Baseball and music just go together.
Baseball is the most lyrical of sports, and seems to naturally lend itself to a soundtrack. And it's in the lingo of the game, from “chin music" and “banjo hitter."
There are songs all about baseball like “Willie, Mickey & The Duke" by Terry Cashman or “Centerfield" by John Fogerty, and players are frequently referenced in songs, everyone from Joe DiMaggio in Simon and Garfunkel's “Mrs. Robinson," to Rod Carew in the Beastie Boys' “Sure Shot."
Some players—most notably Scott Radinsky, Bernie Williams and Jack McDowell—are also musicians and have released albums, and many pro players bring guitars on road trips to kill time in the hotel. Players at every level, from high school to the big leagues, walk around before or after games with expensive headphones around their necks.
From the “Star-Spangled Banner" to “Take Me Out To The Ballgame" to everything in between, music is also an integral part of the ballpark experience, and it's not just the typical stadium jams such as “Who Let The Dogs Out" by Baha Men or “Cotton Eye Joe" by Rednex. Many ballparks have their own signature songs. A trip to Fenway Park wouldn't be the same without hearing Neil Diamond's “Sweet Caroline" before the eighth inning or “Dirty Water" by The Standells after a win. The Mariners blast “Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen during the seventh-inning stretch, after a push in Washington to make it the state song in the mid-1980s. You can't help but want to “start spreadin' the news" after a Yankees win with “New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra, and the Orioles are one of many teams to use The White Stripes' “Seven Nation Army" as a rally cheer in key situations.
Perhaps inevitably, then, music started to get attached to the appearance of individual players. Technology then made it possible to access thousands of songs with the click of a mouse and instantly pipe them through the stadium speakers. So it's no surprise that most players now have personalized walk-up music—a song they choose to be played as they walk up to the plate or as they warm up.
In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, teams hired organists to add music to the ballpark experience, but the history of the individual walk-up song is vague, at best.
Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock requested that the Cardinals organist play the theme song from “Shaft" before he came up to bat. Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith walked up to songs from “The Wizard of Oz."
A newspaper article from 1982 indicates that Rangers first baseman Dave “Big Hoss" Hostetler had a “special song" played before each at-bat. The organist in Pittsburgh played the James Bond theme song before Barry Bonds at-bats as early as 1990.
The Braves have mixed old school with new. While the players have their individual walk-up songs, the team also hired organist Matthew Kaminski in 2009 and fans can tweet song requests to him during the game (@bravesorganist).
But by the early to mid-1990s—perhaps due to the success of the movie “Major League," in which relief pitcher Rick Vaughn (played by Charlie Sheen) comes barreling out of the Indians bullpen with “Wild Thing" by X blaring over the stadium loudspeakers—most teams had scrapped the organ (or at least pushed it into the background) and many were encouraging players to customize the music played for them during the game.
Baseball is a team sport, but unlike other team sports it's mostly based on individual matchups. For hitters, it's also a sport where failure is commonplace. So it makes sense that players welcome a little extra motivation to get amped before an at-bat, much like a boxers or wrestlers have music blaring as they slowly strut toward the ring.
“Everybody has their likes and it shows in their walk-up music," Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs said. “It's just something fun that makes coming out to the ballpark a better experience for the fans and especially pumps up the players."
Players like having the music, fans like hearing it, and even the musicians get a kick out of it. Country singer Jason Aldean is a big baseball fan and is one of the most popular artists players choose when walking up to the plate or warming up to pitch.
“I love it. I hear it a lot of times just watching the game," Aldean said. “Just growing up a big baseball fan and still being a huge fan of it, I think anytime you hear your song being played in a stadium or somebody wanting to walk up to the plate or a pitcher coming out to one of your songs, that's pretty awesome."
It has been said that many athletes would like to be rock stars, and many rock stars would like to be athletes. Walk-up music brings the two worlds together.
“I think there's a lot of truth to that, just simply from the fact that I know a lot of the ballplayers and I know a lot of the singers, and I think that's the case," Aldean said. “We'll go into a town and go over to one of the stadiums to take batting practice and then those guys love coming out to the shows and hanging out. I think it's just a mutual respect for each other. They dig what we do and we dig what they do."
So, what does it say about a player when they walk up to the plate with Aldean's music playing?
“I think what it says to me about a player that chooses to walk up to one of my songs is that obviously they're a country music fan, which is cool," Aldean said. “And, to me, it probably means they're a good ol' boy. They're probably into hunting and fishing, and they're probably somebody that I'd like to hang out with. That, and maybe they just really have bad taste in music. I don't know."
Aldean represents one of the three foundational genres of walk-up music: country. The other two are hip-hop and hard rock/metal. Unless a player is trying to be funny it's rare to find a song from another genre, though Prince Fielder did use Mozart's “Requiem" as his walk-up music for awhile in 2013. Of course, Fielder has also used the commercial jingle for the fictional product Soul Glo from the movie “Coming To America" as his walk-up music, so he's a veritable renaissance man.
For some players, a walk-up song is part of their image. After all, the song will be associated with them, so they pick something classic and stick with it, year after year.
Others tend to be more contemporary and mercurial, switching things up each year or even from at-bat to at-bat. And while some players don't put much thought into their selections, for many players it seems their walk-up song is a reflection of their personality. There's just something fitting about Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton walking up to “Lord Knows" by Drake, as the rapper seemingly is warning pitchers, “It's your worst nightmare . . . "
Giants catcher Buster Posey reminds San Franciscans about his Southern roots by walking out to “Hell On Wheels" by Brantley Gilbert, and Reds first baseman Joey Votto strolls out to The Rolling Stones' “Paint It Black," which is what pitchers have to do if they want to avoid getting crushed.
For other players, the songs have even more of a personal connection.
Few other players have this option, but Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist walks up to the plate listening to his wife sing. Julianna Zobrist is a Christian pop musician, and Ben uses her song, “Behind Me" as his walk-up music. Pirates utility player Josh Harrison uses music made by his brother, Shaun Harrison.
Athletics outfielder Coco Crisp created a personal connection with his walk-up song in 2012, “Bernie Lean" by ATM & IMD, which also had an accompanying dance based on the movie “Weekend At Bernie's." The song and dance became so popular with fans in Oakland that the Athletics gave away a “Coco Lean" bobblehead doll last summer.
A couple of Pirates players picked songs from Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa, but third baseman Pedro Alvarez stayed true to his roots. Alvarez, who grew up in New York City, walks up to the underrated Jay-Z song, “Brooklyn Go Hard," while his teammate, Washington native Travis Snider, shows some Seattle pride by walking up to songs by Nirvana and Macklemore. Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings picked a song with his initials, “Go DJ" by Lil Wayne, and B.J. Upton uses “You The Boss" by Rick Ross—fitting because B.J. is short for “Bossman Junior."
It should also come as no surprise that three of the most prominent players from Alabama—Red Sox righthander Jake Peavy, Twins outfielder Josh Willingham and Yankees righthander David Robertson—all use “Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“One of the cool ones was Miguel Tejada," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “He had (Toby Keith's) 'I Ain't As Good As I Once Was,' which I think the fans were laughing about that, but all of us in here didn't agree with it because he could still play and he was doing it when he was here."
In an article on MLBTradeRumors.com, agent Alex Esteban said he actually studied the fan demographics in Milwaukee to find the “perfect walk-up music" for his client, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. The result? “Good Vibrations" by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Obviously.
And while most players stick to the hip-hop, country or hard-rock formula, others are like Fielder and go outside the box a little bit.
A few players borrow walk-up music from pro wrestlers. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon and Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick have used the music from Stone Cold Steve Austin, Indians DH Jason Giambi uses the Wolfpack theme from New World Order, and Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday has the same music Big Show uses as he enters the ring.
Pirates righthander A.J. Burnett warms up to the theme song from “The Walking Dead." Royals second baseman Chris Getz is a little more lighthearted, sometimes walking up to the plate to the theme music from the 1987 Nintendo game, R.B.I. Baseball. R.A. Dickey warms up on the mound to Darth Vader's theme song, “The Imperial March." Perhaps it's the Dark Side of the Force that makes his knuckleball dance so much?
At the end of the day, baseball is all about entertainment, and adding players' walk-up music to the ballpark only serves to better the fan atmosphere at the game.
“I remember in Boston, Shane Victorino came out to Bob Marley's 'Three Little Birds,' and the whole stadium was singing along," Mariners shortstop Brad Miller said. “It gets them into it and they associate that song with the player . . . It gives you a little glimpse of their personality, too, and I think that's a cool part of the game."