In baseball, athletes’ walkup music can mean many things.
It could be a popular song to engage the fans, it could be a song that pumps them up, or it could be because they lost a bet.
While it may still be uncertain as to how walkup music came to be in the MLB, it certainly is a big part of baseball today.
Walk-up music — the unofficial soundtrack of the baseball season — didn’t begin with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1994. But longtime Philadelphia publicity director John Brazer’s “Lenny Dykstra” moment is an interesting marker on MLB’s musical timeline. Brazer was responsible for the music played during games at Veterans Stadium. He simply played the music he liked, such as the Allman Brothers, Warren Zevon, the Rolling Stones and REM, between innings.
Then, one day, Dykstra called Brazer out to the outfield during batting practice to talk about something very important.
“The Dude looks at me and says, ‘Dude, we have to change some things up,'” Brazer recalls. “I said, ‘OK.’ But I still didn’t know what he was talking about. He said, ‘When I come up to bat for the first time, I want you to play Hootie and the Blowfish’s ‘Hold My Hand.'”
Brazer nodded and asked if that was all Dykstra wanted.
“No, dude,” Dykstra replied. “The second time I come up to bat, I want you to play Tom Petty’s ‘Won’t Back Down.'”
Brazer said OK, and asked what Dykstra wanted played before his third at-bat. Dykstra thought about it for a while and then replied, “I liked that song you played a couple days ago — ‘Philadelphia Freedom’ by Elton John.”
Dykstra, however, did not get a hit to any of those songs. Instead, Brazer remembers, The Dude went 0-for-8 over the next two games, thus ending his walk-up music experiment, at least temporarily.
So if Dykstra doesn’t get credit for turning the batter’s box into a jukebox, who does? In 1993, the Seattle Mariners might have been the first club to start playing songs for every player. But, unlike nowadays, the team selected the music, not the player. And the M’s usually chose songs that fans could easily associate with their players, says marketing director Kevin Martinez.
For instance, since Jay Buhner’s nickname was Bone, the Mariners played “Bad to the Bone” when he batted. Catcher Dan Wilson was known to Seattle fans as “Dan the Man,” so the team played “What a Man” before his plate appearances. Reliever Mike Jackson strode in from the bullpen to the ominous strains of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Raul Ibanez got “Werewolves of London” because of the chorus that sounds like “Ra-oooollllll!!!”
In the 1970s, Pittsburgh’s organist played snake-charmer music whenever Dave (Cobra) Parker batted. And former Cardinals organist Ernie Hays, who retired after 40 years on the job in 2010, told a St. Louis radio station that Lou Brock requested that the theme to the movie “Shaft” be played when he batted.
Who knows? Perhaps walk-up music goes back even further. Maybe Babe Ruth had a banjo player strum “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” when he batted in the 1920s.
While the origins of walk-up music are obscure, what is certain is that it is now as intrinsic a part of baseball’s fabric as $150 replica jerseys. Every player now strides to the plate (or mound) accompanied by his own personal anthem, with tunes ranging from rap, pop and heavy metal to country and even Frank Sinatra. Well, not quite every player. Earlier this season, Oakland second baseman Tyler Ladendorf specifically requested that the Athletics not play music for his at-bats.
But for most everyone else, walk-up music is as crucial and identifiable as the names and numbers on their jerseys.
“Your walk-up music has to mean something,” says Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter, whose most-played walk-up song over his 17-year career is the 2013 hip-hop ditty “Immortal” by Kid Cudi. “When you hear the song’s lyrics, you want it to kind of lock you in before you go to the plate. So I have to hear those words: ‘I’ve got my lion heart … flowing through my brain.’ And when I step to the plate and I hear, ‘Tonight I feel immortal,’ I just feel unstoppable.
“When you choose a walk-up song, you’ve got to choose wisely.”
Just ask Cody Decker. Decker, a catcher in the Padres’ system, picked Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” as his walk-up music last season because he liked the chorus.
“But hearing that four times a night, for a month …?” he says. “I used to like Foreigner but now I hate that song. It nauseates me.”
Drake has topped both the Billboard and MLB walk-up music charts over the past two years and that his hit “Trophies” was chosen by the most players last season. So far this year, “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap and “Blessings” by Big Sean (and featuring Drake) have been the most popular. Hip-hop/rap is the most common genre, followed closely by rock, then pop and country.
Logan Morrison used Katy Perry’s “Firework” for his walk-up music, and no, he did not lose a bet. He was apparently looking for a date. San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford has walked out to music by Lady Gaga, as well as to songs by Bay Area rapper Andre Nickatina partly because he thinks local fans enjoy it. Pittsburgh infielder Josh Harrison is accompanied by music created by his brother, Shaun, a hip-hop artist. Ben Zobrist walks up to songs by his wife, Julianna, a Christian alternative recording artist.
And then there is Oakland’s Josh Reddick. Says Adam Loberstein, who oversees the Athletics’ walk-up music: “I joke with him that if I download 100 songs, 50 will be Josh’s.”
Reddick recently received considerable attention when he used the opening saxophone section to George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” ballad.
“That was just random,” Reddick says. “It just came up on the radio in the clubhouse one day when I wasn’t doing so well, so I said, ‘What if?’ And it ended up being a way bigger sensation than I thought it would be. The first time I used the song I hit a home run so I couldn’t change it for a while. But I did average overall with it. Then I switched back to WWE music and did a lot better.”
That begs an interesting question: Does walk-up music actually affect the batter’s performance? Hutchison says that it’s difficult to track — or prove definitively — if music makes an impact in the box score, since many players have a mix of songs or change tracks regularly.
“It’s like any other baseball superstition,” Loberstein says. “If you’re hitting well or pitching well, why change things up? But if you’re not, it’s the song’s fault. So you should change it as soon as possible.”