Inside the prank-filled, thoroughly-researched world of at-bat music
Players like Torii Hunter of the Angels take their at-bat music very seriously
MLB has rules governing when the music should start and stop before each at-bat
Josh Hamilton prefers to use songs with a message of Christian faith in them
Before the start of the 2009 season, Torii Hunter was consumed with an arduous chore: finding the perfect song to introduce him for his at bats at Angel Stadium.
"It's like research," he later explained. "Google all day. iTunes all day. Man, it took all of spring training [that year] to find a song. Then I was just listening to it in the car one day and was like, 'Wow, rewind that.'"
Hunter had his eureka moment when the lyrics of Lil' Wayne's "Dinnertime" came across the radio:
They say I couldn't play baseball at all
And now everyday of my life I ball.
Hunter knew he had his at-bat song, one that he has used off and on for the past two seasons.
"When you're looking for a walk-up song, you try to pick something that's dear to your heart," Hunter said.
That's the veteran outfielder's take and it's a common one shared by a host of ballplayers. But the walk-up song is also an essential part of a player's brand and, along with this batting stance, a chance for personal expression. Thus, the music played when a home players walks to the plate can be an explanation of self, audition for support, anticipation of the moment, exhibition of beats, proclamation of faith or fodder for pranks.
Ah, yes, the pranks. Take this one, courtesy of the Rangers' Michael Young, who comes out to Beastie Boys songs "Sure shot" and "Sabotage." While playing for Class A Hagertown in a 1998 game at Cape Fear, N.C. Young recounts an amusing incident in which the girlfriend of an opponent wanted to give her boyfriend a nice surprise and had the player's intro song switched -- to Boyz 2 Men's "End of the Road."
"I think it was the end of the road after that," Young said. "When he found out, I think he kicked her to the curb.
"Guys were laughing about it for the whole series."
The origin of the intro song as theater is believed by many to be rooted in the early 1970s when the Yankees played "Pomp and Circumstance" upon closer Sparky Lyle's entrance into games. And it accelerated in the 1989 movie Major League when Charlie Sheen's character. Rick Vaughn, a fictional closer for the Indians, ran onto the field to the raucous "Wild Thing."
Some players are already preparing for the 2011 season. Earlier this month Blue Jays rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia took to Twitter seeking advice, asking, "Walk out music.... hip hop or old school rock n roll??" Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval was asked by a follower what his song would be, and he replied that he wasn't sure yet but it "will be a surprise."
More attention surrounds these songs than ever before -- the Internet is full of message boards listing and critiquing players' choices -- and as of June 2010 even historic Wrigley Field now plays requested songs for Cubs hitters, breaking the long-standing tradition of using organ music to introduce each batter.
Though Major League Baseball doesn't specify a finite number of seconds that a song clip can play, the league, ever mindful of the pace of the game, does have explicit instructions governing music. For instance, when an out is made with no one on base, the public-address announcer should introduce the next hitter no later than when the ball reaches the third baseman as the defense throws the ball around the horn. The batter's music should start immediately after he's announced and should stop when he reaches the dirt cut-out around home plate.
Starting pitchers have their own music, but those tunes are often lost in the shuffle of the top of the first, the crowd often still settling into their seats, securing concessions for the first few innings and gossiping with friends they met at the ballpark.
Closers have better luck securing fans' attention spans. Mariano Rivera, of course, instills the fear of God into opponents when he trots out of the Yankee Stadium bullpen to Metallica's "Enter Sandman." Recently retired Padres and Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman appeared to the ringing of AC/DC's "Hells Bells." Red Sox fireman Jonathan Papelbon emerged to "Shipping up to Boston," the biggest hit of local band Dropkick Murphy's and a song that was featured prominently in Boston crime film "The Departed."
But the intro song in baseball today is the art of the batter, who will often walk to the plate four or five times a game and can choose either to have the same song or different cuts off an entire EP played.
Inspiration for these songs comes from all places. Three players turned heads last spring when they chose Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." Yankees designated hitter Nick Johnson explained that it was the favorite song of his four-year-old daughter; Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki explained that he chose it for his younger fans, telling the Colorado media, "I know Miley Cyrus is huge, so why not put it up there? I can take the ribbing from the guys." And outfielder Cameron Maybin, then with the Marlins, said he used it for one day "for laughs."
And then there's Mark Teahen of the White Sox who chose the Justin Bieber song "Baby" for a game when the teen sensation was in attendance at U.S. Cellular Stadium.
Sometimes the music can get players in trouble. In 2002 when Manny Ramirez was with the Red Sox, he made a last-minute request, via a clubhouse employee, to have his song changed just before a game. The new cut was "Good Times (I Get High)" by Styles, which has drug-themed lyrics and profanity. Boston immediately changed its policy to prohibit spontaneous requests.