Welcome to The Rotation! This is a weekly column, written by yours truly, that talks about the wonderful blended worlds of baseball and music. These two have been staples of Americana for centuries, and are as big a part of our culture as apple pie and Chevrolet. My goal is to pick a different topic between the beautiful, unified world of baseball and music and write about it each week.
Additionally, each week will also feature a segment detailing a personal favorite walk-up song—either historical or current. I’ll try to do one hitter and one pitcher walk-up each week. Nothing is more fun than a player with a unique, punny, or just outright rocking walk-up tune.
The inventor of “pop-rap” and one of the best dancers of all-time, MC Hammer was nearly a professional baseball player, and before that he was a spy for Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley. Check out more below.
Stanley Kirk Burrell grew up an A’s fan. When he was 11 years old, Stanley would hang out in the massive parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum, selling spare baseballs and dancing. That caught the eye of A’s owner Charlie Finley, who hired Burrell to be a “bat boy”. Burrell was never actually a bat boy, instead spending time in the Owner’s suite, taking calls and doing what he called “play-by-play’s” for Finley – who lived in Chicago and rarely spent time at the ballpark.
Burrell was basically the eyes and ears for Finley, earning the nickname “pipeline” as he would relay information to Finley from the clubhouse.
Burrell eventually earned another nickname, this one from legendary outfielder Reggie Jackson.
“I nicknamed him Hammer, because he looked like Hank Aaron”.
The moniker stuck, and although a playing career never materialized for young Stanley (he was cut at a tryout for the San Francisco Giants after playing second base in high school) he ended up finding his way in another lucrative career: Rap.
Believe it not, in the time between Burrell’s fledgling baseball executive career and his iconic mantra MC Hammer, he not only served in the US Navy, but he formed a Christian rap group called the Holy Ghost Boys.
Hammer’s big break came in the mid-1980’s when he opened up his first record label, called Bust It Productions. He was able to fund the label by borrowing $20,000 from former Oakland A’s players Mike Davis and Dwayne Murphy – so Hammer’s music career literally started because of baseball.
The rest, as they say, is history. Hammer had one of the most iconic early rap songs of all-time with “U Can’t Touch This” and became an international icon.
All because of some dancing in the O.Co parking lot.
Walk-Up Songs of the Week
Hitter: Josh Reddick – Careless Whisper (George Michael)
Perhaps one of the most fun walk-up songs in recent memory, Reddick walked out to George Michael’s 1980’s classic Careless Whisper for a brief time while he was with the A’s.
I mean, do you even need much more than that? That beautiful saxophone riff captivated an entire fanbase and made Reddick an instant legend in the Bay. Sean Doolittle‘s reaction at the beginning of that video is all you really need to know.
Pitcher: Tom Wilhelmsen – Closing Time (Semisonic)
Incorporating nicknames into walk-up songs is always good. Incorporating nicknames, while also having the song fundamentally define the role of the pitcher as he enters the game? Well that’s just perfect.
Tom Wilhelmsen was originally drafted by the Brewers in 2002. He played one minor league season in 2003 before hanging them up and starting his second career as a bartender. Then, Tommy decided he wanted to give this whole baseball thing another go, and ended up signing with the Mariners after a brief cameo in Independent Ball.
Wilhelmsen eventually made the Mariners bullpen, and served as their closer for parts of three seasons.
Understandably, the former bartender was nicknamed…”The Bartender”. For as creative as baseball nicknames can sometimes be, this isn’t exactly it.
However, deciding to play “Closing Time” – Semisonic’s 1998 smash hit – when he entered the game was pretty genius. Closing Time obviously refers to a bar closing (the line ‘one last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer’ makes that fairly obvious) and it of course can refer to a closer coming in to finish up a baseball game.
Okay so maybe it’s not a whole lot more creative than Wilhelmsen’s nickname, but it was still a lot of nostalgic fun at the ballpark for the three-ish years that Wilhelmsen was closing out games for Seattle.
I am creating a Spotify playlist of all the walk-up songs that I discuss over the course of the season. It is called “Pitcher List Walk Up Jams” and is shared for anyone who wants it.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)