It used to be a batter would walk up to the plate to the sounds of an old guy saying his name and maybe, if you were lucky, his position. It was all so formal, almost solemn. "Now batting… third baseman… Dinker… Donkerman." Things are different nowadays. All the information in the world is accessible on your phone, the entire world is now its own rock video, and elephants can fly in outer space [editor's note: no they can't]. All that and baseball players get their own walk-up music.
When writing this column, I thought about what I'd want as my music if I were a major league hitter. It should probably be something fun and exciting, but I'd also want to show off that I have good taste (even if I don't). I'd want something that gets me up for the at-bat -- but, come to think of it, wouldn't that also get the pitcher up for my at-bat? Maybe I should pick something subdued, something that would lower the pitcher's energy level. Or maybe I should just pick something awesome. So, yeah, that's probably what I'd do.
But this isn't a concert. I don't have 23 minutes to play "Echoes" by Pink Floyd. Even shorter songs sometimes take a few seconds to get going and a hitter doesn't have that luxury. Maybe I'd pick "Time Bomb" by the Dismemberment Plan which starts with perfect rising tension and then kicks in right about the time I'd make it to the batter's box. Maybe I'd go with "Repeater" by Fugazi, but I'd have to have the sound person skip to about the 30-second part or there'd be some quiet-ish guitar noodling while I'm walking up to the plate. Wait, I've got it: cue up the 32-second mark of "Passenger" by the Deftones and I'll crush anything that moves. Or I'll take three straight breaking pitches and head back to the dugout -- but either way, the trip to the plate will rock.
That's often how players pick their music too. It's a reflection of them, of what they love. Take, for example, my current favorite walk-up song "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley, which Shane Victorino uses. It's so popular, all of Fenway Park joins in singing the chorus as Victorino strolls to the plate. It becomes a communal moment, when fellow patrons toss inhibition to the wind and tell each other as much as themselves not to worry because "every little thing is going to be alright." Sox fans may have needed the reminder this season, at times. (Really, guys, it'll be alright. Probably.).
Then there are other players, like Josh Reddick, who dig silliness. Reddick made some news (as much as this kind of thing can make news, anyway) when he walked up to the plate to Wham's "Careless Whisper." If you've never heard that song, watch this:
But if you're at work or school or a funeral and that song isn't playing at the funeral, know that this is not rev-'em-up music. Put it this way: it features a saxophone riff that makes you want to head for aisle four of the drug store and take advantage of their special on Dr. Scholls foot powder. This probably falls under the auspices of "I'm a major leaguer and I can do anything so let's make everyone listen to 'Careless Whisper.'" Though it could also be an attempt to out-smart the pitcher. Remember the old axiom: It's harder to get tight spin on a curveball when wetting your pants laughing.
Of course, pitchers get music too -- and not always as iconic as Mariano Rivera's adoption of "Enter Sandman." Or appropriate. Josh Johnson, he who is currently recovering from his second Tommy John surgery amidst many other maladies over the seasons, enjoys warming up to Disturbed's "Down With The Sickness." Maybe Johnson should go in a different direction, like the "Healthy Food Song" or anything by The Cure.
Most players seem to bounce around from song to song as their tastes change and, as is more likely, they get sick of hearing the same crap over and over again. Mark Kotsay was such a player. My favorite of his choices came last season when he came to the plate to "We Are Young" by fun. Kotsay was 37 years-old at the time, which in baseball player years is about 80 years-old. You'd think maybe something by Cole Porter would have been more appropriate for an octogenarian.
Then there are the players with ironic walk-up music. Danny Espinosa, for example, has in the past come to the plate to Pantera's "Walk," despite having a 2.4 percent walk rate last season and a 3.3 percent rate this season. BJ Upton is came to the plate last season to "Karate Chop" by Future. This might be an attempted reference to the Braves tomahawk chop (because that needs more publicity), but it also works on another level:
ALEX TREBEK: The answer is Karate Chop. [ding!] BJ Upton!
UPTON: What is what I've done to my batting average since signing with the Braves?
Meanwhile, Derek Jeter is in possession of perhaps the most awesome walk-up music a player could ever have. Last August Jeter was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Fallon used the occasion to propose three walk-up songs for Jeter. The first two were typically ridiculous, but the third was a real Roots song about Jeter and was, as you'd probably guess if you know the Roots, it was pretty great. (You can watch the video here.) Lyrics:
Champion athletic major league heater,
New York Yankee, the all time career leader,
Statistically he's at the top of the numeric leader
The shortstop of the century Mr. Derek Jeter
I consulted with several experts, but I wasn't able to find evidence of Jeter ever walking to the plate to that song until I checked the Yankees website which lists the walk-up music for some of the Yankees players. Jeter's is listed as "Derek Jeter At-Bat Songs" by Jimmy Fallon and the Roots. So, if that's true, I hereby suggest we eliminate the five year waiting period for the Hall of Fame.
Also humorously, Jeter's teammate, Brett Gardner, comes to the plate to "Hell On Wheels" by Brantley Gilbert and… actually, I can't really make fun of that.
An aspect of walk-up music that until now has gone unremarked upon is the potential for cross-promotion. No, nobody has yet walked to the plate to corporate theme music (yet), but Ben Zobrist has realized the 15 seconds of time he gets while he walks up to the plate can be used to promote his wife's music career. Zobrist comes to the plate to Julianna Zobrist's song, "Behind Me," which is, as far as I can tell, about a woman who is in trouble (lyric: "Can anybody help me? It's so addicting"). I suppose, if the pitcher happens to think about it, he might find himself wondering, what the heck was that when he should be concentrating on keeping his shoulder in and his elbow up so his curveball doesn't sail on him. Either that, or the hope is that thousands of fans everywhere will drop their $8 hot dogs and $12 beers and (metaphorically) run to iTunes.
There are a whole lot of popular rap, heavy metal, and R&B songs, predictably since that's often what men in their 20s listen to and most baseball players are men in their 20s. But I feel like an opportunity is being lost here. Maybe instead of playing some GET PSYCHED!!! radio hit song, players should look elsewhere. For example, there's the Looney Tunes theme music. Why not come to the plate to this:
If it's good enough for Bugs Bunny then by golly it's good enough for your average ballplayer. Then there's the Pink Panther theme. It's criminal that it hasn't been used for Raul Ibanez yet.
Speaking of criminals, an artist who is criminally underused as theme music is Weird Al Yankovic. Nick Punto needs to walk up to "White And Nerdy", the next player to return from a hernia should come up to, "Living With A Hernia" and someone, anyone needs to jump on "Dare To Be Stupid."
Finally, I offer as means of a last suggestion, anything by The Baseball Project. They write songs about baseball and they're vaguely rocking songs about baseball, too. It's tough to beat that.
But maybe you can do better. What song would you use if you could walk up to the plate to hit in a major league game? I'm sure I've missed a ton of good options. Just remember when answering that the theme to MacGruber is still available.