Steve Wynn is often remembered for his groundbreaking Paisley Underground act the Dream Syndicate or mainstay the Miracle 3, but he has another home run to his credit. The Baseball Project is an alt-pop-loving sports fan’s dream band.
Launched in 2007 by former sports writer Wynn and Scott McCaughey of the Minus 5, the band’s batting order features other all-stars including powerhouse Miracle 3 drummer Linda Pitmon and R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills. The Baseball Project arrives at FitzGerald’s on July 28, in time to celebrate the conclusion of this year’s Crosstown Classic between the Cubs and White Sox.
McCaughey’s songs reveal him as a meticulous baseball historian, examining legendary players, games and statistics. “The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads” describes a 1974 game when Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis tried to bean every Cincinnati Reds batsman. Wynn’s compositions also celebrate larger-than-life figures from baseball’s golden age like Boston Red Sox slugger “Ted F—ing Williams,” and star-crossed characters like hapless Houston Astro “Larry Yount.”
“We do tend toward the odd stories of the game — the tragedies or guys with really bad attitudes,” says Wynn, noting that Yount now sends him Christmas cards. “We cover obscure details that fans like us obsess over.”
The Baseball Project addresses Chicago’s teams and heroes, too. “Time to win it again,” sang McCaughey while predicting “world champion time” for the North Siders on “Cubs 2010.” Hall of Famers Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Harry Caray were namechecked, with a fervent wish to lay the 1945 Billy Goat curse to rest.
“They took a long time to prove us right,” says Wynn of the Cubs, who currently lead their division. “It looks like we were six years ahead of our time. Certain teams have been really good to us over the years, and not always our hometown teams. I think the Cubs have been almost the best to us. Whenever we come to a game, [Cubs announcer] Len [Kasper] will have us up in the booth.”
For an upcoming Baseball Project album, Wynn is working on a song that memorializes a dubious night in 1979 for the White Sox.
“We haven’t had a proper White Sox song,” he says. “We do mention Luis Aparicio and Shoeless Joe. The Black Sox thing is the obvious story to tell, but one of my new songs is ‘Disco Demolition.’ It’s about that fateful day when Steve Dahl and his anti-disco army blew up Comiskey Park.”
The band’s recent album “3rd” includes a Ramones-styled version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” with Pitmon’s pounding beat leading the fray. The song was an obvious choice, and fans wondered how The Baseball Project managed to avoid it for so long. “We played it regularly, but hadn’t recorded it,” says Wynn. “We won’t do ‘Centerfield,’ but everything else is fair game.”
Wynn adds that if the group discovered “Centerfield” songwriter and Rock Hall of Famer John Fogerty was a Baseball Project fan who wanted to play the song together, they’d jump at the chance. “Oh, sure,” he says of the hypothetical situation. “Rules and records were made to be broken.”
The band’s own ode to the game is “Past Time.” “Of all the songs we’ve done, it’s the one that says, ‘This is a great game, and we love it,’” says Wynn.
On May 30, 2011, Wynn threw the first pitch for a Cubs game against the Astros. He still considers it a career highlight. “There are a lot of things that everybody in The Baseball Project dreamed of as kids, like making records, playing at our favorite rock club in town, or being on the radio,” says Wynn. “All of those things were accomplished. Throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field was not on my list of achievable dreams when I was 18. That was a thrill – the first one that day.
“The second thrill was that I didn’t bounce the ball,” says Wynn.