Somebody once said that all ballplayers want to be rock musicians, and all rock musicians, ballplayers. Jack McDowell got to be both. When not flinging fastballs for the Chicago White Sox, he sings, writes lyrics and plays electric 12-string guitar for a band called V.I.E.W. His record as a pitcher—he was 12-4 through Sunday—earned him a spot on the American League All-Star team; his record as a singer—Extendagenda, on the Quality Start label—has drawn praise on MTV and in Rolling Stone.
At 6'5", 180 pounds, McDowell is as slim as the neck of a Fender Stratocaster. His goatee suggests a young Frank Zappa; his sullen disposition, Prince. A true rock poet, McDowell doesn't go in for expansive chat: Words lodge between his teeth like stubborn kernels. "We sought credibility and truth," he says of Extendagenda. "Trust me, in life there are more situations to be discussed than love."
Like the bench-clearing brawl he helped incite against Toronto last May. After grooving a home run ball that put the Blue Jays ahead, McDowell threw a heater behind Toronto's Mark Whiten, who then charged the mound and rocked McDowell with a roundhouse right. "Watching Jack go after hitters in close games, I realized he may be a better competitor than he is a pitcher," says White Sox pitcher Charlie Hough.
The righthanded McDowell is basically a two-chord pitcher: His repertoire starts at fastball and stops at forkball. But his forkball gets as much rotation as a hot video on MTV. "Jack's got three varieties," says his pitching coach, Sammy Ellis. "He throws a 'get me over' when he needs a strike. And he has two 'put aways,' one that veers across the plate like a curve, another that drops down and away from lefties like a screwball. He's got tremendous rhythm, and I'm not talking rhythm and blues."
Born in Van Nuys, Calif., McDowell was Stanford's starting pitcher when the Cardinal won the College World Series in 1987. The White Sox drafted him in the first round, fifth overall. He joined the team that September and went 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA. But McDowell was a meager 5-10 in 1988 and looked like a flash in the pan. "He had a tender shoulder and a bad hip," says Ellis. "His forkball wasn't forking and his fastball wasn't fasting." McDowell spent the next season in the bushes. He didn't go gently. He blasted management and penned a protest song, Tell Me Something. "It's about trusting yourself," McDowell says. "The key line goes, ''Cause in the end, it's me and only me.' "
By the spring of 1990, McDowell had changed his tune, and he went 14-9 for Chicago last season. He formed V.I.E.W. last October. Filling out the trio are a couple of minor league pitchers, bassist Lee Plemel and percussionist Wayne Edwards, whose father played drums for The Hondells in the Annette Funicello classic, Beach Blanket Bingo. The band's light, airy sound borrows heavily from R.E.M. Appropriately, the name V.I.E.W. came to McDowell in his sleep. "It's an acronym that doesn't mean anything," he explains. "I just thought it was a cool word."
Though V.I.E.W. has never performed in public, it has been booked for a postseason gig at Kansas City's Kemper Arena. The opening act is a hockey game. "That'll be the first day of our tour," McDowell predicts.
Hit the road, Jack.
Proper rhythm is a key to McDowell's output both on the mound and in the studio.