It’s the All-Star Break, which is nice in that it means we get to watch the All-Star Game, the Home Run Derby, and the MLB Draft. But in terms of actual baseball games, this week can be a bit of a drag for those of us who really just like to watch baseball.
This year, however, fans have something to help fill their time until the MLB season resumes. The Baseball Project has just released its new album, “Grand Salami Time!” It’s a gift for the serious baseball fan who likes their music with a side of humor and a knowledge of PLV.
After a nine-year break, “Grand Salami Time!” is the fourth album from the indie-rock supergroup of Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate), Peter Buck and Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows), and Linda Pitmon (Filthy Friends, Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3). As the band’s website notes, The Baseball Project was formed in 2007 “as a way for a couple of fans to pay musical tribute to our national pastime — and maybe score some free baseball tickets in the process.”
Many of the 15 songs have an early-R.E.M. sound while covering a wide range of baseball-related topics.
“We don’t have any rules about what constitutes a baseball song,” McCaughey said. “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!”
They’re not wrong.
Here’s a sample:
The Baseball Project:https://t.co/UeTiMzvAqV
— Renee Dechert (@ReneeDechert) July 6, 2023
There’s a lot to appreciate on this album, but here are the five tracks I liked the best.
5. ‘The All or Nothings’
“The All or Nothings” is about how the three true outcomes have made baseball less interesting. As the liner notes explain, “It used to be that slugging, strike-out prone .220 hitters were sort of wonderful big lugs with cool mustaches and beer bellies. You know, every team had one of their own (but very seldom for a whole career). Now we’ve got whole rosters of just this guy — without the beer belly.”
Eh, maybe. Maybe not.
The song moves quickly with enough musical ups and downs to reinforce the theme of hope when a batter walks to the plate followed by the disappointment that may come with this approach to the game.
That said, this is the first song I’ve heard that brings together launch angle, FIP, and exit velocity in a single lyric. Plus, it closes with a shoutout to Joey Gallo.
With the trade deadline approaching and teams scrambling to fill their sagging bullpens, “Journeyman” seems timely. As Wynn sings:
I’m a lonely drifter, I go from town to town.
I do one thing well, it’s why I stick around.
You can call me Lefty, it’s my stock and trade
I’m a specialist, it’s how I get paid.
10 of 10. No notes.
Wynn’s vocals are reinforced by a slow, deliberate musical exhaustion that keeps moving because that’s the job. The song also features some fine harmonies with echoes of The Byrds. The singer is melancholy but determined.
In the liner notes, the band points to the similarities between nomadic lefty relievers and professional musicians: “[A] veteran musician stringing together a series of one-night stands has more than a little in common with a left-handed relief specialist who plays for a dozen teams in a workmanlike career.” Certainly, this experience underscores the song’s ethos.
For the careful listener, there’s also a Walter White quote (though I’m not sure how a chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer-crime-lord fits in with the itinerant baseball player metaphor).
3. ‘The Yips’
This one seems especially timely given that in 2023, we have seen players becoming more open about discussing their mental health, beginning with Daniel Bard’s admission that his anxiety had returned.
The Baseball Project wanted to show that anxiety is just not limited to baseball.
“We all get ‘em at one point or another — that maddening moment when the simplest and most automatic things become impossible,” they write in the liner notes. The references here are to Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch, Steve Blass, and Mackey Sasser, but the condition is far more widespread.
Everything that came so easily before, why can’t I do it again?
I’ve got the yips!
The music is raw, pulsing with the kind of intensity that echoes the stress experienced by someone with anxiety.
The tone is a bit breezy given the subject matter, but anything that calls attention to mental health is a win. (Once again, can we please retire the term “the yips” and just use “anxiety?”)
2. ‘Fantasy Baseball Widow’
The song on this album that seems tailor-made for Pitcher List readers is surely “Fantasy Baseball Widow.”
Turns out, some of the musicians in The Baseball Project are fairly serious fantasy players themselves, and they’ve participated in a league since 2008 called Oscar Gamble’s Afro.
This one is the sad story of a couple with one partner spending too much time with Yahoo’s research assistant and his virtual team. This leads to a significant roster move:
They made a trade and he got dropped
There’s always a fresh, upcoming crop
She went and found herself a new man
Now there at the stadium watching the games from the stands
After all, fantasy baseball is great, but nothing beats going out to the yard with your special person.
1. ‘New Oh in Town’
If there is any player deserving of a place on “Grand Salami Time!” it is surely Shohei Ohtani, and The Baseball Project does not disappoint. With a vibe that echoes The Ramones, this one begins by providing a contrast between the 2021 American League MVP and Sadahari Oh.
Sadahari Oh was a top pitcher too
He gave it up to be a slugger like you
868 long balls would fly
But Ohtani is the first true two sword samurai
Savor that description: “The first true two sword samurai.” Absolutely perfect.
The music is loud and memorable, leaving the kind of impression that Ohtani’s game (if not his on-field persona) does.
When I saw the Los Angeles Angels play the Rockies in June, some drunk guys under the press box were trying to make “Hip-hip, SHOHEI!” happen every time Ohtani came up to bat. He deserves, I would argue, a better tribute. Instead, when he walks to the plate, fans should shout in unison, “Shohei Ohtani! Two-sword samurai!” — with all credit going to The Baseball Project.
Not everything worked for me. For example, a song named “Screwball” should sound, well, unpredictable. This one’s a bit harmonic given the subject matter. Similarly, in “Having Fun,” The Baseball Project doubles down on the ways in which they see analytics as taking the joy out of the game. (On the bright side, there are shoutouts to Max Scherzer, Dave Kingman, and Trea Turner among others.)
The album also has genuinely moving moments, such as “That’s Living,” a song about José Fernández written days after the Marlins pitcher died in a 2016 boating accident. Add to that a tribute to Jim Bouton (“64 and 64”) and a closing elegy to Vin Scully (“The Voice of Baseball”).
”Grand Salami Time!” shows all the talents, personalities, and emotions that make baseball great.