A spry and sharp side project for Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey (Minus 5) to write about the national pastime’s distinguished figures, the two frame odes to Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Jack McDowell, Ted Williams and others in rough yet buoyant 70s power pop. The songwriters, backed by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and drummer Linda Pitmon, use the Baseball Encyclopedia for source material and not yesterday’s sports page; this is a treat for longtime baseball fans and insiders — album’s title refers to line drives and bloop singles — with a love for rootsy rock.
Tenor of the music is playful throughout, which carries over into the lyrics, most of which stick with non-fiction. Names of players who have benefited from free agency ingeniously form a chorus in “Gratitude (For Curt Flood)”; a similar, slightly sharper, rhyme scheme comprising names of pitchers who have thrown perfect games shape “Harvey Haddix.”
Nostalgic without getting misty-eyed, Wynn and McCaughey are at their best in the personal moments, particularly when McCaughey writes “Sometimes I dream of Willie Mays, and the wind dies down, and the sun comes out, and the scoreboard works, and the fog lifts, and he’s there. And I’m there.” I know that dream well.