The minimalistic, folk-styled "Phenom" affectionately describes Strasburg's meteoric rise to the majors at 21 years old, just one year after being drafted. Singer and guitarist Steve Wynn, who wrote "Phenom," said he wanted to write the song from the pitcher's imagined perspective, which would be "a little wary of all of the early praise, a little fearful that the glory and the magic could fade away at any time and merely wanting to keep his head down and begin a distinguished, long career."
"Phenom" is the fifth entry in The Baseball Project's season-long Broadside Ballads series of songs that the band is giving away for free on ESPN.com. Listen to it in the box at right and download it by clicking here.
Wynn worked in references to Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who is still going strong at 47, and former Texas Rangers phenom David Clyde, who was 18 when he won his major-league debut just 19 days after graduating high school in 1973 but lasted only five seasons and finished 18-33.
"It's one thing to get a lot of hype right off the bat and to be getting all the headlines and being the guy of the moment but it's another thing to last 20-some-odd years, that's a thing you can't predict or say is automatic," Wynn said in a phone interview on Thursday.
He makes it clear that he isn't saying Strasburg's career will be like David Clyde's, but Wynn remembers being just five years younger than Clyde when his arrival created a similar buzz nationally.
"It was big hype. Just following it out in L.A. while I was growing up, it was huge," Wynn said. "Pretty much radio sports talk and the L.A. Times were the two ways of getting my baseball fix and it was all over the place. People were thinking 'this guy, he's 18 years old and he went straight to the majors' and it was a big deal. I don't remember the talk of the time being that he had the stuff that Strasburg has, but it was pretty exciting."
Strasburg has a few more years of maturity and experience than Clyde did, but the attention and pressure on the Nationals rookie is multiplied significantly in the age of 24-hour cable television sports networks, sports radio and the Internet. And Clyde probably didn't have respected musicians writing a song about him and giving it away.
"I hope enough people hear the song that it does contribute to the hype," Wynn said with a laugh.
Scott McCaughey, who provides backing vocals and piano, said "Phenom" captures the feel of the early 1960s topical folk songs by "Blind Boy Grunt" (aka Bob Dylan) and Phil Ochs that inspired the Broadside Ballads concept. Wynn did his parts at home to give it what McCaughey called an authentic "recorded-in-a-New-York-City-flat-complete-with-tape-hiss vibe." And in between work on R.E.M.'s next record, McCaughey's contribution included recording from a Berlin hotel room toilet.
Now with his perspective as a veteran musician, Wynn said he and his bandmates can relate to some of the excitement and thrills Strasburg is experiencing and some of the thoughts that must be going through his mind.
"We have all experienced the flush of early success, a rush that feels like a dream and then worked our way through all of the ups and downs, keeping focused and putting together various bodies of work. We've all had good days and bad days (hopefully more of the former) but after several decades of making music we are all proud of what we've done," Wynn wrote in his "liner notes" about "Phenom."
He likened members of The Baseball Project to be "more Jamie Moyer than David Clyde" and that Strasburg would no doubt choose that comparison if he could by the time his career is nearing its end. For example, here is the chorus:
And they say that I'm the most in the Washington Post
Sing my praises all the while on the radio dial
But in my life I've found
You're dead if you look down
I just want to stick around for a while
I just want to stick around for a while
As for one of the hot debates in baseball, Wynn believes Strasburg has proved he's the real deal and deserves to be on the National League All-Star team after just six starts.
"To me it seems like the two things you're trying to do at the All-Star Game, one is you're trying to win the game to get the [home-field] advantage for the World Series. And he's one of the best pitchers they have and [most] A.L. players haven't seen him, so on that level he should definitely be in the game," Wynn said. "And, [two] just on the fact that baseball is entertainment, the bottom line is it's entertainment, and people want to see him. So I would love to see him squaring off in the All-Star Game against the top A.L. players."
Jim Wilkie is the editor of The Life and can be reached at email@example.com.