Annotating “They Played Baseball” by The Baseball Project

The Baseball Project is a baseball-themed rock supergroup. The active roster includes:

Scott McCaughey [Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5, R.E.M.] (Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Bass, Percussion, SF Giants)

Steve Wynn [The Dream Syndicate, The Miracle 3, Gutterball] (Vocals, Guitars, New York Yankees)

Linda Pitmon [The Miracle 3, Zuzu’s Petals] (Drums, Vocals, Minnesota Twins)

Peter Buck [R.E.M.] (Guitars, Bass, Banjo, Washington Senators)

Mike Mills [R.E.M.] (Bass, Vocals, Atlanta Braves)

The Baseball Project started when McCaughey and Wynn met and discovered a mutual love of The National Pastime sometime around 1992. It wasn’t until 2007 that the pair sat down to write and records songs. “We don’t have any rules about what constitutes a baseball song,” McCaughey explains on the band’s website. “It can be anything from a character study of an obscure guy from the 1920s, to something that just happened, to something completely ridiculous like Extra Inning of Love, which takes the baseball-as-love metaphor and tries to stretch it as far as it will go. They can be fictional songs or non-fictional songs. The great thing with baseball is, we’ll never run out of things to write about!”

The Baseball Project has released three albums, performed The Star-Spangled Banner and Take Me Out to the Ballgame at numerous ballparks, and recorded the theme song for Adult Swim’s animated series Squidbillies in 2013.

Their songs are endlessly catchy and often dense with baseball references. Here’s one of their best, with 30 footnotes to fill in any backstory you may not already know.


(click to listen)

Cap Anson was a racist 1

Sam McDowell, a hopeless drunk 2

And except for one no-hitter

Bo Belinsky mostly stunk 3

1 Anson played from 1871 to 1897, mostly with the Chicago White Stockings. Often cited as the “Father of Segregated Baseball,” Anson is also considered the first superstar of the game, finishing with a career batting average of .334. Numerous incidents support his racist title, while it probably overstates his influence. An exhibition game in 1883 against the integrated Toledo Blue Stockings was delayed for over an hour when Anson refused to let his team take the field against a black player. However, when Anson found out his team would forfeit their portion of the gate receipts if they didn’t play, the game was completed without further incident.

2 “Sudden Sam” McDowell played 15 seasons (11 with the Indians), was a six-time All-Star, and led the AL in strikeouts five times between 1965 and 1970. In a 1985 Los Angeles Times story, he is quoted as saying, “I was the biggest, most hopeless, and most violent drunk in baseball during my 15 years in the majors. That is a fair statement, I think, until some other lush comes out of the closet with his own story to tell.” Sam Malone, the alcoholic ex-pitcher on Cheers, is reportedly based on McDowell.

3 Belinsky finished his career with a 28-51 record and a 4.10 ERA. After his no-hitter against the Orioles on May 5, 1962 (just his fourth career start), he said, “If I’d known I was gonna pitch a no-hitter today, I would have gotten a haircut.”

John Rocker was a dumbass 4

Ty Cobb was filled with bile 5

Sammy Sosa had his cork 6

Joe Niekro had his file, yeah, it’s on file 7

4 Rocker pitched 6 seasons in the Majors, totaling 88 saves. In the December 27, 1999 issue of Sports Illustrated, Rocker was asked about playing in New York City. “Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.” He also called his teammate Randall Simon a “fat monkey.” In 2011, he admitted to steroid use. His post-baseball acting career includes playing a killer in the horror comedy The Greenskeeper and a four-episode stint on the reality TV series Survivor in 2014.

5 “When I began playing the game, baseball was about as gentlemanly as a kick in the crotch.” -Ty Cobb

6 The 2003 season was a rough one for Sosa. After being hit in the helmet by a pitch, going on the DL for toenail surgery, and suffering through a month-long homer-less stretch, Sosa was ejected from a game on June 4 after a broken bat single revealed a corked bat. He later claimed it was a batting practice bat and was used by accident. He served a seven-game suspension.

7 Niekro was ejected from a game on August 4, 1987, for having an emery board and sandpaper in his pocket while pitching for the Twins. Niekro defended himself, “Being a knuckleball pitcher, I sometimes have to file my nails between innings. So I carry an emery board with me to the mound.” Opposing Angels Manager Gene Mauch replied, “Those balls weren’t roughed up. Those balls were mutilated.” Niekro served a 10-game suspension. A book chronicling letters between Joe Niekro and his brother Phil during the 1987 season is titled The Niekro Files.

But someone loved them all

Someone loved them all

‘Cause they played baseball

Dick Allen had detractors 8

Matt Stairs, his ups and downs 9

Ron Leflore had Jackson State 10

St. Louis had the Browns 11

8 Dick (mistakenly called “Richie” early in his career, later nicknamed “Crash” for wearing his batting helmet in the field) Allen was named the NL Rookie of the Year (1964, Phillies) before later winning the AL MVP Award (1972, White Sox) when he led the league in home runs (37), RBI (113), walks (99), on-base percentage (.422), slugging percentage (.603), and OPS (1.023). He finished his career with 351 home runs, 1,119 RBI, a .292 average, and missed being elected to the Hall of Fame by one vote on the 2014 Golden Era Committee ballot. Critics cite his short career, reputation for tardiness, and often controversial clubhouse persona. Baseball author Bill James said, “Allen never did anything to help his teams win, and in fact spent his entire career doing everything he possibly could to keep his teams from winning.”

9 Stairs played for a then-record 13 teams during his career (1992-2011) and was released nine times. His best season was for the Athletics in 1998 (38 home runs, 102 RBI). He holds the MLB record with 23 pinch-hit home runs and was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

10 LeFlore was discovered in 1973 by Billy Martin while playing baseball in the State Prison of Southern Michigan (commonly called Jackson State Penitentiary), where he was doing time for armed robbery. He played six seasons for the Tigers, Expos, and White Sox, finishing his career with a .288 batting average, 353 RBI, and 455 stolen bases. After living in Florida for many years, he was brought in to celebrate the final game at Tiger Stadium in 1999, where he was arrested on a warrant for unpaid child support. He was released after agreeing to comply with the court order.

11 The St. Louis Browns are renowned for possibly being the worst ever MLB franchise, having only 11 winning seasons (out of 50) and only one pennant (1944). Famous Browns players include Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby and George Sisler, MLB’s only one-armed player Pete Gray, and 3-foot 7-inch, 65-pound pinch-hitter Eddie Gaedel (one plate appearance, one BB). The team moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles in 1954.

Durocher had his lip 12

And Bob Welch his grapey wine 13

Piniella had his temper 14

Mendoza had his line, oh, and it’s a fine line 15

12 Leo “The Lip” Durocher, a Hall of Fame manager with 2,009 career wins, coined the phrase “nice guys finish last” (originally “Look at them. The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place,” referring the 1946 New York Giants). When Durocher wanted a player knocked down he would yell at his pitcher, “Stick it in his ear!” In the spring of 1947, when Jackie Robinson was about the break the color barrier, he said, “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a ****in’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.”

13 Welch pitched for the Dodgers and Athletics, was a two-time All-Star, was on three World Series Championship teams, and won the 1990 Cy Young Award with a record of 27-6. Welch became the first active professional athlete to admit alcoholism in his 1981 book Five O’Clock Comes Early. He died from an accidental fall in his home at age 57.

14 “Sweet Lou” Piniella was a player (1964-1984) and manager (1,835 wins, 14th all-time), so named for his smooth swing and hot temper. He was the first batter in Kansas City Royals history (1969) and an All-Star (1972). Piniella, who was ejected 65 times as manager (third all-time), was famous for kicking dirt on umpires, throwing his hat, and pulling bases up and tossing them.

15 Mario Mendoza was a defensive specialist from 1974 to 1982 for the Pirates, Mariners, and Rangers, and finished with a career .215 batting average. The “Mendoza Line” is generally accepted as .200. It was referenced in an interview with George Brett in 1980, picked up by ESPN’s Chris Berman, and has become a baseball idiom.

But someone loved them all

Someone loved them all

‘Cause they played baseball

Yeah, we cheered for them all

We cheered for them all

‘Cause they played baseball

Scott Spiezio went psycho 16

Milton Bradley couldn’t take the stress 17

LaMarr Hoyt was a coke dealer 18

Poor Steve Howe was just a mess 19

16 Spiezio played 12 seasons for the Angels, Mariners, and Cardinals, and is mostly known as a utility infielder with a dyed-red soul patch on his chin. He tied the record for RBI in a single postseason with 19 in 2002. In August 2007, Spiezio entered treatment for substance abuse. In December 2007, he pleaded guilty to a DUI, hit-and-run, and aggravated assault. Spiezio was reportedly tased after breaking a neighbor’s window and resisting arrest in an April 2015 incident at his Ottawa, Illinois, apartment complex.

17 Bradley’s MLB career lasted 12 years with eight teams. In 2002, while on the DL with the Indians, Bradley was stopped for speeding, fled, eventually pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to three days in prison. In 2004 when Bradley was playing for the Dodgers, a fan threw a bottle at him after he committed an error. Bradley cursed the fan and threw the bottle back into the stands. He was immediately ejected, suspended for the remainder of the season, and fined. In July 2013, Bradley was sentenced to a 32-month jail sentence for multiple counts of domestic violence and abuse, including assault with a deadly weapon (a baseball bat). After two unsuccessful appeals, Bradley began serving his sentence in May of 2015. The appellate court judge stated that Bradley’s request for leniency was “breathtaking, frankly, in how callous” it was. While on probation, Bradley was charged with assaulting his second wife during a January 2018 incident. In June 2018, Bradley pleaded no contest to domestic battery, was sentenced to 36 months of probation, and was required to complete 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling.

18 Hoyt won the AL Cy Young Award in 1983 for the Chicago White Sox, going 24-10 with a 3.66 ERA. Between February 1986 and December 1987, Hoyt was arrested on drug possession charges five times, the last incident possession with intent to distribute. Hoyt served a seven-month sentence.

19 Howe was named Rookie of the Year in 1980 and saved the final game of the 1981 World Series for the Dodgers. Over his 17-year MLB career, Howe was suspended seven times for alcohol and cocaine abuse. His 1989 autobiography, Between the Lines: One Athlete’s Struggle to Escape the Nightmare of Addiction, attributed his recovery to newfound evangelical Christianity. Howe died in a Coachella, California, car accident in 2006. Toxicology reports indicated he had methamphetamine in his system.

And Barry Bonds had a swollen head 20

Cesar Cedeño may have killed 21

When Jose Canseco reached deck five

I admit to being thrilled 22

20 Bonds set the single season home run record in 2001 with 73 HRs. Ten years later, a former Giants clubhouse manager testified that Bonds’ cap size increased from 7 1⁄4 to 7 3⁄8 inches for the 2002 season, despite the fact that Bonds was now shaving his head. Use of human growth hormone is commonly thought to cause enlarged head size.

21 Cedeno played from 1970 to 1989 for the Astros, Reds, Cardinals, and Dodgers. He was a four-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove Award winner with 976 RBI and 550 steals. In 1973, he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, spent 20 days in jail, and was fined $100 after his gun was discharged, killing his girlfriend in a Dominican Republic hotel room.

22 Canseco is the only player to have launched three home runs into the fifth deck of the Rogers Centre (formerly Skydome), the most famous coming during Game 5 of the 1989 ALCS. The ball landed 397 feet from home plate and 78 feet above the field. He said, “Sure I tampered with my body chemistry — and I emerged more than human! It’s only a matter of time before an entire race of people are raised on steroids, and who knows what they’ll be able to accomplish? Live to 150 years old, remain sexually potent into your nineties, interbreed with dolphins and whales, there’s literally no limit to what steroids can do for a person. Do you know what it means to feel like God?” in his biography, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and how Baseball Got Big.

Brooklyn called their own team The Bums 23

Mantle had his bum knees 24

The White Sox threw the Series 25

Lou Gehrig got his own disease, his own dang disease 26

23 The 1930s-era Brooklyn Dodgers became commonly known as “Dem Bums” after sports cartoonist Willard Mullin heard his cab driver ask, “So how did those bums do today?” and published an exaggerated sketch of legendary clown Emmett Kelly with the moniker as the caption. It was so embraced that several Dodger media guides in the 1950s featured Mullin’s illustrations.

24 In Game 2 of the 1951 World Series, Mickey Mantle (in his rookie season) suffered a knee injury avoiding a collision with Joe DiMaggio (in his final season) on a fly ball. Mantle biographer Jane Leavy posited that the damage — torn meniscus, anterior cruciate ligament, and medial collateral ligament — was never truly diagnosed or repaired. Mantle is nonetheless considered one of the greatest players ever with 536 home runs, three AL MVP awards, and the 1956 Triple Crown.

25 Eight White Sox players were accused of intentionally losing games in the 1919 World Series for money. All were acquitted in court, but they were banned for life from professional baseball. Eliot Asinof’s book Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series is the best known history of the scandal, as is the John Sayles movie of the same name. Research continues on the matter, most recently and thoroughly by Jacob Pomreke in Eight Myths Out.

26 Henry Louis Gehrig played 17 seasons for the Yankees, was a seven-time All-Star, two-time MVP, a member of six World Series Championship teams, and finished with a .340 average, 493 home runs, and 1,995 RBI. Also known as “The Iron Horse”, he played in 2,130 consecutive games (over 14 years). Gehrig’s streak ended on May 2, 1939, when he voluntarily took himself out of the lineup because his play was hampered by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neuromuscular disorder now commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Gehrig was inducted into the Hall of Fame on December 7, 1939. He died June 2, 1941, at age 37.

And we cheered for them all

We cheered for them all

‘Cause they played baseball

Now Mark Reynolds has his strikeouts 27

Delmon Young could be a boor 28

Ryan Braun’s confessing 29

And A-Rod, well he’s a, he thinks he’s a centaur 30

27 Reynolds has played for nine teams since his rookie season with the Diamondbacks in 2007. He is a career .237 hitter with more than 290 home runs. Reynolds set the single-season strikeout record in 2009 (223) and led the league in strikeouts in four consecutive seasons (2008-2011).

28 Young finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting (Devil Rays, 2007) and was the ALCS MVP in 2012 with the Tigers. In April that year, he was suspended (seven days) for yelling an anti-Semitic slur while intoxicated in New York City. He pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment and was sentenced to 10 days community service and ordered to attend a program at the Museum of Tolerance. In 2006, he was suspended for 50 games after a third-strike call, when he underhanded his bat and hit a Triple-A umpire.

29 Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone from PEDs in October 2011, the year he won the NL MVP, and was implicated in the Biogenesis steroid scandal in early 2013. MLB suspended Braun for the remaining 65 games of the regular season and the postseason. After a month of claiming innocence, Braun confessed to taking a cream and a lozenge containing banned substances in 2011. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions,” he said. ESPN reported that Braun elected to strike a deal after being presented with the evidence against him.

30 In 2009, US Weekly reported that Rodriguez had portraits of himself as a centaur hanging over his bed. “He was so vain,” the magazine quoted a Rodriguez ex-fling. “He had not one, but two painted portraits of himself as a centaur. You know, the half man, half horse figure? It was ridiculous.” Sadly, in 2012 Rodriguez told the New York Daily News, “No, I do not have a painting of my upper body on a Minotaur [sic]. I don’t know where they get that stuff.”

No need to idolize them

Or cut them too much slack

You take the bad times with the best

And keep on coming back

I’ll keep coming back

But someone loved them all

Someone loved them all

‘Cause they played baseball

Yeah, we cheered for them all

We cheered for them all

‘Cause they played baseball

Jay is a writer, director, editor, and Braves fan.

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