Steve Wynn of the Baseball Project assesses baseball's highest paid and most hyped team
April is upon us and that means the return of Major League Baseball. To preview the new season, Billboard.com spoke to a panel of baseball fans from around the music world for a team-by-team preview of their favorite squads.
The musician: Steve Wynn led the Velvet Underground-influenced college rock act the Dream Syndicate throughout the 80s. He's released a string of solo albums since then, though currently his songwriting energy is devoted towards the national pastime-obsessed collective the Baseball Project. The band's other members include R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, R.E.M. contributor and Minus 5 member Scott McCaughey, and drummer Linda Pitmon; all have been featured in previous editions of "Play Ball" (see below). Wynn says, "I was a Dodgers fan by birth, a Yankees fan by the grace of God."
The team: The Los Angeles Dodgers are becoming the new New York Yankees. Love them or hate them, they're doing everything humanly possible -- with help from their deep pockets -- to assure they're fielding Major League Baseball's most superstar-heavy lineup. Their opening day team payroll of $235,295,219 was the highest in the Majors, over $30 million above the Yankees'. Their superstars include starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Zack Griekne, closer Kenley Jansen, outfielder Matt Kemp, shortstop Hanley Ramirez and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. But the man who gets the most attention is Cuban-born outfielder Yasiel Puig, who got all of baseball talking last year with his torrid rookie debut and controversial antics, which have led to legal trouble and benchings from manager Don Mattingly.
What did you think of the Dodgers opening the regular season playing two games in Australia against the Diamondbacks?
Steve Wynn: It’s a fun exhibition, but I’m not into those games counting. I have no problem with them being played and bringing baseball to other countries but it’s not the best conditions and teams are not really ready to be starting yet (in March). I wouldn’t put too much judgement on those games but you know, I think the best team won the two games.
Previously in this series:
Dropkick Murphys Talk Boston Red Sox
Hold Steady & Baseball Project Talk Minnesota Twins
Jimmy Eat World Talk Arizona Diamondbacks
Yo La Tengo & So So Glos Talk New York Mets
New Found Glory Talks Miami Marlins
Asher Roth Talks Philadelphia Phillies
Asher Roth and the Baseball Project Talk San Francisco Giants
Joan Jett Talks Baltimore Orioles
Pete Wentz & The Mountain Goats Talk Chicago Cubs
R.E.M.'s Mike Mills Talks Atlanta Braves
David Nail Talks St. Louis Cardinals
City and Colour Talks Toronto Blue Jays
The Get Up Kids Talk Kansas City Royals
Thrice Talks Los Angeles Angels
Switchfoot Talks San Diego Padres
Gaslight Anthem Talks New York Yankees
Kings of Leon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Talk Detroit Tigers
What do you think about the Dodgers this year? It seems they can pretty much coast to a division title.
SW: Well they have good team top to bottom -- you name it they have a great player. Puig is just the most exciting player to watch and just a heart attack every minute on the field. That second game, watching him knock out three hits, but get gunned down on the bases twice -- that has to be bad for morale for a team. It seemed like some of the players are getting a little tired of his whole thing this year. But you always have a hard time getting sick of a guy who hits like that. That kind of thing has brought lesser teams down. So hopefully he’ll find a way to still be exciting, have enthusiasm, take chances, be thrilling and not enrage everybody around him. That’s the biggest thing. I think the rest of the team is kind of hard to flaw.
What about Brian Wilson? Do you think he’s going to be a factor?
SW: Well he was great last year. He was an incredible set up man last year and it’s nice having that kind of depth. We’ve got a great bullpen. It’s kind of like a whole pen of former all-star closers all lumped into one team. Those resumés don't do much for you when you’re on the field, but still, pretty solid. I know it breaks (bandmate) Scott (McCaughey)'s heart every time he sees Brian Wilson in a Dodgers uniform but somehow in this band we have managed to have Dodgers fans and Giants fans as the two principal songwriters, so it shows that they can live in harmony. I mean, I’m more of a Yankees fan so I think that kind of saves me in Scott’s eye.
So you said your World Series pick for this year is Dodgers-Tigers?
SW: I’m not being a homer -- I will say yeah, Tigers and Dodgers could be an incredible series.
Do you think the Dodgers would win?
SW: I think they would. I make these predictions every year and I have yet to get one right. Last year I thought it was going to be the Dodgers and the Angels: "The Angels have Pujols, Hamilton and Trout and that great staff and who can beat them?" And they didn’t make the playoffs. It’s weird -- things happen and that’s one of the many great things about baseball. In football, if you’re 0-6 into the second month, you’re probably not going to make the playoffs. In baseball, you can have a crappy first month and still win the World Series.
What do you think about Dodger Stadium? And what is the crowd like there?
SW: It’s great. I grew up there and when I was a kid it was an almost new stadium and now it’s a grand old park. It’s one of the most beautiful places to see a game.
And that's a funny question; I moved away from L.A. 20 years ago and since I’ve moved I’ve seen maybe 3 or 4 games and nothing that recent. If I went by my experience when I lived there I would say it's super easy going, but now I’ve heard things are a little rougher. Look at that horrible thing that happened to that Giants fan in the parking lot. Did you hear about that? That can happen, but that doesn’t represent a whole city or team’s fan base. When I lived there the whole fan base had a reputation for coming late and leaving early. But I hear they’re a little more rabid now.