The Fight Over Music at the Ballpark

Fans today can complain for hours on end about how the loud, pre-recorded music is ruining the fan experience. With the likes of Vanilla Ice, Linkin Park, and Lady Gaga all having an equally good chance at making it on the speakers during the three-plus hour ballgame, I can understand the argument. It should be remembered, though, that this argument is at least thirty years old.

In the June 30, 1980, edition of the New York Times, this article appeared: “The New Sounds of Music at Shea Stadium“.  The article begins with this fine piece of writing:

They are getting ready at Shea Stadium. Al Jolson is flexing his knees for one more chorus of “Swanee,” Judy Collins is practicing the high notes, and Bob Dylan is tuning up his guitar. It’s time for baseball again.

They never know when they will be needed, but they must be ready, in their dust jackets and their cassettes in the announcer’s booth. These minstrels, these troubadors have become as essential to baseball at Shea Stadium as the umpires and ground crew.

Most other ball parks resort to organ music, but Shea Stadium has become an open-air discotheque, featuring a wide range of singers – Frank Sinatra, Chuck Berry, Dolly Parton. All season long there has been a pop song for every occassion.

“Rock Around the Clock”, “Send in the Clowns”, “Take This Job and Shove It”, and “Joy to the World” are all mentioned as songs played at Shea.

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Not all fans appreciate the Coasters or the Drifters between innings. One purist baseball fan, Gene Maeross, said he remembered the good old days “when you went to the ball park to hear the crack of the bat, the chatter of the players, or even to talk baseball with people sitting around you.”

Perhaps any music is deplorable, but the impresarios of baseball believe their television-era fans need to be “entertained” every second.

The article talks a lot about Frank Cashen, the Mets’ new GM that year who had introduced “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” to Baltimore only five years earlier. Cashen was raising seven kids at the time and, very smartly, commented that “The future of baseball is in the 16-to-30 age group. We want to provide low-cost entertainment for people on dates.” I don’t know about dates, but targeting that age bracket was certainly the right thing to do.

It also goes on to mention some of the theme nights they build for the opponents visiting Shea. For example, with the Dodgers in town, the setlist included “LA Freeway” by Spanky & Our Gang, “LA Blues” by Tom T. Hall, and “California Girls” by the Beach Boys. It also goes on to mention that “should the Mets sign their No. 1 draft choice, Darryl Strawberry, [the Mets have] the record poised to celebrate the occasion: the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields”.”

Clever folks, that 1980 Mets front office. It’s just another reminder, though, that, no matter what we’re arguing about or complaining about in baseball today, chances are that the same argument or complaint has been dealt with years before. And, if baseball could survive it then, it can certainly survive it now.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find a Frank Catalanotto baseball card so I have a good excuse to listen to The Outfield’s “Your Love”.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.