Walk-Up Music, Twisted

The link between Bono and Juan Lagares is unexpected. (via David Shankbone and Arturo Pardavila III)

The link between Bono and Juan Lagares is unexpected. (via David Shankbone and Arturo Pardavila III)

It took me a while to notice the teasing little songs the Atlanta Braves organist was playing.

Maybe that was because I was at the tail end of the baseball-gorging trip Paul Golba and I took in April of this year. I could have been a bit punchy after eight games and perhaps 40 hours of driving in a nine-day span. Paul’s the musical expert of our duo, and he didn’t fully notice until I brought them to his attention.

Of course, they were meant to be sneaky. This wasn’t the stadium-filling walk-up music Braves players got, that home-team batters get in probably every park in the majors and most of the minors. These were tinkly little tunes played as the opposing batters—in this case the New York Mets—came to the plate. They’re soft enough that you’d have a tough time catching them on a TV broadcast, as I later observed.

They weren’t inspirational or meant to be. They were bits of mockery, slipped in quietly enough that the opponents would seem petty if they raised a stink. They were meant as little jokes. Worse, they were meant as the most painful, groan-inducing jokes of all. They were puns.

So naturally I collected them eagerly.

Most of the Mets lineup that day got the treatment, silly walk-up music playing off their names. I do not remember for which Met I first noticed what the organist was pulling, but I started noting them down at that point. Here’s a rundown of the players and their tunes, with some editorial comments sprinkled in.

  • Curtis Granderson: “The Candy Man” (someone was listening to Yankees radio announcer John Sterling, heaven help us); “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
  • Asdrubal Cabrera: the theme from “Taxi.” (Cab/rera. Told you they were groan-inducing.)
  • Michael Conforto: “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” (eye-roll); “Comfortably Numb” (convoluted and brilliant).
  • Lucas Duda: “Camptown Races” (obviously); “Dude Looks Like a Lady” (nothing Lucas didn’t hear all through his school days, I’m sure).
  • Neil Walker: “Walk This Way” (raiding the home-team base-on-balls playlist, I see).
  • Wilmer Flores: “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” (for you monoglots, flores is Spanish for flowers); the theme from “The Flintstones” (Wilma/Wilmer).
  • Kevin Plawecki: Nothing. You try it with that last name.
  • Juan Lagares: “I Want You to Want Me”; “One” [by U2].
  • Jacob deGrom: “John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt.”

It is either a pity or a relief—or perhaps both—that Yoenis Cespedes and Travis d’Arnaud had days offs that Sunday afternoon. Any stretch to play off their names would be liable to hurt. Not even trying, like the organist did for Plawecki, would be a letdown.

This bit of “Name That Tune” spiced up a ballgame that was already pretty good, and it probably would have made a snoozer go by more smoothly, too. Yet it scarcely scratched the surface of what could be done with the concept. About 19,000 people have suited up and played major league baseball. Surely we won’t stop at eight.

At least I won’t.

I have spent (I won’t say “wasted”; you can’t make me) some time and brain cells coming up with punnish (and other) songs to tease players throughout baseball’s history. Do they deserve this punnish-ment? Maybe not, but too bad. Once I get on a roll with buns—er, puns—anyone is liable to get toasted. It’s how I was bred: to cause pain. (Multilingual pun for the win!)

I will have a few rules out of a rudimentary sense of fairness toward the players and the organist in Atlanta. I won’t be fair to readers, though. My puns will be as awful as I can make them.

My game of groans (see, can’t help myself) avoids most currently active players. I don’t want to get into direct competition with the Braves’ organist, or whoever is feeding that person titles. I’ll make a couple of exceptions, but just a couple. While it’s mainly players of the past getting the treatment, I won’t limit myself to songs that were current while they were active. I just don’t know enough 19th-century tunes to do Cy Young justice.

Speaking of him, I’ll use Cy Young as my example for another principle. The songs at Turner Field were being done as light derision of opponents, so anything too positive is going to be a mismatch. Greeting Cy Young with The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” works at home, but not away. (Not even a tinkly organ version would fully dissipate its awesome ‘80s rocking-ness.) Better would be something like Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” (close enough for a circular storm, right?). This isn’t a fully exclusionary rule, and I will override it in the right cases, but it is a strong guide.

Also, I’ll go light on basing the puns on singers’ names, as opposed to titles and lyrics. This means that, say, greeting Rogers Hornsby with “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range gets a deduction, but full credit goes to playing the theme to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” A dispensation will be given to recently-retired Prince Fielder: the entire discography of The Purple One is fair game for him.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

And yes, I will show you readers mercy. Not every song will be a pun; in fact, the majority probably won’t be. When there are other ways to make fun of the guy coming to bat, I will use them. Even when doing so gets a little dicey.

For instance, how do we approach truly infamous or sensitive episodes of a ballplayer’s life and career? I say, as aggressively as the organist dares. If you want to greet Juan Marichal with The Ramones’ “Beat on the Brat (With a Baseball Bat),” that’s between you and the strength of the organ booth’s door. A similar calculation applies if you regale Joe DiMaggio with “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band. Except…he didn’t even meet Marilyn Monroe until he retired from baseball. Temporal paradoxes are such a headache.

We can rag on Dave Winfield and his notorious encounter with a Toronto seagull by playing “I Ran,” or really anything else by A Flock of Seagulls. (If you want the tune recognized, though, you basically have that one option.) This song also works for old-time ballplayer Gavvy Cravath, and for the same reason: a seagull-beaning incident. (It’s how Cravath got his odd nickname: “gaviota” is Spanish for “seagull.”) Randy Johnson had a notorious encounter with a bird of a different feather, for which he’ll get Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”

A few players have recently been caught fudging their ages, like Juan Carlos Oviedo (a/k/a Leo Nunez), Roberto Hernandez (a/k/a Fausto Carmona), and Miguel Tejada (a/k/a Tejeda. Yeah, one letter). Giving them “What’s My Age Again?” by blink-182 is just what they deserve, but this trio is asking for a little more. So bust out the Lynyrd Skynyrd and play them “What’s Your Name?”

The boozier players make easy targets of themselves, though here I would differentiate between the unrepentant topers and someone like CC Sabathia who’s figured out the hooch is not his friend. If you feel like playing Little Big Town’s “Day Drinking” for, say, Flint Rhem (who once claimed he was kidnapped and forced at gunpoint to binge-drink alcohol so he’d miss a big game), just play it extra soft, so it doesn’t pierce his hangover too severely.

(There is one target beyond the dipsomaniacs for such stuff as George Thorogood’s “I Drink Alone and “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” That would be Philadelphia A’s ace Albert “Chief” Bender. And he thought being nicknamed “Chief” was bad.)

The 1919 Chicago Black Sox can all be gathered under the umbrella of Genesis’ “Throwing It All Away,” but we will need some individual variety. For Shoeless Joe Jackson, I’ll offer Robert Parker’s “Barefootin’.” Buck Weaver gets “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright. For Happy Felsch, Sting (with or without the pairing with Toby Keith) brings us “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying,” though one could also go for “Happy Happy Joy Joy” from The Ren and Stimpy Show.

Fred McMullin: you’re on your own.

The Black Sox were never convicted, thanks to magically vanishing evidence, but others weren’t so fortunate. For guys like LaMarr Hoyt and Fergie Jenkins , we can trot out Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues.” Gates Brown and Ron LeFlore merit “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction, which Ron’s speed game makes a double taunt. As a catch-all tune, though, we can rely on “I Fought the Law.”

Pete Rose offers almost too much of a target, but that just means more songs for later at-bats. Poison gives us “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” while Roxette provides “Fading Like a Flower.” We could use Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose,” except the only kiss Pete is famous for wasn’t from him: it was from Morganna. If you want a break from puns, ABBA provides needling commentary with “Take a Chance On Me.”

Nap Lajoie likewise earns the ABBA treatment with “Waterloo.” We could do the same with John McGraw, “The Little Napoleon” (wait, wasn’t the original Napoleon supposed to be little? I’m confused now), but there’s another suggestion that comes, well, way out of left field. That is “They’re Coming to Take Me Away” by the bizarrely named Napoleon XIV. Works with Lajoie, too, and he’s probably less likely to charge the organ booth and wallop you.

Truly weird fact: the B-side to that single—kids, ask your parents (or maybe your grandparents)—was the same song, played backwards. This would be almost too appropriate for certified cuckoo Jimmy Piersall, who, when he hit his 100th career home run, ran the bases facing backwards. How you play that song backwards on an organ and have anybody recognize what the heck you’re doing is a conundrum. Anyone who figures out the answer is wrong: There is no answer.

Dizzy Dean could also be a proper target for this song, but it’s time to look elsewhere. “Dizzy” by Tommy Roe is perhaps too literal. I lean toward Dead or Alive and “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”. For brother Paul “Daffy” Dean, the Looney Tunes theme should suffice.

Spitball pitchers are a fat collective target, with songs easily interchangeable between them. I will use the most infamous of them, Gaylord Perry, for our example. While he would insist his most appropriate song would be John Lennon’s “Mind Games,” we will act more, ahem, precipitately.

That means songs like The Eurhythmics’s “Here Comes the Rain Again,” the title song from the musical “Grease,” and probably best from a derisive viewpoint, Milli Vanilli and “Blame It On the Rain.” Should we want to be more admonishing, we can look to Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” for its lyrics. (“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape/You don’t spit into the wind…”) Trouble is, Gaylord might think we were complimenting his brother.

Any pitcher who throws below sidearm level automatically gets ”Down Under” by Men at Work in his song rotation. (Chad Bradford of “Moneyball” fame gets the first rendition in his honor.) We can extend the song to pitchers of actual Australian origin, like Graeme Lloyd and Grant Balfour. For added fun with Lloyd, in honor of the state of his birth, I could be persuaded to pull out “Le Jazz Hot,” the best-known number from Victor/Victoria. (Or perhaps not. It’s nice when more than one person gets your joke.)

Bear with me as I swerve briefly toward two active players, both pitchers. It’s hard to find a way to torture Joba Chamberlain more than those midges did in Cleveland in 2007. Stretching the bounds of wordplay to use “Natural Woman” (nat/gnat) deserves more groans than even I’m comfortable with. Going instead with “Get a Job” is serviceable, but something of a cop-out. We may just have to admit that Chamberlain is “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy).”

R.A. Dickey is not just a knuckleball pitcher. His specialty is the hard knuckler, faster than anyone else throws that pitch. In honor of this unique offering, his music is “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” by Smashing Pumpkins. If this doesn’t sound particularly derogatory, I suggest getting an eyeful of the lyrics. When the opening line “The world is a vampire” is the most upbeat part of your song, your target shouldn’t be feeling too chipper.

And since I just used that word, guess I’ll have to give Chipper Jones what’s coming now. I will be properly nasty and make his primary music Paul Anka’s “(You’re) Having My Baby.” For those who don’t remember the woman involved in that little scandal, I can jog your memory with a secondary tune, “And We Danced” by The Hooters.

Swinging back to earlier players, Harry “The Hat” Walker offers the usual “walk” possibilities that I found so weak with Neil Walker. My counter-proposal: play “Safety Dance” from Men Without Hats, and blow everybody’s minds.

One could use the same song for Cap Anson, but there are two objections. First, “Cap” stood for “Captain,” rather than what Anson was wearing on his head, so the link isn’t perfect. Second, due to Anson’s notorious (if perhaps overstated) role in the segregation of baseball, I lean toward playing “Ebony and Ivory” on his behalf. (Come to think of it, this would work well for Harry Walker, too. Plus a few others I could name.)

A couple players at the Mets-Braves game got TV theme songs for their ragging walk-up, so I should follow that example. Giving Lefty Gomez the “Addams Family” theme is a snap (or two). The famed “Jeopardy!” theme goes to Dan Quisenberry. (Think it through. Yeah, you got it.) Old-timer Doc Cramer gets the “Seinfeld” theme, along with Andy and Alan Benes. There was a time when the theme to “The Six Million Dollar Man” would have had a place, but with 36-year-old utility infielders making more than that these days, its time has passed.

Lenny Dykstra’s post-baseball career opens him up to plenty of sarcastic comment that is a great improvement on just playing songs by Nine Inch Nails. Jim Croce’s “Working at the Car Wash Blues” is good for specific targeting, but a more general commentary would be Warren Zevon’s “Mr. Bad Example.” For Nails’s one-time Mets teammate Ray Knight, I can think of nothing better than the “Brave Sir Robin” song from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Or Monty Python’s Spamalot, if you prefer stage to screen.) Silly English k’nig’ht.

Playing off the colorful possibilities with Whitey Ford is okay, but I’m looking at his surname for something more automotive. It’ll be cars, cars, cars—but none of them will be Fords. “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin. “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns. Prince and “Little Red Corvette.” Whitey will be waiting for a Ford song, and it will never come, and it will drive him mad.

Okay, perhaps not, but it sounds great.

Joe Medwick famously despised having the nickname “Ducky” hung around his neck, so obviously we’re zeroing in on that. “Rubber Ducky” from “Sesame Street” works, but its connotations might actually be too positive for listeners of the right age range. For pure embarrassment, we have to go with Rick Dees and “Disco Duck.” I trust that won’t have positive connotations for anybody. Even Dees.

For Reggie Jackson, stirring straws and candy bars pale as subjects before his most famous movie cameo. So in honor of The Naked Gun, he’ll be walking up to “Killer Queen” by Queen. (“I must…kill…the Queen…”) For his next time up, never mind the ballhawks, here’s the Sex Pistols with “God Save the Queen.”

Want to take Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken Jr., two of the greatest players ever, down a peg? Turns out the Iron Horse and the Iron Man are both vulnerable to the music of Alanis Morrisette. Isn’t that “Ironic?” (Perhaps more so than anything in the actual song.) This method also works on Clint Courtney, Phil Garner, and the several other major-leaguers nicknamed “Scrap Iron.” The jury’s still out on using it against guys called “Rusty.”

The “Hammering Hanks,” Greenberg and Aaron, are a tougher duo to razz. Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” is one of those songs that’s too positive for the job. “U Can’t Touch This” or other songs by MC Hammer have the problem of going by artist instead of title, but it may be the best option. And don’t even consider “If I Had a Hammer.” Aaron took the title of his autobiography from that song: You’d only be increasing his royalties.

I’ve saved the biggest target of all, figuratively and nearly literally, for last: Babe Ruth. One tempting tune is “Sultans of Swing,” not only playing off one of his myriad nicknames but adding some extra baseball terminology to stay on topic. The problems are that it’s likely too positive for the role of mockery, and it may not even be the right Dire Straits song for Ruth, according to those who think Mr. Eighty Grand a Year was getting his money for nothing.

That’s okay. We can bring out the big guns, meaning everyone’s favorite California Congressman/Oscar-winning actress duo. Yes, it’s Sonny and Cher with “I Got You, Babe.” The perfect song to torment someone, as Bill Murray once learned.

I could go on—and on and on and on. I have over 30 players and managers left on my lists for whom I haven’t done anything, and in the time it took me to write them up, I would think of a dozen more. I wouldn’t even need to extend this piece; I could write a fresh one with the material I have left.

You won’t have to worry about that. All joking has its limits, and I’ve hit mine playing this game. If you want any more, you’ll have to come up with some yourselves.

Yes, I’m offering to let you dish it out instead of take it. Let’s see what you have.

References and Resources

  • Paul Golba’s musical knowledge, not to mention his iPod cache, well exceeds mine, and my haul of painful jokes would have been much the poorer without his aid.
  • Baseball-Reference provided a few player nicknames when I was drawing blanks.

A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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Frank Jackson
5 years ago

I once pondered writing an article on this same subject but never got beyond “Can’t Buy Me Love” for Ty Cobb.

I am agog at how many hours must have gone into putting this together.

5 years ago

Love the article. The Braves organist’s twitter account (@bravesorganist) will also tweet out what he’s planning on playing for each of the opposing batters before each home game for those of us who want to check our guesses.

Brandon Isleib
5 years ago

Kevin Plawecki is begging for Lamb’s hit “Gorecki.”

Paul G.
5 years ago

I still think we should play the jingle for “Hungry Hungry Hippos” for Milton Bradley.

B. Budd
5 years ago

I went to a Jays-Sox game at Comiskey in 1999 and can still remember a few of the punny walk-up songs played by the Comiskey organist.

Shawn Green and Willie Greene got “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the MGs and the “Ho-ho-ho, Green Giant!” jingle. Tony Fernandez got “One” by Three Dog Night, since he wore #1.

I always regretted that the 2002 Angels’ postseason opponents didn’t play “Mickey’s Monkey” by Smokey Robinson when the Angels took the field. They were owned by Disney and their mascot was the Rally Monkey. Mickey’s Monkey, get it? This may have been the greatest idea I’ve ever had.

Frank Jackson
5 years ago
Reply to  B. Budd

The White Sox organist was Nancy Faust. I remember her from going to Sox games in the early 1970s. I think she was the best ever at walk-up music, though the batters from the visiting team might not have always been happy with her choices. Sometimes you had to ponder her choice of music for a moment before you got the joke.

Number One with a Bullet
5 years ago

Plawecki should get “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus.

5 years ago

Wade Boggs: Psycho Chicken (what he supposedly always ate) by The Fools

5 years ago

My favorite part of this article is the casual lamentation that mocking DiMaggio with the J. Geils Band would be anachronistic because he didn’t meet Marilyn Monroe until after he retired.

5 years ago

so can do it

5 years ago

great for yourside

5 years ago

Coincidentally, I had come across this earlier this week. Might be my favorite jab of all time:


5 years ago

Going a bit off-topic here, but Napoleon was actually rather tall for his time. He was recorded as being 5 feet 2 inches tall, but this was using French feet and inches, which were longer than their English equivalents. 5 feet 2 inches using French measurements was about equal to 5 feet 7 inches using English feet and inches. That height was actually two inches taller than the average height of French men at the time.

John Shreve
5 years ago

For Plawecki, “Keep Your Hands on the Plow(ecki).”

John Shreve
5 years ago

Around 1959, the Crosley Field organist chose this song for Vada Pinson: “Show Me the (Way to=Vada)Go Home.”

5 years ago

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Arthur Garrison
5 years ago

One of my favorites was actually used in the 1970s for Twins catcher Phil Roof. The Christmas classic “Up on a Housetop”

ruby singh
4 years ago

They were owned by Disney and their mascot was the Rally Monkey. Mickey’s Monkey, get it?