OK, Baseball

I have no love for the Red Sox or the Yankees. People sometimes mistake my lack of love as hatred, but that would require an investment of emotional energy. The truth is, I don’t care one way or another.

Not that it matters. I’m sure there are enough folks who feel strongly about such things. Presumably this is why those two teams played a game that counts in the standings on the eve of Opening Day.

I typically don’t watch games involving the Red Sox or the Yankees. At the same time, I am excited at the dawn of a new baseball season and I do feel a certain obligation to check in—at least for a little while.

My primary issue with these teams has nothing to do with the men who play for them and everything to do with the way they are portrayed by the media. The moment I hear an announcer start waxing poetic about Derek Jeter (to pick an easy target), I begin to develop an irrational dislike of Jeter. This isn’t Jeter’s fault, and I’m not even sure it’s the announcers fault; regardless, I have been conditioned to cringe when media professionals fawn over Jeter (or Tom Brady; he plays for the Red Sox, right?).

Fortunately, I’ve found a novel way to counteract this involuntary reaction of mine. If I remove the stimulus (announcers fawning over these teams and their players), then maybe I can enjoy the ballgame. Easy enough: I’ll just mute the television. But no sound is boring, so why not substitute some other, more pleasant sound to fill the void?

Borrowing from the genius that is Dark Side of the Rainbow, I decided to use one of my favorite albums, Radiohead’s 1997 opus OK, Computer, as the soundtrack for the game. In this way I would “miss” all the hoopla and receive instead a steady dose of music that I love.

Track 1, “Airbag”

Jeter stands at the plate as the opening guitar riff begins. Like the riff itself, he attacks immediately, grounding to the shortstop on Josh Beckett’s first pitch.

If Nirvana’s Nevermind, released in September 1991, launched a new revolution, Radiohead kicked it into overdrive. There is a depth to this music that hearkens back to the heyday of prog rock while maintaining the aggressiveness of punk. Strange combination.

Nick Johnson drives a ball to deep left-center that Mike Cameron hauls in on the warning track. The next batter grounds weakly to first for the final out.

Jacoby Ellsbury flies to No. 14 in center field. I don’t know who that is; there are no names on the backs of the jerseys.

Track 2, “Paranoid Android”

Dustin Pedroia swings hard at something off-speed from C.C. Sabathia, cues it foul off to the right side.

“When I am king, you will be first against the wall…” Pedroia chases a high fastball for the second out. “…which is of no consequence at all.”

Victor Martinez steps to the plate. The song moves from Pink Floyd, to Sex Pistols, and back again. Martinez lays off a breaking ball down and in.

Perhaps this wasn’t the best CD to play during a game. Doesn’t feel at all like baseball.

Martinez rolls out to first to end the inning. Alex Rodriguez leads off the second.

Track 3, “Subterranean Homesick Alien”

Trippy guitars and organ accompany A-Rod’s high chopper back to the mound. Beckett makes a nice play toward third base, spins and bounces his throw to first, where Kevin Youkilis scoops it.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

The guitar sounds on this song are otherworldly, processed with just the right amount of delay that makes them feel like… I dunno, spider webs maybe. Radiohead features three guitarists, and each brings something different to the table. Kind of like the Beatles, who famously had George Harrison, John Lennon and bassist Paul McCartney trading solos on “The End” to great effect.

Jorge Posada swats a ball off the right field foul pole as the final note sounds. First hit of the season, first run.

Track 4, “Exit Music for a Film”

No. 14 is up for the Yankees. Odd stance. Waggles his bat a lot. “Keep breathing,” advises singer Thom Yorke.

Mystery revealed: This is Curtis Granderson, and he takes Beckett deep to straightaway center. Much more satisfying than Posada’s homer, which emphasized placement over distance. Granderson got all of his.

Another base hit, and Boston’s pitching coach comes out to chat with Beckett. Yorke closes with the line, “We hope that you choke.”

Track 5, “Let Down”

Beckett falls behind the next batter. “Let down and hanging around. Crushed like a bug on the ground.” Another base hit. These lyrics are not being kind to Beckett, and neither are these hitters.

Jeter is up again, takes an aggressive swing on a 1-0 fastball, fouls it straight back. He grounds to short to end the frame.

Track 6, “Karma Police”

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Youkilis bat. His entire upper body bounces around before the pitch arrives… and what the heck is he doing with his top hand? He gets it into proper position when it matters, but that thing is way up the bat to start.

Youkilis crushes a ball off the fence in left-center and is nearly thrown out at second but slides in safely for a double. That was a well-struck ball. The stance may look funny, but it’s clearly working for him. Can’t argue with results.

Track 7, “Fitter Happier”

David Ortiz is up. I hate this song. It’s like “Revolution #9” on The White Album. Not to invoke the Beatles again, but pretentious crap is pretentious crap. Inspired by Noam Chomsky? C’mon, get real.

Ortiz grounds to first, advancing Youkilis to third base. The song does have one redeeming feature: eventually it comes to an end.

Track 8, “Electioneering”

Here’s where the guitars go off the rails. Maybe it’s because we’re still recovering from “Fitter Happier,” but this song rocks.

No. 29 takes Granderson to the wall in center, Youkilis scores. The White Sox started putting player names on the backs of their uniforms in 1960. Would it kill these teams to follow suit 50 years later?

J.D. Drew takes a couple of weak hacks against Sabathia. How do lefties ever get comfortable against this guy?

Track 9, “Climbing Up the Walls”

Apparently they don’t. Drew battles but ultimately is frozen by a fastball down the middle.

This is one of my least favorite songs on the album. It doesn’t rock, and it doesn’t set a mood as well as many of the others. It’s not a bad cut. On a lesser album, I might even like it.

Nick Johnson walks. Shock.

Track 10, “No Surprises”

Mark Teixeira is up. Is that a xylophone? No, it’s a glockenspiel. Music inspired by the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, and Louis Armstrong—three people who have never been in my kitchen.

Teixeira spits at a Beckett breaking ball that drops out of the strike zone, then gets under a pitch and pops weakly to right. A-Rod grounds into an inning-ending double play.

I wish Johnson’s walk had come during this song. That would have worked better.

Cameron bats. An on-screen graphic notes that he is from Lagrange, Ga. As far as I know, Radiohead never covered ZZ Top’s “La Grange”, although wouldn’t that sound interesting?

Track 11, “Lucky”

Cameron draws a walk. I should say something about BABIP here or maybe Pythagorean records, but I’m not feeling it.

More gorgeous guitar tones. Marco Scutaro bats. “He is standing on the edge,” slithers Yorke. I suppose Scutaro is lucky to have enjoyed a successful big-league career after being overlooked for so long when he was younger. Didn’t get a real shot until he was 28. Hard not to root for guys that persevere.

“I feel my luck could change.” Scutaro smokes a pitch, but it’s right at A-Rod, who snares it and fires back to first, doubling up Cameron. Well, that is a kind of luck. Bonus points for the twist ending.

Track 12, “The Tourist”

No. 24 for the Yankees bangs a ball off the wall. Cleared the left fielder’s glove by inches. Posada advances the runner on a groundout to second. Camera shows the scorebook of someone at the ballpark. From this, I learn that No. 24 is Robinson Cano. Thank you, anonymous fan.

Granderson grounds to first, but sharply enough that Cano has to hold at third. The count is 1-1 to Nick Swisher when the final note sounds.

Closing thoughts

This was an interesting exercise. Will I do it again? Probably not. Would I recommend it to anyone else? Probably not.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t tried, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you it’s not worth the trouble.

Watch the game. Listen to your favorite music. Don’t do both at the same time; you’ll end up wishing you’d done one of them well.

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Ken Tremen
14 years ago

Good stuff, but OK Computer was released in 1997. ‘94 was Radiohead-less.

Geoff Young
14 years ago

@TUCK: Thanks, glad you enjoyed.

@Ken: Good catch; it’s been fixed. The ‘90s are one big blur for me.

14 years ago

94 was Radiohead less? So Pablo Honey was just in my imagination?

14 years ago

Great article!  You had me at OK Computer, and then you went and found a way to spin off on Cliff Clavin’s Final Jeopardy answer.

Brandon Isleib
14 years ago

OK, Computer is sort of like the 1978 Red Sox season to me: the first half is really good, but the last bits have nothing going on.  (Although the only song I like past Paranoid Android is Climbing Up the Walls, which I think sets the mood decently.  Not as well as they would have on Kid A, but it works for me.)

Ten Kremen*
14 years ago

@kthejoker If I’m not mistaken, Pablo Honey was released in early 1993.

14 years ago

I feel like a hippie but all I can say is “weird man”.  OK is one of my all time favorites as well as the Beatles.  And I got the Cheers reference and my name is Kyle, so I was about to make the exact same note @Kyle did above.  Keep truck’n Geoff.

I guess I should just have wrote ditto @Kyle,—Kyle

Northern Rebel
14 years ago

Can cutting my ears off, and ripping out my eardrums make Radiohead not suck?

14 years ago

I seem to remember Randy Johnson coming out to “Everything In Its Right Place” before he pitched a few years back so maybe you’re on to something.

Still, the absolute best track for baseball, football, basketball, and soccer is Ricardo Villalobos’ “Fizheuer Zieheuer.” You have to try it if you haven’t already.

Kahuna Tuna
14 years ago

Watch the game. Listen to your favorite music. Don’t do both at the same time …

Bat bearings.  Choose three albums that you think will match up with the pace of the early, middle and late innings of the game you’re going to watch.  (No headphones!)  Then — tall order — write a track-to-action account as engrossing as the one Geoff has produced here.

Thanks, Geoff.  I really enjoyed this summary.  I’ve never listened to a note of Radiohead, but you interwove the descriptions of their music so effectively with the play-by-play that it didn’t make a bit of difference.

For a follow-up article, maybe you should try to dig up a broadcast of a late-‘60s game and write up the action while listening to Sergeant Pepper and The White Album. (-;þ

Geoff Young
14 years ago

@Brandon: What hooked me on OK, Computer is that it didn’t sound like anything else that was going on (at least mainstream) at the time. It was such a pleasant surprise in an era of sameness.

@Northern Rebel: Doubtful, and I don’t recommend testing the theory.

@Lans: I will have to check that out, thanks.

@Kahuna Tuna: That’s not a bad idea, although my tastes lean more toward Revolver or Rubber Soul, maybe Abbey Road. Hmmm…

Jeff Clark
14 years ago

I just crapped my pants reading this!
In a way, Fitter/Happier goes perfectly with the Ortiz at bat.  If Ortiz was fitter he would probably be happier & more productive.
I think you could honestly compare that album to the ebbs & flow of a baseball game.  If only the album last 3 hours.

14 years ago

This still leaves the most important question unanswered- what to do about the damned announcers.

Mike K.
14 years ago

I think that Kid A would have worked better; it’s the soundtrack of an apocalypse, and what’s more apocalyptic than a Red Sox/Yankees game circumventing Opening Day?

14 years ago

@Geoff: Brilliant!

14 years ago

While I agree that baseball and Radiohead is a sort of odd combination, if I’ve always maintained that if I were a ballplayer I’d come to bat to the opening bass line in “The National Anthem.” ‘Course, I’d never be a ballplayer, but it’s a fun, idle question to ponder.

Also, the music/baseball thing might work with the right music. Something kind of mellow and American, maybe.