For all his adult life, Jack McDowell has led a double existence. During the warmer months, he’s the intense, goateed major-league pitcher and winner of the 1993 Cy Young award with the Chicago White Sox. When the leaves change, he becomes an intense, goateed but decidedly minor league rock musician.
”When I show up at the ballpark,” says McDowell, 30, ”I’m all business. I’m not thinking about music. But I take a four-track and a guitar on the road with me, and when I get back to the hotel, I’m writing all the time. My off-seasons are completely dedicated to music.”
That devotion has paid off with Just a Thought…, a surprisingly accomplished CD of alternative rock recently released under the rubric Stick Figure. McDowell wrote and produced all the songs, plays guitar and bass, and sings, although you won’t find much evidence of the results in the locker room, where country rules the boom box. ”None of my teammates has any idea where I’m coming from,” says McDowell, whose own tastes run to R.E.M., Soundgarden, and Nirvana, ”although I try to get a couple of converts a year.”
His teammates might, however, sympathize with the itinerant existence of a musician. ”Sports is a lot easier,” says McDowell, who lives in Chicago with his wife and 10-month-old son when he’s not on the road. ”Doing one-night stands and traveling every day with a band can beat you up in a hurry, whereas [in baseball] we get to stay in one place for three or four nights. And as a pitcher I’m only working once every five days. Basically, I’m getting paid to stay in shape, I suppose.” And paid lavishly. McDowell recently inked a new $10.6 million deal with the Cleveland Indians.
By comparison, he’s never made as much as $200 for a Stick Figure gig. ”By the time you pay the band,” he notes, ”it’s enough to have a couple of beers after the show.” Of course, expectations on stage are lower than when he’s on the mound. ”If I go play a show and there are a couple of hundred people there, and a few of them mention a lyric or a song I wrote, that’s a great night,” says McDowell, who fortunately doesn’t ”view success in music as making a ton of money; a lot of great bands play in obscurity for years. Whereas in sports it’s pretty much related: If you’re doing well, you get paid.”
So, bottom line, would he rather win another Cy Young award or a Grammy? ”Another Cy Young,” says the appropriately cynical musician. ”The Grammy has to do with so much other stuff beyond pure music or songwriting — like how much product you’re pushing. The Cy Young has to do with actual, real accomplishments.”