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Monday, February 18, 2008
He traded hip-hop to become a horsehide historian

By Jeff Pearlman
Special to Page 2

Because he is well versed in the two disparate worlds, the question directed toward Peter Nash seems an intriguing one:

Vanilla Ice or Roger Clemens -- who's the bigger fraud?

As a former MC for 3rd Bass, a critically lauded hip-hop trio that in 1989 released the spectacular "The Cactus Album," Nash certainly held his opinions about the Ice Man. Why, in the video for "Pop Goes the Weasel", Nash (known musically as Prime Minister Pete Nice) and co-rapper MC Serch go so far as to bludgeon an Ice look-alike to death. "He just didn't have any credibility," says Nash, 41. "None at all."

And yet, nearly two decades later, in his current existence as a baseball historian, author and filmmaker, Nash speaks of Clemens with similar let's-crack-a-bat-over-his-skull disdain. As a man who has studied the game to the very last detail, who owns artifacts ranging from the Boston Beaneaters' 1897 championship trophy to Shoeless Joe Jackson's barn (yep, you read that correctly), who has penned two books and co-produced a documentary ("Rooters: The Birth of Red Sox Nation"), Nash looks at the Rocket and doesn't much like what he sees.

"It's so amazing that someone with a two-decade career and that record of excellence now might as well be Mark Fidrych," Nash says. "I mean, what's left of Clemens' legacy?"

So who's the goober? Ice or the Rocket?

"Hmm," Nash says. "That's a tough one. But even with the juice, I guess I'll have to pick Ice. I just didn't like his style."

In an admittedly far-reach sort of way, perhaps Nash can grasp what both men have gone through. Like Ice, who debuted as a cheesy early-'90s buffoon and is now a respected (OK, dreadful) thrash-rapper, and Clemens, an all-time legendary pitcher doomed to go down with Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, Nash's metamorphosis is both jarring and eye-catching.

But to those who know him best, it's anything but unexpected.

Long before he was drawn to the hip-hop stylings of the Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow, Nash was a young baseball geek in Floral Park, N.Y., gobbling up cards with reckless abandon, rooting for his beloved Dave Kingman ("Unfortunate choice of a hero," he now laments) and writing letter upon letter to his favorite players. He still remembers his first Mets game, a 1973 clash against the Cubs at Shea Stadium after which a family friend brought him to the visitors clubhouse. "I was hanging with Fergie Jenkins in his jockstrap," Nash says, still somewhat scarred. "That's the image I'll never erase -- Fergie in his jock."

At age 12, Nash joined the Society of American Baseball Research (his mother Carole even printed the lad a handful of business cards), and developed a pen-pal relationship with Waite Hoyt, the Hall of Fame pitcher whose career fascinated the boy. One of the greatest days of his life came at age 14, when the telephone rang in the Nash household.

"Hello," said Raymond Nash, Peter's father.

"Yes, this is Lefty Gomez calling for Pete."

"Yeah right," Raymond said. "Who is this?"

"Really, it's Lefty Gomez."

"I'd sent him a piece of paper to sign that had about 40 other Hall of Fame signatures on it," Peter Nash says. "It disappeared when I sent it to him, and he called me to apologize. We spoke for about an hour -- just me and Lefty Gomez."

When the Nash family vacationed, Pete always needed to check out a famous ballplayer's grave site or childhood home; needed to visit this stadium or that. "We took a trip to Gettysburg and the only thing I had on my to-do list was head to Eddie Plank's grave site," he says with a laugh. "Baseball was everything to me."

That focus changed slightly at Brooklyn's Bishop Ford High School, when Peter and his diverse group of friends became increasingly engrossed in hip-hop. Nash would spend lunchtimes writing lyrics and banging on the tables, and as a junior at Columbia University in 1988 he hosted the campus radio station's first rap program, the "We Can Do This Show." (Nash also logged two seasons as a reserve on the Columbia basketball team.)

Around this time Nash teamed with Serch (Michael Berrin) and DJ Richie Rich (Richard Lawson) to form 3rd Bass. They were signed to Def Jam Records, and in 1989 released "The Cactus Album," which went gold behind the hit "The Gas Face." Over the ensuing three years, the trio toured the world, opening up for Public Enemy and earning universal props as the anti-Vanilla Ices -- white rappers (both Nash and Serch are Caucasian, Lawson is African-American) who acknowledged their music's black roots. "At first, no one knew how to take us," Nash says. "There was no Eminem paving the way for us as white rappers. But we weren't rockers and we weren't jokesters. We were real."

Though the group's follow-up album, 1991's "Derelicts of Dialect," featured a No. 1 rap single in "Pop Goes the Weasel," 3rd Bass' fall was as quick as its rise. The group disbanded the following year, and after a couple of coolly received albums with Richie Rich and a dabble in artist management/development, Nash hung up his musical hat and, in a sense, returned to the world from where he came.

It was in 1993 that Nash began to relocate from New York City to Cooperstown to co-develop Cooperstown Dreams Park, where visiting youth baseball teams play tournaments in miniature enclosed fields. He also established the Baseball Fan Hall of Fame and built a replica of McGreevey's Third Base Saloon, the nation's first sports bar and a Boston staple back in the early 1900s. In 2001, he turned his focus toward publishing, writing "Baseball Legends of Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery" and, two years later, "Boston's Royal Rooters." His film, based on the book about the original Red Sox fans, was released in October 2007 and is available on DVD. "As much as it's a Boston story, it's really more than that," he says. "The whole history of American sports fans can trace back to this group. That's what appeals to me as a baseball fan. This is where it all begins."

For Nash, the next step might come as soon as the upcoming season, when he and a handful of partners plan on bringing McGreevey's back to Boston. Though they have yet to settle on a location, Nash and Co. purchased the naming rights from the McGreevey estate, and own several original pieces from the pub.

"At some point, you'll definitely see me behind the bar serving drinks," Nash says. "No doubt about it."

And what if Vanilla stops in for a cold one?

"Oh, he'd be welcomed," Nash says, "with open arms."

Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and the author of "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero," now available in paperback. You can reach him at anngold22@gmail.com.