Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle And The Sex Pistols–A Conversation With The Baseball Project’s Steve Wynn

Written by:

The Baseball Project – the indie rock supergroup consisting of Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate, Scott McCaughey of The Young Fresh Fellows and The Minus 5, Linda Pitmon, and Mike Mills and Peter Buck of R.E.M. – is on a winning streak. Filled with strong hooks and some truly great baseball poetry, their most recent album, 3rd, is yet another infectious delight for any fan of power pop and the national pastime.

A record that combines terrific rock and roll and baseball? With songs as great as “They Are the Oakland A’s,” “The Day Dock Went Headhunting,” “To the Veterans Committee” (we agree with Mike that Atlanta Braves’ slugger Dale Murphy should be elected to the Hall of Fame!), “Monument Park,” and “Pascual on the Perimeter”? 3rd is an education in baseball history, as well as a great time. As Steve says, “What’s not to love?”.

It was an honor to talk baseball with Steve, who’s been a great friend to Stereo Embers.

SE: Did you play baseball as a kid and/or in high school? What was your position?

SW: I never played little league or high school ball or anything like that. I’d throw the ball around in the yard or play Over The Line with pals in the park, but that was about it. Instead, I became a sportswriter. You know the adage–those who can’t do, write sports.

SE: When did you become a Yankees fan?

SW: I became a Yankee fan when I moved from LA to New York in 1994. I had always wanted to live here, and I wanted to support a local team. I couldn’t be a Mets’ fan because I was already a Dodger fan and could only get behind one National League team. The Yankees were at the tail end of a long drought at that point, so it wasn’t like I was jumping onto any kind of bandwagon. Of course, that was just ahead of an incredible Yankees’ run. I take full credit.

 

 

SE: When did you go to your first game?

SW: You know, I actually don’t remember. Strange, right? But I’m guessing it was at Dodger Stadium in the late ’60s.

SE: How does the old Yankee Stadium compare to the new one? Which do you prefer?

SW: Well, the old one had all the history, and it was always amazing to know you were sitting in the same stadium that housed Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and all of those championships But I actually prefer the design of the new stadium–you can see the game pretty clearly when you are standing in line for a dog or beer–great sight lines from everywhere and still completely reminiscent of the old park. And I saw Paul McCartney there, sitting right in shallow left field.

SE: What’s the greatest Yankees’ team of all time?

SW: Well, it’s hard to top the ’27 team or the teams of the ’40s or ’50s for those incredible lineups of legends and Hall of Famers. And the Bronx Zoo teams of the late ’70s were so colorful and charismatic. But for me it would have to be the teams of the late ’90s (I would say 1998 might be my favorite) just because I was watching every game and living it in the moment as a local.

 

 

SE: DiMaggio or Mantle. Who’s your center fielder?

SW: Tough call, isn’t it?  But I would go with Mantle. Take away the injuries and the self-inflicted abuse and he could have been a no-brainer for the best ever. One thing for sure, they both retired at a relatively young age (I think they were both around 36 or 37 when they called it a day).

SE: It’s 1941. Williams hits .406 (or .4057, to be exact), and DiMaggio hits safely in 56 straight. What’s more impressive?

SW: At this point?  I’d say it’s more likely that DiMaggio’s record will fall than anyone hitting .400 again. But I can’t imagine either is going to happen anytime soon. I would have betted on Ichiro having a shot at both in his prime.

SE: You need a hit to win a game. Do you want Ruth or Gehrig at the plate?

SW: I want the Babe. Why? Because I’d just want to watch him. Just once. Can you imagine any one player who would be more exciting to watch at the plate?

 

SE: Sandy Koufax’s rookie card is one of my prize possessions, and I know you’re a big fan. What do you love about Sandy?

SW: Left handed, Jewish, Brooklyn kid, rose like a meteor, disappeared just as quickly, the bridging of Brooklyn and Los Angeles, all games called by Vin Scully, a true gentleman, an enigma, and possibly the best five or six year run of all time. Need I go on?

SE: Who’s the real home run champion of all time? Ruth, Aaron, or Bonds?

SW: I hate that question. Numbers are numbers. Bonds is the champ. Major League Baseball did such a bad job of defining and policing the steroids issue so now they have to stew in the confusion. I hope someone comes along and breaks the mark at some point without any suspicion of illegal substances.

SSE: Rickey Henderson is arguably the best leadoff hitter of all time. What’s your favorite album opening song of all time?

SW: Great question. I’ll go with “Rocks Off” from Exile on Main St..

 

 

SE: What song closes off an album like Mariano Rivera in a pinch?

SW: Damn, I’d have to go with “Soul Survivor” from the same album. That album is quite the Murderer’s Row. Then again, for a more succinct lights out performance?  Maybe “EMI” by The Sex Pistols.

SE: When you get together with your Baseball Project teammates, who starts the trash talking? You all support different teams…

SW: Most of our trash talking is reserved for our fantasy baseball teams, actually. And as the manager of last year’s last place team, I take the trash talk stoically and quietly.

SE: What happens at home when your Yankees play Linda’s Twins?

SW: I stay very, very quiet.

SE: How did Peter become a Senators fan?

SW: They’re a lost team, a mythical team, a thing of history, legend, and dog-eared books, more limited to bookstore racks than the playing field. And it’s a fun, contrary answer.

 

 

SE: Is Mike really a Dale Murphy freak? He was my sister’s favorite player when we were growing up…

SW: Most certainly. Of all of us, Mike has the most undiluted enthusiasm for one team and one team only. And that would be the Braves. Also, Dale has become a friend and loves our band. What’s not to love?

SE: How did you guys end up writing the theme song for the Oakland Athletics – “They Are the Oakland A’s”?

SW: That’s Scott’s song.  He was caught up in the excitement of yet one more improbable and incredible A’s season.  I mean…who ARE these guys?