Music to My Ears
June 24, 2005

I'm pretty sure just about every ballplayer has pre-game rituals that have more to do with superstition than any real physical preparation.  I know a lot of them are very particular about the music they play before the game and what music is played for them.  For example, Chipper Jones always has Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" play before each home at bat.  Ryan Church started playing it before his at bats near the end of April.  In April (pre- Crazy Train) he hit .190.  Since the beginning of May he's hit .371.  Coincidence? 

They've been playing Crazy Train for Chipper ever since they started playing theme music in Atlanta.  Some players are very loyal to their theme music.  Jay Gibbons (Money for Nothing - Dire Straits) and BJ Surhoff (Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits, ironically enough) are two Oriole players who have had the same music ever since they arrived in Baltimore.  Even after Surhoff was traded to Atlanta then came back to Baltimore, he kept the same music.  Clearly, Surhoff is not making enough money to afford some new CDs.  And with the collapse of Napster, where's a fourth outfielder/part-time DH to go to get his music? 

Other guys change sporadically.  John Patterson began the season always playing Coldplay's "Clocks" before each start.  He switched to a different song a little more than a month ago.  "Clocks" ERA - 2.45.  Post-"Clocks" ERA - 3.85.  Dear John - Coldplay has a new album out.... if you're tired of "Clocks", there are other tracks to play now.  For the sake of your career and my fantasy teams, go to a or Tower Records now! 

When the Orioles used to play at Memorial Stadium and for the first few years they played at Camden Yards they almost always used to play "Magic To Do", the intro song from the musical, "Pippin".  They haven't played it very much the past few years.  Maybe they just don't like Ben Vereen.  Who knows.  But until this year, there hasn't been much "magic to do" in Camden Yards since 1997.  Now that the Red Sox have caught them in the standings, it will be interesting to see if they suddenly find that missing CD.

The last time I went to Wrigley Field they didn't have any piped-in music at all; only an organist.  I don't know if that is still the case, but if it is - are Cub players at a competitive disadvantage because they don't get theme music?  Or if they do get any theme music, can they only get tunes that can be played on an organ?  It won't be opposing pitchers or oppressive media coverage that will finally undo Derrek Lee's bid for the triple crown - it will be hearing some ditty from the 1930s three hundred more times that finally unnerves him.  Or maybe I'm not reading him right... maybe the organ soothes him enough to reach a zen state of consciousness where he is one with the bat and ball.  The meandering carnivalesque strains of "Hello, Ma Baby" help him channel Heinie Zimmerman - the only Cub to win the triple crown back in 1912.  Or maybe it drives him so crazy that he focuses his hatred of those infernal pipes through his shoulders, forearms and wrists, loosing all his frustrations and anger out and punishing the ball for the organ's sins with each swing.  Who knows.  Moreover, how hard is it to imagine Chipper Jones as a Cub, striding to the plate as "Crazy Train" is attempted on the Wurlitzer.  Some players specify cities that they refuse to be traded to either because of a racial perception or bad blood with the front office or a losing tradition... I wonder if some players have it in their contracts that they can't be traded to the Cubs unless they are allowed to use their IPod in the batter's box. 

Still, one day I'd love to see some player come to the plate with something altogether unexpected playing, like the "Beer Barrel Polka".  Even something dramatic like Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor would be pretty cool.  A few years ago back when Ben Davis was still with the Padres a couple of his teammates convinced the guys who played the music at the Murph to play "Dancing Queen" by Abba as a practical joke when he came to the plate.  Davis was visibly annoyed during the at bat, but I think he ended up hitting a double anyway.  Yes, the song elicits connotations of homosexuality in that context.  But geez, for a guy who has a career average of .237 and slugging percentage of .366, he could use a little more annoyance. 

Maybe the quality of the speaker system and music selection can have a positive effect on the performance by the home team.  Could it be that the Nats are in first place because they get better theme music in DC than they did in Montreal.  Seriously, how can you get fired up enough to face Randy Johnson to the music of Edith Piaf or Celine Dion?  I've seen each of the last six Cirque de Soleil tours and I still can't hit a curveball.  Maybe this should be considered when calculating ballpark effects - runs scored by home and away teams, distance to the wall and the likelihood that they will play Toby Keith while you are batting.   Who knows.