Ever since I was introduced to Bill James’ works in the mid-'80s, I have wanted to learn as much as possible about baseball so that I can better understand and appreciate it. If you're reading this, you're probably wired the same way. It might be easier to watch without thinking so much, but we don't know how to do that.

I have a similar problem with music. I started playing guitar at the same time I started reading James (correlation does not equal causation), and although I'm a bit of a hack, I've earned enough over the years from my efforts to attract the U.S. government's attention.

My perspective as a listener tends to be informed by my experience as a performer. As with baseball, I find myself asking how things work. What is the melody? What are the chord changes? Sometimes I can turn off that part of my brain. It helps if I'm listening to a style of music I'm not adept at playing, like jazz or ambient/chill. These are easier to absorb without analyzing, especially if there are no words to distract me from the tune. I don't understand what Charles Mingus is doing, ever, and I love him for it.

Pop and rock are different, because when I listen to those, I'm usually trying to learn how to play someone else's song or looking for ideas on how to structure my own. As a consequence, my musical sensibilities aren't always hip. Compose and execute a strong melody, back it with a rich arrangement, and I'm there. Coolness doesn't enter into the equation. Give me ABBA, Burt Bacharach, Hall and Oates, or Jimmy Webb all day long. Someone else can worry about image; I'm here for the tunes.

The flip side is that I can't bring myself to enjoy music by a band that everyone thinks is cool just because everyone thinks they're cool. A prime example is Pavement, a band that became popular in certain circles in the '90s. I would love to love them, but I don't know how.

* * *

Arizona's Willie Bloomquist is small (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) by current MLB standards, his baseball skills are limited, and he plays hard. He is, according to the vernacular, “scrappy.” Many fans love him for this. They watch Bloomquist, and what they see doesn't seem so far removed from their own perceived level of ability. It is conceivable to watch him and think, “I could do that,” in a way that it is not possible to watch Justin Upton and reach the same conclusion. This makes it easier for some folks to root for Bloomquist than for Upton despite the latter's superiority at baseball. I haven't read the original research, but psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman references work done in this area:

Researchers Penelope Lockwood and Ziva Kunda at the University of Waterloo found that stars whose success was relevant to people and seemed attainable to them evoked inspiration. In contrast, if the star's success seemed unobtainable, some subjects reported that they felt deflated.

This could be a factor in Bloomquist's popularity. And in Pavement's.

Perspective is everything. What inspires endearment in some may inspire resentment in others. You might think it's great that a player of Bloomquist's caliber can survive in the big leagues with such a limited skill set. Or you might wonder why he is taking time away from more talented individuals who are languishing in the minors.

In Pavement's case, the band had trouble writing cohesive melodies and recording them without falling apart in the process. Depending on your perspective, you might think it's cool that people lacking basic musicianship skills can succeed in the business, or you might be annoyed that they have a recording contract when people who write songs and play instruments with some proficiency are struggling to support themselves and their families.

Bloomquist is a career .264/.317/.337 hitter. Except for a brief 12-game stint at the start of his career and a few other freakish stretches (e.g., the first two weeks of 2011), he has been a non-factor. The guy has played 845 big-league games and his career WARP is 1.2. But here he is, 10 years later, signing a two-year contract to remain with the Diamondbacks despite offering very little discernible value.

Is it cool that people lacking baseball skills can succeed in the business? Or is it annoying that they have a job when people with greater skills are struggling to support themselves and their families in the minor leagues?

Carve out a niche for yourself. Give yourself an opportunity at the expense of someone else (who may be more talented than you). When you're trying to pay bills, a sense of fairness may not be high on your list of priorities.

* * *

David Eckstein arrived before Bloomquist and was a better player (16.0 WARP). The 5-foot-6 Eckstein, who is scrappiness personified, enjoyed a lengthy career and was the object of affection or derision depending on whom you asked. I once penned an (unpublished, and probably unpublishable) essay comparing Eckstein to Pavement's 1994 release, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. That album ranked 210th on Rolling Stone magazine's 500 greatest albums of all time.

The album is decidedly lower on my personal list, but I listened to it a lot in the course of preparing that essay. If I'm going to hate something, I'd like to know exactly why. Here are some excerpts:

Because I can't stand when people fixate on Eckstein's throwing arm and neglect to mention his propensity for fouling off pitches, I'll start with what Pavement does well on this album. They create a nice vibe on a few numbers, notably "Newark Wilder" and "Fillmore Jive." These songs have other issues, but the feel is good.

Pavement also produced a gem in "Cut Your Hair." This is pop bliss, with melodic hooks, competent musicianship, and vocals that stay in key. It wouldn't be at all out of place on Wilco's debut album, A.M. In fact, every time I hear this song, I have to remind myself that it isn't Wilco.

If Pavement is Eckstein, then "Cut Your Hair" is the game-tying three-run pinch-homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth. No matter how many times you replay it in your head, you cannot figure out how that happened. Everything you know says the skills simply aren't there, and yet they did it.

Eckstein's career started humbly enough when the Boston Red Sox picked him in the 19th round of the 1997 draft. After stalling out in that organization, Eckstein surfaced with the Angels and became a key part of the 2002 World Championship team, starting at shortstop and batting .293/.363/.388 as its primary leadoff hitter.

But such moments are few and far between. Pavement has trouble with song beginnings and endings. The lead track, "Silence Kit," begins with 20 seconds of aimless noodling that sets the tone for the entire record, that lets the world know they just don't care.


The song has its moments. The use of flatted fifths in the intro is a winner–I'm always down with the devil's interval–and the builds at 0:58, 1:21, 1:35, and 1:58 are nice. But it's all undermined by out-of-tune guitars (Jandek does it better) and sloppy technique (there's a glissando at 0:50 that doesn't gliss, and the change in time signature at 2:07 is clumsy to the point of distraction). The net effect is something close to unlistenable.

Reports are mixed as to whether Eckstein retired last month. He sat out 2011, so if he has played his final game, it was as a second baseman for the Padres during their unexpected run of 2010, when they paced the NL West for most of the season before running out of steam. Regardless of whether you or I think such things matter, Eckstein drew praise for his leadership role on that team. His presence mattered to someone.

The second cut, "Elevate Me Later," meanders less and stays in tune more. It's still out of tune, but the first song set the bar so low that almost anything would be an improvement. The playing is sloppy, the vocals are weak, and the chord progression is stale, but this song has potential. Ignore the guitar flub at 0:33 and the drums speeding up and slowing down at various points, and you'll be fine. Better still: Listen to Pere Ubu instead.

The next track, "Stop Breathin'," comes perilously close to establishing a groove. The guitars remain out of tune, and they still sound like this is their very first time playing together as a band. This track is listed at 4:28, and the outro instrumental takes up more than half of it. There are listenable melodies but it goes on too long. This sounds like high school kids trying to play Pink Floyd.

Eckstein's WARP in his two years with the Padres was -1.7, so whatever contributions he made weren't on the field. Before coming to San Diego, he enjoyed a fair measure of success, most notably in 2001, 2002, and 2005. More than half of Eckstein's value over a 10-year career came in his first two seasons. A good first impression goes a long way.

Later comes "5-4=Unity," which is one of the funniest and most audacious things I've ever heard. Pavement have trouble with 4/4 time. Their attempt to move from 4/4 to 3/4 in the middle of "Silence Kit" didn't go so well, but does that stop them from trying to pay homage to Dave Brubeck?

We should all have such chutzpah.

Pavement and Brubeck both hail from Stockton (the most miserable city in America according to Forbes), which is like saying that Walter Silva and Walter Johnson have the same first name. Pavement Bassist Mark Ibold was quoted in an October 2009 interview as saying, "Dave Brubeck – Skills = Disaster."

This isn't false modesty. He's exactly right, and as a musician, I'm ashamed to admit that I kind of like it. Why shouldn't we be proud of our flaws? Just because you can't keep time, doesn't mean you can't play music. Ask The Shaggs.

* * *

This is a bit tangential, but I don't plan on writing about Pavement ever again, so what the heck. Pavement's lead singer is named Stephen Malkmus. A quick check of various genealogy sites confirms that this is an uncommon surname in the United States. But back in the 1950s and 1960s, there was an infielder named Bobby Malkmus. He got into 268 big-league games and hit .215/.265/.301, mostly for the Phillies. His career WARP was -0.4. If the term “scrappy” had been used to describe players of that ilk back then, it would have applied to the 5-foot-9 infielder from Newark (New Jersey, not Wilder).

Malkmus also spent 12 seasons in the minors, enough to collect nearly 1,300 hits. His best performances came in 1959, when he hit .300/.361/.498 for the Denver Bears, and in 1966, when he hit .300/.374/.430 for the PCL San Diego Padres. But those were aberrations; Malkmus typically hit in the .260s with middling power and not enough walks to make a difference.

After getting cups of coffee with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and with the Washington Senators in 1958 and 1959, Malkmus was selected by Philadelphia in the Rule 5 draft. He hit .211/.267/.278 in 1960 while committing just two errors in 330 2/3 innings at second base, third base, and shortstop for Gene Mauch's team, which would finish eighth out of eight.

Everyone has his moment, though, and Malkmus' came on September 15, 1960, when the Phillies hosted the San Francisco Giants. With the bases loaded and his team trailing, 6-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Malkmus stepped to the plate against Sam Jones. Moments later, Malkmus tied the game with his first big-league homer. As with Eckstein's unexpected blast, it provided a brief spark for a lousy team. It gave hope where previously there had been none. And as with Eckstein's blast, it sent the game to extra innings, where the inferior team that had mounted an improbable comeback lost anyway. Willie Mays and his three triples got the headlines, while Malkmus' dramatic homer became a mere footnote.

Oh well.

Malkmus hit .231/.276/.327 for an even worse Phillies team the following year. He received a single MVP vote (as did Pittsburgh's Dick Stuart, who hit a slightly better .301/.344/.581), played eight more games for the club in 1962, and then returned to the minors for several more years before calling it a career in 1967.

* * *

Relative to their peers, Pavement are not very good at what they do. There may be other valid reasons for liking them, just as there are valid reasons for liking Eckstein or Bloomquist (e.g., hitting homers for a sick kid). But we shouldn't confuse our liking them with their being good. Let's at least be honest about that much.

Information is your friend. Whatever your opinions of Bloomquist, Eckstein, or Pavement, have a clear understanding of why you hold those opinions. Then when someone asks why you love X or hate Y, you can respond in such excruciating detail that they never ask you anything ever again.

This is how I think about baseball. This is how I think about music. Welcome to my world.

Thank you for reading

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How about "Major Leagues" on Terror Twilight ? That is a gem of a little song, very Exile-era Stones-ish ballad and perfect for scanning BP at early hours of the morning. And thanks for the Bobby Malkmus reference.

I will give it a listen when I have recovered from my recent Pavement binge.
Nice to get the essay finally published. And interesting, too.
Technical proficiency in music is very often, very boring. I can't think of anything more tedious than a Joe Satriani album.

Many, in fact most, of us live life in B-flat, that's why Pavement resonates.

We shouldn't confuse them being good for a reason for liking them.

I loved this article, by the way.
Thanks for the kind and considered words. Yours is a perspective I'm slowly beginning to appreciate, although it is antithetical to my way of thinking. Musical taste is an intensely personal thing.

It should come as no surprise that Satriani is one of my all-time favorite musicians. I hear something new every time I listen to his stuff.
So you listened to one Pavement album and hated it. You state that they lack "basic musicianship". What? Who are their peers that you're comparing them to?

If you don't understand how Pavement's lo-fi or DIY method of music making in the early 90's is a response to the over-produced, over-masturbatory excess of late 80's rock, then you should probably stick to Warrant and Bon Jovi.

Thanks for responding. I've listened to Slanted and Enchanted as well. I liked it even less.

Pavement's peers would be other people who make and sell recorded music for a living. Pretty much anyone from their era is fair game.

I love the DIY ethic. Several musician friends of mine have gotten great results following that path. None would ever use it as an excuse for not being able to play their instruments.

Warrant and Bon Jovi? Those guys can play, but their material does nothing for me.
You are the writer of the article, I'm asking you to back your statement up. Who are their peers? From the early 90's, that is a vast sample size. I wouldn't compare Pavement to Smashing Pumpkins or Stone Temple Pilots (yes I picked them on purpose).
How are they not playing their instruments? Because they don't showcase the virtuosity of a Satriani? Playing chords with drop D tuning, is that playing out of tune?

I've always seen BP as being the leader in opening your mind to baseball and finding more than meets the eye, that maybe what you're seeing is not the way it is. By bashing on Pavement, you take the opposite tack, you're saying that what you think is music and how you define it, that's what music is and should be and anyone that likes Pavement is wrong. Isn't that the type of thing that Jaffe has fought against with his JAWS scores and many other BP related examples?

I think Bob Dylan singing sounds like caterwauling; however, it seems I'm in the minority with that opinion. I don't think it warrants bemoaning his accomplishments because it doesn't fit what I like.

My lord, there are two (2!) No Doubt albums on that list and a Hole album that Kurt Cobain wrote. Rail about that.
Did you actually read the article? Or Geoff's previous response?

I believe he said he can't appreciate what Pavement does in the same way he doesn't necessarily appreciate Eckstein or Bloomquist. But he can understand why some people do.
The comparison is completely ridiculous.
No, you'd be alright bemoaning his accomplishments. Bob Dylan is awful.
There are too many bands/artists to name, but off the top of my head, here are a few: Alice in Chains, Black Crowes, Bush, Foo Fighters, Incubus, Live, Dave Matthews, Sarah McLachlan, Elliott Smith, Soundgarden, Weezer.

And I'm not saying that "anyone that likes Pavement is wrong." I'm asking people to "open their minds" in the hope that maybe they will "find more than meets the eye."
On that note, I liked the original Transformers theme music and the 80's animated movie music more than the Michael Bay remake of the Transformers theme.

Ah, the scrappy infielder. I would posit that the Ecksteins and Pedroias of the world are one reason that baseball retains its appeal. These guys are not physical freaks, which is a requirement for 1. the NBA and 2. the NFL, with rare exceptions like Muggsy Bogues and Wes Welker. So my sons and I can watch a baseball game and note the fact that many of the players are taller than we are. But we can also enjoy the fact that a 40-year-old guy is still pitching, a 5'7" second baseman is a legitimate MVP candidate, and a guy who is at least 75 lbs overweight just signed a $200 million contract. Baseball's physical demands don't require everyone to benchpress 300 lbs, run a 4.3 40-yard dash, and/or be able to dunk. I find that refreshing.
I've been zoning out the last two weeks because my favorite independent band, Royal Bliss (, just released their eighth album. They even made it into the Top 10 on the iTunes rock chart and Top 70 overall for a brief period. Think I've listened to the whole thing about 20 times now. They also have a reputation as being the "unluckiest band in rock and roll" since pretty much every member was in the hospital for major surgery at one point or another and the one time they were signed by a major label, they got shafted.

Baseball parallel - You don't have to be an All Star player to be enjoyed, especially if you play hard.
The lead singer of Royal Bliss was on the Blind Auditions episode of The Voice tonight. He sang "I Heard It Through The Grapevine". Alas, like Roberto Petagine, he got no respect.
I've always liked your world, GY ... keep it comin'!

Also, Stocktonians did post a reply to Forbes ... :-)
It seems to me that a corollary to the "we see ourselves in the scrappy guy" theory would be that these players are perceived as getting the absolute most out of the tools they have. The connotation is that they've earned the position they have through continuous hard work. I think that's an important part of why a lot of these guys are fan favorites (and why some players who are very, very good are looked down upon, because the perception is that they should be better but are "coasting" on natural talent).
if you think that people see themselves in Steven Malkmus, you're looking at the wrong thing. They definitely embody the slacker-vibe of mid/late 90s lore, but the whole point of Malkmus love is "Steven-as-guitar-god" not "hey, I could play that well and be a rock star, too." You may not like their output, but they were able to put runs on the board. The result is that they're not like Bloomquist, who in addition to "looking bad" as a ball player, also doesn't contribute to winning. I'm not sure how you define "winning" in music, but my choice is "people enjoy my music and have a good time listening to it."

If we translated your argument from pavement to sport, it'd be like saying that guys who aren't fundamentally sound (but still manage to make shots/hit home runs/catch footballs) aren't actually good players. That argument is simply, demonstrably false. It may be true that such players/bands are less likely to have long careers, or that they are easier to defend in the long run, or a bunch of other stuff. But basically, you're complaining that Stephen Malkmus doesn't work out enough the offseason, so his execution is sloppy. The question remains, so what, and why is this an effective metaphor to examine player performance? It's not like he performed Beethoven's 5th, so we can say "wow, Barenboim's conduction results in a much crisper performance" or something like that. What I'm hearing here is, ironically enough, the exact sort of arguments that are used to DEFEND the Ecksteins of the world (namely, that they "play the game the right way" and they have alot of gristle and whatnot.) Can we please get over that?
Spot on (below, too). The entire metaphor is terrible.
I'm sorry, I just can't stop.....

"But such moments are few and far between. Pavement has trouble with song beginnings and endings. The lead track, "Silence Kit," begins with 20 seconds of aimless noodling that sets the tone for the entire record, that lets the world know they just don't care."

Gosh, no one's ever done the "tighten up" intro before, have they?

I think of Beethoven every single time I hear the intro to Silence Kit. Like it, don't like it--totally fine. But evidence that he/pavement aren't good musicians? That they don't care?

I'll take your advice at face value, and think very categorially about why I like Pavement. But let me suggest that your lack of liking them has convinced you that they aren't any good, or at least to invent a criteria by which you could "objectively" justify your own disliking.

The problem I had with this entire metaphor is that it relies on the idea that there is some way that we can define who is "good at music" that mirrors the ways we can identify who is "good at baseball." There are plenty of ways to put WARP on the board, some pretty, some not. But the way we SHOULD distinguish them is whether the WARP appear or not. How can we do that with Pavement? I think conflating technical proficiency with winning is to commingle a perfectly reasonable personal taste with something that at least has some objectively demonstrable characteristics.
"But let me suggest that your lack of liking them has convinced you that they aren't any good, or at least to invent a criteria by which you could 'objectively' justify your own disliking."

Feel free to suggest it. I listened carefully to this album many, many times and learned a lot from the exercise. The Brubeck homage is beautiful in its way, which I didn't expect to find.
Not a big fan of the music analogy, though I have to admit to being a Pavement fan. The first issue is that if you're going to compare Pavement's skills relative to any other person playing music for a living, you also have to compare the "scrappy" player to every guy playing baseball for a living.

The second problem I have is more philosophical. We can look at baseball and "objectively" measure who is better. Art is a totally different thing; you can really only say who you like. Compare a van Gogh painting to a van Eyk and can you really say that one was a Dutch master and one was not? Yep, Pavement can't play the way Satriani does, but Satriani can't play the way Pavement does, much less write that kind of song.

Now, if you want to watch Eckstein play and hate the aesthetics of his playing, that would be an appropriate comparison. "A glissando that doesn't gliss" is a great description of Eckstein making a throw from the hole.
Yes. This is well put: "Pavement can't play the way Satriani does, but Satriani can't play the way Pavement does, much less write that kind of song."

I've said above that the metaphor is terrible, but re-reading, I will say that the opening section of the article is fine. This in particular:

"The flip side is that I can't bring myself to enjoy music by a band that everyone thinks is cool just because everyone thinks they're cool. A prime example is Pavement, a band that became popular in certain circles in the '90s. I would love to love them, but I don't know how."

Worrying about what's hip or cool is not interesting. And it's perfectly acceptable to admit that you "would love to love them, but [you] don't know how". Even trying to find out *why* you don't like something others do is noble (see "Let's Talk About Love", Carl Wilson's fantastic book about Celine Dion and her (to him) mysterious popularity; really an excellent book). But using technical skill in a WARP-style metaphor is simply wrong-headed.
This website is taking conceptual leaps that I fully applaud.
I think there is a huge difference between sport and art/music. One example being that in baseball being experimental and risking mistakes can be detrimental and in music it can lead to fascinating avenues.In baseball I want my players to be consistent and predictable in their mechanics, in music give me innovation and unpredictability even at the cost of instrumental proficiency, I much prefer "Louie, Louie" to anything I have ever heard by Satriani or Malmsteen.
That being said,I liked the article and would love to read more of your opinions on music even though it seems we disagree on most, Pere Ubu being an exception.
Thanks for commenting. You make a great point about risk and innovation. In the baseball world, we occasionally hear of calls for a manager or an organization to be more creative in their thinking, but the value placed on consistency and predictability makes it difficult for this to happen.
Fun article, if the only thing I really learned is that Pavement fans are crazy defensive.
I love reading baseball analysis but I cringe when baseball writers start trying to get "creative" or "express themselves." It's not very interesting, and there are a lot of places to go for that besides BP.
I cringe as well. Baseball writers should never be "creative," and they should never "express themselves." Yuck. Baseball writers should write boring shit without a human touch. Period.

Just another crazy defensive Pavement fan. Who wouldn't take a "Summer Babe" over a "Rich Girl"? Although I agree that "Major Leagues" is a pretty damn good baseball song, I prefer "Chin Music" by Future of the Left.
One of the places were the musicians:baseball players analogy really breaks down is the issue of influence; sure, maybe Charlie Hough taught R.A. Dickey a knuckleball, but that's not the same as hearing The Fall in Pavement (and seeing it in the album art). And that's just a start--Pavement really began as an avant-garde band, playing around with tape tricks, so to hold them up against "musicianship" is getting to the argument Bryan Ferry made when he kicked Brian Eno out of Roxy Music: "No band can support two non-musicians." And, I would argue, some of Pavement's playfulness goes back to Brian Eno, too.

It's sort of telling that when you did provide some contextual '90s band, you didn't list those that seemed more directly peers (often in sound, too) for Pavement--Sonic Youth, Archers of Loaf, Yo La Tengo, Guided by Voices, say. All perhaps too arty/sloppy (and what an odd line that is) for your ears, and most people's ears, given how few units they all sold, but still way more valuable than a Willie Bloomquist to many of us, loving echoes of Richard Hell and the Voidoids and other groups that blurred our senses of what pretty can be.
There's something very Chuck Klosterman-like about this article (which is a good thing by my lights), and it has engendered the same kind of responses as some of his analogies do. Klosterman has even tried to develop a performance metric for rock bands.
2,229 words (yes, I counted) to say "there's no accounting for taste" followed by 33 comments that prove it.
Whatcha got against Transformers?