with Wynn and McCaughey talking about baseball, and songs about baseball.

Bruce Springsteen-Glory Days/Born in the U.S.A.

While my rock and roll tastes run to the alternative side of the fence, Springsteen’s “Glory Days” will always evoke special personal memories for me.

The lyrics about the washed up baseball player that can’t quite get beyond his moment in the sun years ago was me for far too long. The song also stirs up memories of Mark’s senior year, particularly of the College World Series in Appleton, Wisconsin, when Springsteen seemed to be blasting from the speakers on a regular basis.

Plus, could there a more iconic American popular music figure than Bruce Springteen?

Warren Zevon-Bill Lee/Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School

Both Bill Lee and Warren Zevon epitomize the bad boy, renegade figure in their respective fields. It’s only fitting that it would be Zevon that paid homage to Lee in a song.

Back in high school, my friend Dave picked up Zevon’s “Exciteable Boy” and the album became our soundtrack during the summer of 1978, between our sophomore and junior years of high school. I was coming off a breakout season as Lisbon High’s ace pitcher, going 6-0 that spring. That summer, Bill Lee would struggle to win 10 games during his final season in Boston, before being exiled north of the border to toil for Montreal’s Expos. In ’79, he’d win 16 games, but Lee’s freethinking ways, and regular marching to his own beat wore thin and by ’82, “The Spaceman” was out of organized baseball for good, blackballed by its conservative establishment.

Barbara Manning/SF Seals-Dock Ellis/Baseball Trilogy (EP)

Keeping the pitching theme going, particularly left-of-center hurlers, Dock Ellis proved that you don’t need to be left-handed, to hold views, and exhibit behaviors that didn’t exactly ingratiate him to baseball’s powerbrokers.

Ellis was certainly one of baseball's more flamboyant and interesting figures during the seventies. In 1971, he helped lead the Pittsburgh Pirates past the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, back when both cities were in the throes of their own baseball glory days. Both cities have fallen on hard times, both baseball-wise, and economically, particularly Pittsburgh, with the Pirates last winning season coming 17 years ago, in 1992, a record for professional sports futility.

Interestingly, that 1971 club that Ellis was a member of had the first all black starting lineup in MLB history with him on the mound.

Manning, a fine singer-songwriter in her own right, named her band after a legendary minor league team that was the pride of San Francisco, before the Giants abandoned New York’s Polo Grounds for the greener pastures of the west coast.

Neil Diamond-Sweet Caroline/Sweet Caroline

I know this is a bit of a stretch for baseball-related songsmithing, but there are few songs that have become attached to a team, like this one is to the Red Sox. A few years back, The Standells "Dirty Water" might have made the cut, but it's a rare occurance at any wedding where this song doesn't get played and a Sox-style sing-a-long doesn't break out, with the requisite refrain, "so good! so good! so good!" emanating from the dance floor.

The song has no connection to the Red Sox, Diamond is not a Boston native, or even a Sox fan for that matter, but come the eighth inning at Fenway, you'll hear this blasting from the Fenway speakers like clockwork.

The regular season is winding down, and the new heroes will step forth on the postseason stage, some unexpected, like an Al Weis, or Gene Tenace, others, like Mr. October, Reggie Jackson will be no surprise.

Go Red Sox!

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