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The Cutoff Man: Baseball ’n’ Roll

March 21, 2011

Published in The Tartan, 3/21/2011:

Last night, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted its 2011 class. This year’s class included performers Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Tom Waits, Darlene Love, and Alice Cooper.

Although I am a fan of Neil Diamond and think Dr. John and Darlene Love had some good tunes, the term “Hall of Fame” — and the fact that the above five have been grouped together at the same level, regardless of actual talent or ability — seems a little suspect.

Some years it seems that the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum,” should just be called the “Rock and Roll Museum” with the random assortment of performers it inducts each year; one needs to look no further than the 2006 class of inducted performers, which included Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Sex Pistols. You know what? On second thought, let’s just go with the “Music Museum,” because as much as Miles Davis was an excellent musician and a musical genius, he neither rocked nor rolled; that’s why we called it “jazz.”

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum website’s Induction Process page, “Criteria include the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to rock and roll.” Though I’m already doubtful that the “five to seven performers” that have been inducted every year for the past 25 years have all contributed to the development and perpetuation of the genre and its subgenres, these criteria sound strikingly similar to the criteria for an artist to get his or her work into an art museum — and you don’t see the Metropolitan amending its title to the “Metropolitan Hall of Fame and Museum of Art.”

The biggest reason that it seems like anyone who’s recorded a Top 40 single will get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is explained on the museum’s website. “Ballots are then sent to an international voting body of more than 500 rock experts,” the site reads. “Those performers who receive the highest number of votes — and more than 50 percent of the vote — are inducted.”

In order to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a player must receive at least 75 percent support on the ballots cast. This has proven a very stringent process, as unlike with the music museum, there are some baseball greats whom many believe belong in the Hall that still have not found their way to Cooperstown. On the other hand, 50 percent on more than 500 ballots leaves an awful lot of opportunity to get inducted, which is why I expect that in 25 years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class of performers will include Smashmouth, Toby Keith, Green Day, Taylor Swift, Slipknot, Nas, and the cast of Glee.

That said, music has long been an integral part of baseball. Whether it’s a bugle getting the fans to cheer “CHARGE!” or a player’s trademark walk-up tune, music is constantly heard at baseball games. The most significant marriage between baseball and music, of course, happens during the seventh-inning stretch of every game, when fans of all teams unite to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Most stadiums nowadays have their own musical traditions as well that play an even greater part in showing fans’ true spirit in support of the home team. At Citi Field, as soon as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is over, Mets fans join together in singing along to Lou Monte’s “Lazy Mary.” Yankee Stadium is known for playing the Village People’s “YMCA” as the groundskeepers sweep the infield dirt — and for the Bleacher Creatures’ blue-altered lyrics to the song. But without a doubt, the most well-known and powerful musical tradition among fans is at Fenway Park in Boston, thanks to 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Neil Diamond.

Diamond has had many hit singles of his own, and has even written a few hits for others, including “I’m A Believer” for The Monkees. But it is Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” that joins Red Sox fans together in a rousing chorus in Fenway Park’s intimate atmosphere that seems to echo all throughout New England. Even if, for some reason, a fan doesn’t know the written lyrics to the song, he can still join in on the unwritten lyrics — the intermittent belting of “oh, oh, oh!” during the chorus of the song. With fans so tightly united, both in song and in support of the Sox, it feels as if there is a greater force pushing the home team to victory, even when the cards are stacked completely against them.

While there are some members of the music museum whose tunes I’d prefer not to see incorporated into the game, musical traditions will continue to make the games that much more fun and entertaining — even the fan karaoke at PNC Park.

That said, Pirates, you really need to stop playing The Police’s “I Can’t Stand Losing” after the Pirates lose — you know that song’s about suicide, right?

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