The Baseball Project is a baseball-themed rock super-group, made up of veteran musicians Scott McCaughey, Steve Wynn, Laura Pitmon, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills. The band started when McCaughey and Wynn met and discovered a mutual love of The National Pastime around 1992, though 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!”

So far, 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. This series is an attempt to explain some of the references and provide some context to the lyrics. In honor of Bill Buckner, who passed away this weekend, here are the annotated lyrics for “Buckner’s Bolero” from Volume 2: High and Inside.

Buckner’s Bolero 1

1: The Bolero is a Spanish three-quarter dance that originated in the late 18th century, a combination of the contradanza and the sevillana. It is also an Argentinian cowboy hat, worn by gauchos. It is also a cropped, tailored jacket, inspired by the matador’s chaquetilla. In this context, it may refer to a fielder swiping a glove and missing a ground ball, similar to a Matador swiping their muleta in front of a charging bull.

If Bobby Ojeda 2 hadn’t raged 3 at Sullivan 4 and Yawkey 5
And hadn’t been traded to the Mets for Calvin Schiraldi 6

2: In 1986, Bob Ojeda’s 18 wins, 2.57 ERA, 148 strikeouts, and 4.7 WAR (Baseball-Reference) were all career-bests. He finished fourth in Cy Young voting. Down two-games-to-none in the World Series, Ojeda pitched seven innings of five-hit ball in Fenway to start New York’s comeback.

3: In 1985, during a Red Sox players-only meeting regarding a potential strike, Ojeda dispelled any notions that he was pro-ownership: “I don’t care what you say. They (Red Sox owners Haywood Sullivan and Jean Yawkey) are going to try and pay us as little as they can. Yes, if you are older, you don’t want to miss a paycheck being out on strike. But I’m young!” Three months later, he was traded to the New York Mets.

4: Haywood Sullivan was a Red Sox back-up catcher who went on to become a controversial general partner from 1978 to 1993.

5: Starting in 1933, Tom Yawkey was the sole owner of the Red Sox for 44 seasons. Jean Yawkey, his wife, inherited the team and maintained control from 1976 to 1992. In 2018, the city of Boston and the Red Sox reverted Yawkey Way to its original Jersey Street moniker (and changed Yawkey Station to Lansdowne Station), distancing the city and the team from Tom Yawkey’s history of racism.

6: Calvin Schiraldi was traded to the Red Sox (along with John Christensen, Wes Gardner, and La Schelle Tarver) for Bobby Ojeda (and Chris Bayer, Tom McCarthy, and John Mitchell) on November 13, 1985. Schiraldi became the Red Sox closer in August 1986, earning nine saves down the stretch. In World Series game six, he gave up the game-tying sacrifice fly in the eighth inning, pitched a scoreless ninth, and with a two run lead in the tenth gave up three straight singles before Mookie Wilson’s fateful grounder to Buckner. In game seven, with the game tied, Schiraldi gave up a three runs in one-third of an inning to take the loss in the series clincher.

If Oil Can Boyd hadn’t been such a nut case 7
And Jim Rice had twice taken an easy extra base 8

7: During the 1986 season, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd quit the Red Sox after a perceived All-Star snub, was suspended, got into a tussle with police, and was hospitalized. “I had the whole cover story about hepatitis,” he wrote, “but it was flat-out me smoking crack every damn day. I was smoking cocaine, freebasing, doing crack… whatever you call it, that’s what I was doing.” Despite all that, Boyd returned and helped Boston down the stretch. He started World Series game three and gave up four first-inning runs in a loss. Due to a rain-out, Boyd was bypassed to start game seven. After finding out the day of the game, Boyd disappeared. Pitching coach Bill Fischer found Boyd completely drunk and in no condition to function much less pitch out of the bullpen. Fischer locked Boyd in the manager’s office for the entire game. Boston’s bullpen gave up five earned runs in the 8-5 loss.

8: In game six, Jim Rice was thrown out at home to end the seventh inning. That run would have given the Red Sox a two-run lead. In game seven, Rice was thrown out at second base for the first out in the top of the third inning with Boston up 3-0.

If the Red Sox had had a better playoff 4th starter 9
Instead Nipper served up a big fat slider to Carter 10
What would Seaver have done if not for his bum knee? 11
Would he have taken the ball and exacted revenge on his old team? 12

9: Red Sox starting rotation in the World Series was Bruce Hurst (games 1, 5, and 7, finishing with a 1.96 ERA), Roger Clemens (games 2 and 6, with a 3.18 ERA), Oil Can Boyd (game 3, going 7 innings, 6 runs), and Al Nipper (game 4, finishing with 6.1 innings, 5 runs allowed).

10: With no score in the top of the fourth in game four, Nipper gave up a two-run home over the Green Monster to Gary Carter, a double to Darryl Strawberry, and a run-scoring single to Ray Knight. The Mets had a 3-0 lead they would not relinquish, evening the series at two games each.

11: Tom Seaver started 16 games for the Sox in the second half of the ’86 season (3.80 ERA, 72 strikeouts in 104 innings, at age 41), but tore a ligament in his knee in late-September. Boston sent Al Nipper to the mound in game four where Seaver would have started.

12: Seaver pitched for the Mets for nine-plus seasons, winning the NL Rookie of the Year (’69), three Cy Young awards (’69, ’73, and ’75), led the NL in strikeouts five times, and was an All-Star every year in that span, earning him the nicknames “Tom Terrific” and “The Franchise”. After a protracted public contract dispute with Mets board chairman M. Donald Grant, Seaver was traded to the Cincinnati Reds on June 15, 1977, in what was referred to as the “Midnight Massacre.”

If Gooden had pitched like the real Dr. K 13
Or Donnie Moore hadn’t had that nightmare day
That stuck with him till he couldn’t take anymore
And turned his own kitchen into a killing floor 14

13: Dwight Gooden had been called “Doc” since Little League. “Dr. K” was born after he led the NL in strikeouts his first two years in the majors (276 strikeouts in ’84, followed by 268 in ’85). Gooden had a 2.84 ERA with 12 complete games, 200 strikeouts, and finished seventh in Cy Young voting for the Mets in 1986. In two starts in the NLCS, he threw 17 innings, allowing just two runs. In two World Series starts, however, Gooden gave up 17 hits, 10 runs, covering just nine innings, and taking the losses in game two and game five.

14: Donnie Moore was the closer for the California Angels in 1986, who were poised to clinch their first World Series appearance. They had a 5-2 lead heading into the ninth inning of game five of the 1986 ALCS against the Red Sox. With two out, a runner on first, and two runs already in, Moore was brought in to face Dave Henderson. Henderson hit a two-strike splitter eight-rows deep into the left field stands for a 6-5 lead. The Angels tied it up in the ninth, but lost the game in the 11th inning. They lost two games in Boston that were never close, losing the Series. Despite several injuries, a litany of painkillers to combat them, and plenty of blame to go around, Donnie Moore took responsibility for the Angels collapse. On July 20, 1989, just a few months after retiring, Moore shot his wife three times (she somehow survived) and took his own life with a .45 pistol in front of his children. Media coverage simplified the narrative. “I think insanity set in. He could not live with himself after Henderson hit the home run. He kept blaming himself. That home run killed him.” Moore’s agent, Mike Pinter, told the press repeatedly. But a long history of violence, domestic abuse, and substance abuse, dating back to Moore’s teenage years, belies this simple conclusion.

And John McNamara what the hell was he thinking?
Was it him, not the party boy Mets, 15 doing all the drinking?
If he’d hit Baylor 16 for Buckner and yanked the first baseman
For his by-the-book late inning defensive replacement 17
That ball would have been snagged (if it’d ever been hit)

15: As detailed in several players’ biographies, the 1986 Mets consumed copious amounts of alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamines on a daily basis. In a 1995 Sports Illustrated cover story on the team, Tom Verducci wrote: “Between 1986 and 1991, of the 22 Met players who appeared in the 1986 World Series, eight were arrested following incidents of alcohol-related and/or battery related crimes (Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Rick Aguilera, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Ojeda and Tim Teufel) and a ninth was disciplined by baseball for cocaine use (Keith Hernandez).”

16: Don Baylor was the Red Sox primary DH during the 1986 season, hitting 31 home runs with 94 RBIs (a 1.6 WAR season, per Baseball Reference). Going into game six, Baylor had a .932 OPS in the playoffs and at least one hit in eight of nine games.

17: Boston manager John McNamara replaced Buckner with Dave Stapleton for late inning defense in World Series games one, two, and five (and four times in the ALCS). Buckner was hitting .179 at the time of his error in the tenth inning of game six, clearly hobbling on bad ankles. Ray Sons of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: “Watching Bill Buckner try to play in this World Series makes one wince. He said before the Series began that someone would have to shoot him to keep him out of it. If he were a racehorse, someone would.”

And Mookie’s last name wouldn’t now be “86” 18
Bob Stanley picked a pretty bad time to uncork a wild pitch 19
And I’m sure he’s still thinking that you could have blocked it, Rich 20
Then the tying run might have not been tallied by Mitch 21
If one play killed the Sox, can you please tell me which? 22

18: With two outs in the tenth inning of game six, runners on first and third, and the Mets down by one run, William “Mookie” Wilson (he slashed .289 / .345 / .430 and was worth 3.0 WAR in 1986 per faced Red Sox reliever Bob Stanley. Wilson had an 11-year career, but is so remembered by this at-bat, he and Buckner have often co-signed photos of the play at autograph shows.

19: With a 2-2 count, Stanley pulled a slider, the seventh pitch of the at-bat, way inside. Wilson jackknifed, barely avoiding being hit by the pitch, which bounced all the way to the backstop.

20: Rich Gedman (an All-Star for Boston in ’85 & ’86) caught every inning of the playoffs in 1986. FanGraphs ranks him as the third best catcher in baseball for that year (behind Jody Davis and Bob Boone).

21: Mets left fielder Kevin Mitchell scored from third on the wild pitch, tying the game at five runs each. Ray Knight moved up to 2nd base on the play.

22: On the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Wilson hit a slow roller to Bill Buckner at first base. Wilson’s speed (24 stolen bases that year) may have caused Buckner to rush the play, the ball rolling between his legs, allowing Ray Knight to score the winning run from second base, tying the series by a score of 3-3. By’s Win Probability Added, the previous wild pitch was the play that shifted the Mets odds of winning the most.

We’d all know Bill Buckner for just what he was:
A pretty tough out for the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cubs 23
Ten thousand at bats and close to three thousand hits 24
And he stole plenty of bases before his legs quit 25
As tough to walk as he was to strike out 26 — 
But there’s only one play that ever gets talked about

23: Buckner played primarily for the Dodgers (‘69-‘76), Cubs (’77-83), Red Sox (’84-86, ’87, ’90) with stops in Toronto, Anaheim, and Kansas City along the way. He won the National League batting title in 1980 and was named an All-Star in ’82. In nine different seasons, he ranked either first or second in his league in at-bats per strikeout.

24: 10,037 at-bats and 2,715 hits.

25: 183 career stolen bases, with a career high 31 in 1974 for the Dodgers. On April 8 that year, he climbed the fence trying to catch Hank Aaron’s 715th home run.

26: Buckner had 450 walks and 453 strikeouts in his career.

Now some kind of fame lies 27 in being a scapegoat
And if not that, then you’re just an historical footnote 28
And your 22 years playing ball might be forgotten
Maybe Bill Buckner was lucky his luck was so rotten 29

27: Buckner appeared as himself on a 2011 episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. At a card show, he meets Larry David, who later tosses him an autographed baseball (signed, of course, by Mookie Wilson). Buckner misses the ball and it flies out a window, but later redeems himself by catching a baby thrown from a burning building.

28: Before the 1974 season began, Buckner, Tom Paciorek, and Tommy Lasorda traveled to Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic to be extras in The Godfather Part II. As Paciorek recalled it: “After we spent all day getting fitted for uniforms and our hair cut, they called and told us that our parts had been canceled. Later, Tommy, Buck, and I were going deep-sea fishing. Buck wanted to get in the film and they were filming that night, so we went back. The scene where Michael Corleone finds out it was Fredo. We are in that scene. We didn’t actually get our faces in the scene, but my right arm is!”

29: Bill Buckner returned to Fenway Park on April 8, 2008, for the Red Sox home opener, as the club was celebrating its 2007 World Series title. Buckner threw out the first pitch and received a four-minute standing ovation. After the game, Buckner said, “Probably about as emotional as it could get. A lot of thoughts [were] going through my mind… I really had to forgive, not the fans of Boston, per se, but in my heart, I had to forgive the media for what they put me and my family through. I‘ve done that, and I‘m over that and I‘m just happy.” Buckner passed away on Memorial Day, May 27, 2019 at age 69. Dwight Evans said, “No one played harder than Bill. No one prepared themselves as well as Bill Buckner did, and no one wanted to win as much as Bill Buckner.”

The Baseball Project is:

  • 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 Annotated Baseball Project’s first entry appeared on the FanGraphs Community blog. Check out the annotations for the song “They Played Baseball” here.

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