Celebrating Robert Pollard’s No-Hitter And The Rock-Jock Nexus
4:31 PM EDT on May 14, 2023
Jocks wanna rock and rockers wanna jock. Or so I’ve found through my years of writing mostly about sports and pop music.
So I was among those noting the recent 45th anniversary of a seminal moment in rock/jock confluence: On May 11, 1978, pitcher Robert “Bob” Pollard of Wright State threw a no hitter against Indiana Central. Wright State athletic department spokesman Alex Underwood tells Defector that there have been just three no-hitters in the Wright State baseball history. Pollard's was the first.
Beyond how it relates to Pollard, I have never thought about Wright State baseball. But for years I cared more deeply about Pollard, who after making his mark in college baseball would found the band Guided By Voices (GBV) in Dayton, than I did about any athlete or artist and some family members. The no-hitter anniversary, commemoration of which has become a running gag among GBV fanatics for a while now, lets me and several of my buddies reflect on our era of Pollard disciplehood. Good times.
We bored everybody but each other while spending most of the 1990s talking about GBV and little else. We were captivated by Pollard’s story and his music. He had been working as a schoolteacher in Dayton and recording in basements and local studios with friends in town for years; they did this for kicks, mostly, and kept the tapes to themselves. Then, beginning in 1994, a ridiculous stockpile of GBV recordings just began trickling out of town and were shared underground from coast to coast. So many GBV songs will remind you of every band you ever loved while also sounding like nothing you’d ever heard before. And since the production on all GBV recordings was by design so bad—they were pioneers of the so-called "lo-fi" movement, after all—their live shows were absolute revelations in the most literal sense. It was exciting to hear how these songs were supposed to sound.
Me and my buddies swapped bootlegged live tapes and import EPs. GBV started touring, and we went to every show they played in the D.C. area and made road trips up and down the Eastern Seaboard to see them. I’d been going to rock shows for decades already by the time GBV came into my life, but none were more fun than this band's mid-1990s gigs. As luck would have it, my hardcore GBV clique was made up entirely of journalists, and to spread the gospel we all wrote about the band in music magazines and major daily newspapers (a lot). We even got ‘em a mention on “The McLaughlin Group.”
The peak/nadir of our obsessive period came when we just showed up in Dayton one weekend in early 1996. We knew they’d be around town since GBV had a show not far outside Cincinnati. We tracked guitarist Mitch Mitchell down at a downtown bar and brought him to a house party. Mitchell was as nice as he was inebriated, and when we handed him an untuned acoustic guitar and begged him to play all the hits so we could have a singalong, he confessed he didn’t know what chords to play for any of the fan favorites. He’d only memorized the abstract guitar parts he played live. That wasn’t ideal for our purposes, but we went for it anyway. Shouted lyrics and joy abounded.
I called Pollard’s house the next morning and his wife answered. She told me Bob wasn’t home, and that he was over at Mitchell’s place for a rehearsal to get ready for that night’s show. We then went to that house, very much uninvited. As I was reminded by a GBV co-dependent last night, there was a moment when we were standing outside Mitchell’s garage when we looked at each other and realized that we’d crossed the line from fans to stalkers. We also agreed that sometimes stalking was cool. Then Pollard came outside for a smoke break and invited us into the garage for the rest of the rehearsal. There we were, sitting in a garage and watching our favorite band in the world as they worked out, at garage-rock volumes, arrangements to GBV songs that weren’t even out yet—they were from what would be the Under the Bushes/Under the Stars LP—but which we knew already cuz we had all the bootlegs. Could there be a better rock and roll moment? No! If you hung around any of us through the end of the decade did you hear the story about us seeing GBV in a garage? Yes!
We also saw Pollard’s jock side during the trip. We went back to his house and watched him and his boyhood buddies play basketball on the full court that took up almost all of his backyard. These guys didn’t give a rip about his contemporary musical endeavors. Hell, they didn't care about what he did at Wright State either. To them, he was still just the multi-sport star of Northridge High, Class of 1975. He was an all-league quarterback in football, an all-league forward in basketball, an all-league pitcher and shortstop in baseball. His brother and occasional GBV member, Jim Pollard, was among the backyard ballplayers that day. Jim was also a schoolboy superstar himself, having once scored 57 points in a 1980 basketball game for Northridge vs Tippecanoe. (The Pollard brothers were inducted together into the school’s inaugural athletic hall of fame in 2010.) We also learned that Frank Myers, the second-string quarterback behind Pollard at Northridge High, also took up music. In 1995, just as GBV was breaking out of Dayton, Myers won a Grammy for Best Country Song for “I Swear.”
Our buddying up to Pollard got awkward by the end of 1996. Backstage at a show at Irving Plaza, he told us he would soon be breaking up the band. He said they’d put out one more record—“a triple album with 100 songs!”—and then GBV was over. Later that night we asked a band member what he planned to do after the breakup.
“What do you mean?” he said. Turned out Pollard hadn’t yet shared his plans to fire everybody with his mates.
Though the triple album didn’t materialize anytime soon, Pollard followed through and ditched the Dayton guys from his band and hired more accomplished, if less fun, musicians from out of town to be the new GBV. We still bought GBV records and went to shows for a few more years, and while Pollard’s genius remained obvious in future incarnations of the band and to this day, the whole thing no longer seemed organic and the fandom wasn’t as fun.
But, boy, as I mull every year about this time, we had a run. Happy no-hitter anniversary, Bob! I'm now gonna go listen to "Over The Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox" for the millionth time, and I guarantee it'll make me smile.