30 teams, 30 theme songs

Well, the season is winding down once again. By this time, we have a good idea of what each team is capable, and what their hopes (if any) are for the rest of the regular season and beyond. We know which teams have floundered, surprised, or merely trudged along.

Since it’s possible to have a read on every team’s season, you can also find a song to match each club. That’s the point of this column—find a song that best exemplifies 2008 for all. I think this is the best time of the year to do it. Enough of the season has passed to justify this, but since it ain’t all over, there’s still a sense of anticipation and hopefulness for many—and that’s a sense many of your best songs have.

Let’s go division by division.

AL East

Tampa Bay Rays: “Movin’ Right Along” by the Muppets. It’s an odd choice, but it’s one I stand behind. “Movin’ Right Along” is an upbeat little ditty sung by two upstarts hoping to leave their mark on a world that expects nothing from them. Yup, that’s Tampa.

Boston Red Sox: “Do It Again” by Steely Dan. After all, they are the defending champs. They also won it all in 2004. Barring a substantial collapse to either the Yanks or whoever doesn’t win the AL Central, they’re going back to the postseason this year. Naturally, they’re looking to win it all again.

New York Yankees: “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” by Elton John. They’ve made the playoffs 13 straight years, and they have six pennants and four world titles in that time. They even had nine consecutive division titles at one point. Yet they find themselves in the unusual position of third place, needing to either catch fire and/or have a team or two in front of them fall apart to make the postseason again this year.

If they miss the playoffs, that doesn’t mean we’ve heard the last of them. They have some young, highly talented pitchers. While they’ve scuffled this year, that doesn’t mean one should write them off forever. However, a squad led by Generation Joba will be the sun rising on a new day, and 2008 could still mark the twilight in this period of Yankee history.

Toronto Blue Jays: “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel. In the last 10 years, they’ve had eight third-place finishes, a second-place finish, and a fifth-place finish. That’s some impressive consistency. They’ve won 78-84 wins a half-dozen times. The Jays’ idea of an extreme performance is to go 87-75. This year, they are an unexpectedly low fourth, but with their trademark slightly over .500 winning percentage.

Baltimore Orioles: “The Mayor of Simpleton” by XTC. This is more a song about the last decade or so of Peter Angelos’ reign that this particular season. They’re actually having one of their better years right now. Then again, when a record around .450 and a solid claim on last place qualifies as one of your better seasons, perhaps you’re not qualified to be Simpleton’s big cheese. Maybe the Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill” works better.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. An obvious pick and a cliché. It was their theme song for their improbable 2005 title run, making that song popular in Chicago again before the Sopranos did it for the entire nation. Still, it fits. This was a team that wasn’t supposed to compete. They played poorly in the second half of 2006, had a dreadful 2007, yet reloaded for 2008. Clearly Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen believed.

Minnesota Twins: “One Way or Another” by Blondie. Not only are they nicknamed the piranhas, but a manager on a rival club first dubbed them that. They don’t go away; instead, as the song says, they’ll getcha getcha getcha getcha. They had a losing season last year, and in the offseason they lost their perennial All-Star centerfielder to free agency. They also traded maybe the best pitcher in baseball for two men in the minors and a third who hasn’t hit. Yet here they are, in the midst of a pennant race in September.

Detroit Tigers: “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here” by Weezer. Remember when the Tigers were supposed to be the team to beat? Sometimes things don’t work out as planned. The young pitchers haven’t developed as hoped, to put it mildly. The offense has been very good, but it’s tough to win playing softball when others are playing baseball.

Cleveland Indians: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by the Clash. Like the Tigers, they expected to compete, but fell even flatter for much of the season. Spending much of July in last place, they cut bait, shopping C. C. Sabathia to the Brewers and Casey Blake to the Dodgers. Now some are singing this song about general manager Mark Shapiro.

Kansas City Royals: “1985” by Bowling for Soup. It’s a song about a woman named Debbie, who is stuck in the past, remembering the glories of her youth because her current existence is so prozac-inducing. You can’t blame Royals fans for being in a similar situation. They can recall the fond days of old when the team won the World Series with Dick Howser and Dan Quisenberry. They have some nice young players, but are headed for their fifth-straight last-place finish and 13th losing season in 14 years.

AL West

Anaheim Angels: “Rave On” by Buddy Holly. When you begin September with a 17-game lead in your division, you can afford a simple song of celebration as your theme. They’re going back to the postseason for the fifth time in seven years, hoping to do more than the last three trips. (Alternate: Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Coming” in honor of K-Rod.)

Texas Rangers: “What Do I Get?” by the Buzzcocks. The Rangers are just a team that’s there. They never do much especially exciting. They’re a less successful version of the Blue Jays, consistently falling a little under .500. Even last year, when they had their only last-place finish in the last five seasons, they still won 75 games. About 75-80 seems to be all you can get from this team.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Oakland A’s: “Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day. Billy Beane is a big believer in “go big or go home.” This squad couldn’t go big, so he pulled the plug on them, trading away as much as he could. He’s just waiting for 2008 to end. Unlike the Indians, the A’s have responded to the changes by playing as if they were in a slumber. As of this writing, they’ve dropped 33 of their last 45.

Seattle Mariners: “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” by Nirvana. It’s perfect, except for the verb tense. Given Seattle’s dreadful 2008, it should be present tense, not future. Clearly someone currently is having their revenge on the Mariners organization. They expected to compete and instead have failed miserably. At this point their goal is to not have the worst record in baseball.

NL East

New York Mets: “Not a Second Time” by the Beatles. Last year—as everyone knows—the Mets blew a lead to the Phillies in epic fashion. They could lose to the Phillies this year though, something no one in New York wants to see happen for the second year. They have no huge lead to blow this time, but they also didn’t have Johan Santana last year. Alternate: “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles.

Philadelphia Phillies: “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac. They spent most of the millennium as the team that wasn’t quite good enough. They were the ones consistently just missing the postseason. Last year they finally broke through, making it to their first October since the days of Mitch Williams. This year they’re threatening again, and their fans would just as soon see them push it further, and not be stopped in the first round as they were last year.

Florida Marlins: “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy James and the Shondells. There are some advantages to being a Marlins fans. The team has won two titles, has some good young players, and has done surprisingly well this year. Last, but certainly not least, they always have plenty of good seats available.

Record or no record, they have the lowest attendance in MLB this year. In the last 10 seasons (including this year), they’ve been last in NL attendance thrice, next-to-last a half-dozen times, and once scaled to the heights of 14th “best” in a 16-team league. Just last week, they played Atlanta before an estimated crowd of 600. Yeeesh. Alternate: “If I Had No Loot” by Toni, Tone, Tony.

Atlanta Braves: “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen. Some of these choices require a lot of thought. This ain’t one of them. They have Bobby Cox, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones … and their worst record in 18 years.

Washington Nationals: “Desolation Row” by Bob Dylan. A bunch of disparaging song titles can be used for this squad. The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” or Talking Heads “Road to Nowhere” are other ones. “2000 Light Years from Home” by the Stones would be a nice reference to their move from Montreal. When you look at their roster, though, you see that Willie Harris may very well be their best hitter, and Jon Lannan their best pitcher. That’s desolation.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads. Normally the phrase “once in a lifetime” is an exaggeration. In this case, it’s an understatement. The Cubs hope to win their first world championship since forever and a day.

Milwaukee Brewers: “The Kids Are Alright” by the Who. Six of their starting eight regulars are in their 20s, including a pair of 24-year-olds who have already established themselves as stars, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Youngsters also dominate their staff. Heck, do you realize Jeff Suppan is the only man older than 29-year-old Ben Sheets to start a game for them? And the kids are not only alright—they’ve been the NL’s best team since mid-May.

St. Louis Cardinals: “Alive” by Pearl Jam. This team was written off for dead before the year even began. Their core was old, people wondered about Albert Pujols’ health, and they were reduced to relying on guys like Ryan Ludwick. Well, turns out there’s more fight in them than people realize.

Houston Astros: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys. Wouldn’t it be something if their late-season charge could amount to something for them? On July 11, the Nationals beat them by 10 runs, causing the last place Astros to fall to 42-51 on the year. Since then they’ve kept rising up. Despite playing brilliantly lately, they are still stuck in fourth place, with apparently little chance to play in October. Their streak will likely mean nothing . . . but wouldn’t it be nice for them if either the Brewers and/or Cubs collapsed allowing Houston a shocking wild card?

Cincinnati Reds: “Battle of Who Could Care Less” by Ben Folds Five. I don’t know much about this song, other than it has a great title. The Reds will have their eighth-straight losing season, traded away their biggest names, and rank near the bottom of the league in attendance. All they have left is the battle for next-to-last with the Pirates.

Pittsburgh Pirates: “That Smell” by Lynard Skynard. God they stink. This year—perhaps by the time you’ll have read this column, in fact—the Pirates will tie one of baseball’s least enviable records: most consecutive losing seasons. This will be #16, placing them squarely with the Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy Phillies of 1933-48. They can blame this year on Lake Michigan. Against the Cubs, Brewers and White Sox the Pirates are 5-28 with 246 runs allowed.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: “Catch Us If You Can” by the Dave Clark 5. Sometimes an artist will take a song and do a cover version that transforms its meaning. That’s what Arizona is doing to this tune. The original’s cocky emphasis was on the “if you can” of the title. Arizona’s version focuses on “catch us.” Rarely has a team maintained its lead on first place for so long without looking especially good. (And that’s what I wrote before the weekend series to the Dodgers!) If they played in the NL Central, they might be in fifth place.

Los Angeles Dodgers: “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie. Sometimes, money only gets you so far. That’s especially true if you let Ned Colletti determine how to spend it. They have Matt Kemp as a talented young center fielder, so they sign Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones. I guess you could slide two of them to corner slots, but then where do you put Andre Ethier?

Fortunately, both Pierre and Jones have been such disasters that not only have Ethier and Kemp gotten plenty of playing time, but they even managed to snag Manny Ramirez. At least Boston is paying Ramirez’s salary, but the others haven’t come cheap—nor does new manager Joe Torre. They could still win it, but given the weakness of the division, it shouldn’t be a “could still.” They should be dominating like the Angels.

Colorado Rockies: “One Chord Wonders” by the Adverts. When the young exciting team won the pennant last year, this isn’t what anyone had in mind for a follow up. They could bounce back, but for this year at least it’s not looking good for them.

San Francisco Giants: “Born to Lose” by Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. Want to know what it means to be born to lose? You’re born to lose if you let a 41-year-old Omar Vizquel play in over 70 games for your team. At least his OPS+ has finally cracked double digits.

San Diego Padres: “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston. Rather quietly, the Padres had a nice little run for themselves in recent years. They had four straight winning seasons, won two division titles, and ever-so-narrowly missed making the playoffs last year. In 2008, the team fell apart, especially closer Trevor Hoffman, whose last major impression on the baseball world may be his blown save from Game #163 last year.

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