More Than 'WAR': Baseball Songwriter Fights Complex Stats With Music

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Mike Patton, middle, with his band The Robinsons at House of Blue New Orleans in 2002. Mike's written over 30 songs about baseball and he doesn't plan on stopping. (Courtesy Mike Patton)
Mike Patton, middle, with his band The Robinsons at House of Blue New Orleans in 2002. Mike's written over 30 songs about baseball and he doesn't plan on stopping. (Courtesy Mike Patton)

Mike Patton is a Nashville school teacher. He’s loved baseball since he was a 7 year old living in New Orleans. His dad loved it too. But New Orleans has never had a major league team. Back in the early '80s, there was pretty much only one way for Mike and his dad to enjoy major league ball.

"I’d go get The Times-Picayune and bring it back, and we’d look at the sports section together and look at the baseball box scores and stuff, and I’d try to figure out what they all meant, and he’d explain it to me, you know, as best he could," Mike says.

Mike and his dad made occasional road trips to see the Astros and a handful of other MLB teams. But most of the time, Mike just dug into the daily box scores to learn about the major leaguers he admired.

Mike, 1983. (Courtesy Mike Patton)
Mike, 1983. (Courtesy Mike Patton)

"To find at least one stat," Mike says. "Whether it’s, 'Vince Coleman, look at all these stolen bases. Look at Rickey Henderson. He can hit home runs and steal bases.' If Mark McGwire was this new guy that we heard about, and he hit 49 home runs, suddenly that was a name. The guys with the good stats, that’s who we wanted to talk about."

The 'WAR' Begins

Mike’s young life revolved around ERA, RBI and Batting Average. But by 1999, when he returned to New Orleans after four years of college, the world of baseball stats had dramatically changed. Sabermetrics had come to overshadow the more traditional categories. The new stats were notorious for their complexity and, often, their divisiveness. Mike did his best to learn sabermetrics, but he says, "You know, I don’t know, it kind of takes the fun out of discussing baseball and stats in general."

But Mike kept discussing them anyway. First, as a blogger, and then as the writer of over 800 Yahoo Sports columns. Mike found it just wasn’t possible to avoid sabermetrics. Like WAR.

"WAR is, officially it’s 'wins above replacement," Mike says. "And what it does is it projects a value for each major league ballplayer that is supposed to give you the number of wins that each player is worth above a replacement-level player."

Oh, I get it. Actually, no, I don’t.

"No one can even give you, like, a solid answer, but, basically, what they want to come up with is, they basically calculate how many runs that player’s worth," Mike says.

Songs About Baseball

Did I mention that Mike is a part-time musician? While he was wrestling with sabermetrics and their usefulness, Mike began writing songs about baseball. He started a band with his brother Todd and called it "Vista Blue," after one of his Little League teams in New Orleans. Mike borrowed melodic inspiration from The Ramones and Weezer, and the baseball themes began to emerge.

"I was listening to classic rock, and the song 'War, What Is It Good For?' came on on this classic rock channel here in Nashville," Mike explains.

"It just hit me. And I was like, 'Yeah, this is the time to just do it.'"

"It was a joke," Mike says. "I just wrote the song by putting together some stats that I knew versus WAR, which I didn’t."

Despite his tuneful skepticism, Mike Patton says he does belong to a sabermetrics group on Facebook, where some WAR devotees aggressively push their agenda. Some even attempt to discredit major league MVP and Cy Young Award winners by demonstrating how their WAR numbers prove that those who voted for them were wrong.

Mike posted "WAR (What Is It Good For?)" on Facebook, thinking it might set the rigid sabermetricians straight. But…

"A couple guys just kinda chuckled at it," he says. "You know what I mean? Like, I think that they thought that it was, like, I was writing from the perspective of some poor fool who didn’t worship this statistic, I guess."

Mike (right) and drummer Todd, in a Vista Blue shirt. (Courtesy Mike Patton)
(Courtesy Mike Patton)

The chuckles didn’t bother Mike.

"All I can tell you is that I have not heard anyone tell me I’m wrong," he says.

He’s probably not heard anyone tell him he’s not prolific, either.

"I do like to take classic song titles and use them as, like, baseball song titles," Mike says. "So, like, we have a song called 'Give Reese A Chance,' you know, instead of "Give Peace A Chance," where, you know, this poor guy Reese just sits on the bench and the coach won’t play him. We've got a song called 'My Best Friend’s Glove,' about making a play with a glove that you borrow from your best friend."

'We See New Things Every Day'

Mike Patton is married with three kids. His youngest, an 8-year-old daughter, watches Cubs games with him. There’s no MLB team in Nashville, so he must feel he’s come full circle in some ways.

He’s now written over 30 songs about baseball and says he plans to keep writing them, because the sport constantly presents interesting subjects.

"You can take a bullpen catcher, you can take a pinch runner, you can take a lefty reliever, you could — it’s endless," Mike says. "And when you start going from not only the major leagues, but down to Triple-A, down to rookie league, to college, to Little League. I mean, this game goes back to 1876, and we see new things every day."

Sounds like Mike Patton is ready for anything, even the next wave of arcane stats conjured up by baseball’s dweebiest eggheads. That leads me to wonder aloud if he has ever dreamed of becoming the official statistical songwriter of Major League Baseball.

"No, but if they called me and wanted that, I think I could do it," Mike says, laughing.

This segment aired on September 9, 2017.


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Gary Waleik Producer, Only A Game
Gary Waleik is a producer for Only A Game.



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