May 10, 2012
Covering an All-Star Team
I was recently—and happily—reminded of the song above. It's a cover of the classic Beatles song "A Day in the Life" done by the band Big Daddy. What makes this cover interesting and unique comes from the nature of the band: Big Daddy doesn't just do "cover songs". Instead, what they do is cover songs in the style of a different band. Want to know what "Dancing in the Dark" would sound like if Pat Boone gave it a whirl? What about Frankie Avalon bringing "Like a Virgin" to the beach party? Or Jerry Lee Lewis shrieking his way through "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"? Big Daddy did them all. For "A Day in the Life", they gave us a Buddy Holly rendition of the tune—and they made sure to subtly let us know exactly which day in the life they were singing about. As a fan of Buddy Holly and someone who wishes we could have had a chance to see what the then-22 year old would have done for music as he matured in the 1960s, I can't help but love this take. It's fantastic.
Listening to this track and the rest of the songs on Big Daddy's "Sgt. Pepper's", I got to thinking about the concept of this "adapted cover". In order for it to work, the essence of the original song must remain intact. That is, the heart, the basis of the song, must still be recognizable in the new version even as the cover brings something different to the table. In "A Day in the Life", the strangely positive opening story found in the Beatles' version is expanded by Big Daddy with its "That'll Be the Day" start to the song before making way for an "Everyday" riff and, finally, the eerie sounds of a plane crashing. The Beatles' original song is still present in Big Daddy's Buddy Holly cover, but everything about the song is now injected with new meaning. It's almost like mining a song for additional depth 20 years after it was laid bare.
Can we do this same kind of belated search for knowledge with players from past eras through some kind of "adapted cover" for older ballplayers? Almost certainly yes, but it's not exactly easy or perfect. Take, for instance (and almost randomly), the starting lineup for the American League All-Star team in 1983. This was the year the AL kicked some serious butt behind, among other things, Fred Lynn's grand slam (still the only grand slam in the Midsummer Classic's long history). The roster gives a pretty nice mix of stars from that era.
A 37-year-old Rod Carew was at the top of the lineup and playing first base. Carew could still get on-base with the best of them (he had a .409 OBP on the year) at that age, but his power was almost nil. Carew's 1983 slugging percentage was only two points higher than his on-base percentage (.411 vs. .409). Who would be an appropriate "adapted cover" for Carew? Unsurprisingly, Ichiro is the first to come to mind (position differences aside). They both slap out base hits like nobody's business while neglecting the power game and, with Ichiro being age 38 this season, they are very similar in age. But an Ichiro-for-Carew cover is too direct, too perfect. Big Daddy wouldn't cover a Beatles song in the style of another Beatles song, after all.
Thinking out of the box, there's Adam Dunn. Dunn is another player who is highly focused on one part of his offensive game to the near-detriment of all others. He's only 32-years-old and is only nominally a first-baseman these days, but those are superficial differences. The essence of an aged Carew is there, but, like Big Daddy's covers, you might not see it until it's pointed out.
Can we fill out the rest of this 1983 American League All-Star starting lineup as if it were a Big Daddy cover album? The starting battery for the ALers consisted of Toronto's Dave Stieb and Milwaukee's Ted Simmons, two players who deserved far more Hall of Fame consideration than they ever got. Manny Trillo made his second consecutive All-Star start (and fourth and final appearance) behind them, with the reigning MVP Robin Yount as his double-play partner. Another all-time great in George Brett rounded out the infield. Manning Comiskey Park's outfield were ex-teammates and MVPs Fred Lynn and Jim Rice - only one of whom wound up with a grand slam in the 13-run onslaught - and former basketball star Dave Winfield, who was in the third year of his ten-year contract.
These choices for "adapted covers" of each of the 1983 AL All-Star starters are far from flawless, but they serve as a good starting point. I'd love to hear some other choices and how you might tie them in with the original all-stars.
C: Ted Simmons / Yadier Molina - great offense and underrated defense alongside great defense and underrated offense.
As I said, they aren't all perfect, but it works. If you saw those two lineups next to each other, there'd be a subtle symmetry between the two squads. Who else might fit?