In his first career, that of a major-league baseball pitcher, he's nearly reached the pinnacle: more than a decade in the big leagues, 123 victories, an appearance in both the post-season and the All-Star Game, and a 1993 Cy Young Award as the American League's best pitcher.
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But in his second career, Jack McDowell isn't exactly swinging for the fences... yet. As singer, songwriter, and guitarist for the rock band Stickfigure, whose album Feedbag was released earlier this year on Boston's Monolyth Records, the Anaheim Angels pitcher keeps music on the back burner: a diversion from hours and hours of downtime in strange hotel rooms.
"When my baseball career is over, I'll probably take a shot at music full-time," McDowell said recently by phone from Minneapolis. "I've been releasing records for a decade, and we've tried to take a step up on every project. It's cool when people comment on the music and specifically on songs. Any artist hopes to reach people like that. I want my music to do for people what certain songs did for me. That's what's driving me."
Feedbag, mixed by Don Dixon and backed by members of Cracker and the Smithereens, crafts a lean, mean sound around McDowell's guitar-dominated songs. Raised in California with an ear toward his older brothers' musical influences such as the Beatles and the Who, McDowell discovered the Replacements during his college days at Stanford. "[Paul] Westerberg's songs were just him talking about what's going on in his life," McDowell explained. "They weren't just love songs and pop songs and BS. That's what inspired me to write songs and record them."
In 1988, a year after the Chicago White Sox made him their no. 1 draft choice (six picks after the Mariners chose Ken Griffey Jr.), McDowell formed the band View with a college roommate. Using a session drummer, View released a full-length record in 1990 under the guidance of McDowell's teammate and fellow pitcher Scott Radinsky. (Now a closer for the Dodgers, Radinsky is baseball's other rock star, fronting the LA punk band Pulley, which has two records available on the Epitaph label.)
Following View's tour during the 1994 off-season, McDowell wrote a slew of new songs that just weren't right for the band. "It was a different sound, a different direction," he said, "so it became the first Stickfigure record."
Just a Thought was released by the Chicago label Monsterdisc in 1996, produced by McDowell and featuring his songs, guitar, bass, and vocals. Monsterdisc folded before McDowell could record a follow-up, but Darren Hill, whom McDowell had met through Westerberg, was just starting the Monolyth label. "Whenever I went to Boston, we'd hook up," said McDowell. "He was interested in my next project, and we did it."
After seven years with the White Sox, McDowell pitched one year with the Yankees and two with Cleveland, but major elbow surgery in May 1997 ended his Indians career. He resurfaced this season in Anaheim, one of the Mariners' chief rivals in the AL West. At 32, McDowell continues to take his guitar on Angels road trips, writing songs in hotel rooms and staging unannounced live shows. He spends many late nights in clubs checking out other bands in different cities, and he realizes that his chances of returning to Cy Young status may have faded.
"I don't think the prospects are great that my arm will get much better," he admitted. "I might be jumping to music full-time a little sooner than I had hoped for."
Related Links and information:
Monolyth site with new release (click on name to find out more about the band)