And so it came to pass that while I was in the middle of “researching” and writing up this great idea for a fun and certain-to-be-almost-unbearably-witty article on walk-up music, the Sox television broadcast this weekend featured this very topic. Not only had I not been able to find a list of this year’s Sox’ choices anywhere (the MLB / team site link simply said to check back later, which I did and it still said that, though I haven’t since), but I didn’t actually see the broadcast, so I missed the listings for the player-song combos, nor did I hear any of them.
I’ve also yet to get to a game in person this year (insert attendance-shaming comment here), and so haven’t heard anything any of Ricky’s Boys are toddling up to the plate with.
The flip-side, of course, is that I wasn’t going to offer any sort of real critique anyway, except in the most general of terms. First off, I am an old guy with little knowledge or interest in what’s new out there. And while I do write about music, my knowledge of Latin and hip-hop music, both wildly prevalent among today’s ballplayers, is next to nil. I am not about to criticize anybody’s taste or choices in areas about which I know nothing. And as an old guy who’d gotten at least a little wiser on the way, I don’t really feel like criticizing anybody’s taste in music anymore, anyway.
Now, I’m not opposed to giggling at, say, Gordon Beckham’s choice of an awful, awful pop song, one that probably contributed to his rapid decline as a viable major-leaguer.
Seriously, listening to that damned “Lose Your Love Tonight” thing four or five times a game would flat-line Ted Williams’ BABIP and maybe his will to live, though he might have used it as a weapon to assault pitchers: “Take this piece of crap and shove it your ear, Billy Pierce!”
Neither would I be shy about praising Tyler Flowers, not for his framing, but his choice of “Midnight Rider.” I’m not a major Allman Bros. fan, but I do appreciate them, and that is probably my favorite of their songs. Mostly I appreciate Flowers’ willingness to go against the modern grain and choose something great from 40-plus years ago.
An online source says Josh Phegley used The Ramones’ “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” in Oakland last year, which is the first thing I’ve found that I appreciate about Phegley. If he’d adopted it when he was here, I might’ve been pissed when the Sox traded him.
But that’s not what this article is about now. What it’s about now is: What makes for a good walk-up song and what that song should do. But first …
My “research” tells me that music was first used in a ballpark in 1941. (It also tells me that it was used in “other” sporting venues earlier, but since no “other” sport than baseball matters doodly-squat [which reminds of a potentially great walk-up song], I don’t give doodly-squat about it.) Now, it is apparently commonly accepted that the first team to do so, installing an organ for the entertainment of the fans, was, um, the dammed Cubs. While this is slightly painful to us, it must be remembered that the Cubs did give us a couple of other worthwhile things in the 20th Century, like Three-Finger Brown and Ernie Banks.
Within a few years, nearly every ballpark had an organist on hand to keep things lively between innings and, before too long, between batters. I didn’t see any direct timeline on when ballpark organists began to tailor the between-batter music to any particular batter, but it was certainly common, if not pervasive by the 1960s when I, as a little kid, started attending Indianapolis Indians games at Bush Stadium, out on W 16th St.
(Sox connection – Bush, built in 1931, was used to portray both Comiskey Park and Crosley Field in Eight Men Out. Cubs snub — online word has it that the ivy at Wrigley was copied from Bush Stadium — then named Perry Stadium, which had it from its beginning. Insert raspberry sound here.)
I can’t recall specifics, or who the organist was, but I know that the music at Bush Stadium was lively and upbeat for the hometown boys, and that visiting players usually got something comic or humiliating based upon their name or appearance. As a fat kid, I was especially tuned in when some portly visitor was serenaded with “Roly-Poly” or “She’s Too Fat for Me.”
By the 70s, pop and rock music had reared its head in organ booths around the country, generally credited to the legendary and beloved Nancy Faust (statue!). It was my ill fortune to spend most of Ms. Faust’s career in Indianapolis, and though I did attend a handful of games at Comiskey over the years, I readily admit I don’t much remember the organ music except for her dazzling opposing pitcher kiss-off “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” much admired and envied around MLB until it occurred to other organists that they could simply steal the idea and play it themselves.
I do recall, though, that Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” quickly became an organ favorite in ballparks and, to hilarious results, for high school band directors. That Faust was tailoring songs for Sox by this time was verified during last weekend’s broadcast, when Wimpy bemoaned that when he joined the Sox, the walk-up of his heart’s desire, “Roll out the Barrel,” was already claimed by Greg Luzinski. Pop music it may not be, but as walk-up music, cast from the same die.
By the end of the 70s, recorded music was becoming standard, and with it, the designated hitter-song.
So what’s the purpose of a walk-up song, and what makes a good one? It seems to me that a walk-up song serves any one, or combination of, four main principles. Ideally, all four. Walk-up music should:
- Fire you up
- Fire up the crowd
- Introduce yourself to the crowd
- Introduce yourself to the pitcher in a way that will intimidate / annoy / mock them
It seems clear from any casual survey of current walk-up songs, that most players choose some combination of Nos. 1 and 3. Essentially, they’re going with a song they really like, and so both firing themselves up and introducing themselves, if in an opaque way, to the crowd. “Here’s who I am” by way of “here’s something I personally like.” And by virtue of personally liking it, psyching themselves up in the process.
Depending upon the song, this might attend to factor No. 2, fire up the crowd, but that seems incidental in most cases. To do so would require a) that a reasonable percentage of the crowd also knows and likes the song, or b) the song is insanely catchy or powerful right out of the box, and within the very short amount of time the song is actually playing. No slow-building epics here. While something like, say, “Stairway to Heaven” might both be known to much of the crowd (assuming the crowd is mostly OPOS like me) and build up to a certain majesty, the opening bits are slow and soft and unlikely to fire up much of anybody outside of the audience at one of those Led Zep tribute shows.
Factor No. 4 is harder to gauge, and maybe impossible. While introducing yourself to the pitcher in general works much as it does to the crowd, to have it mean more than “Hey, this left-handed third baseman likes reggaeton! I like reggaeton, too!” or “Reggaeton? I f-ing hate reggaeton! I’m not giving him doodly-squat to hit!” While this might be a form of annoying the pitcher, in the event he f-ing hates reggaeton, it’s not really the spirit of intimidate / mock. No, the way to do that is through a musical choice that says: “I’m a badass with killer taste and my song is here to let you know I’m gonna take your crappy little slider and put it onto the concourse. And then flip my bat.” The chosen song must swagger, maybe snarl, certainly swing. And conveniently, pretty much any song like that will also fulfill Nos. 1–3.
(It should be noted that something like Todd Frazier’s choice of “Fly Me to the Moon” is pure No. 3 and he must surely realize that. I respect the man’s choice [and taste], but as a walk-up song, while original and props for that, it will inspire finger-popping and little else. Though I also admit it does have swagger and swing.)
Very little walk-up music out there incorporates all four principles.
I have some suggestions. Years ago, philskatie, while sitting beside me during a lovely afternoon game, asked me what I would choose as my walk-up music. I pondered this for vastly longer than a non-music-nerd would. I hadn’t codified the four principles at that point, but they were at work subconsciously. And here, encompassing, I think, all four principles, are my choices:
Number one: The New York Dolls: “Personality Crisis”
Alternate: The Undertones: “Teenage Kicks”
And so now I task you, SSS: What is your walk-up music? How will you fire up yourself and the crowd, while introducing a part of you and telling the pitcher, “I’m gonna take your crappy little slider and put it onto the concourse. And then flip my bat?”
Click on “FANPOST” above, and share your songs.
And as a bonus question, because it occurred to me, what song do you nominate for the 2018 Chicago White Sox theme song?
Kevin Ayers: “Don’t Let it Get You Down”