March 21, 2016
Players Prefer Presentation
The World Where Pitbull Is Bigger Than The Beatles
What’s in a song? If you’re a major-league baseball player, not much time and seemingly endless potential to embarrass yourself. In 2014, on a quest to quicken pace of play, MLB introduced new rules limiting walk-up songs to no more than 15 seconds. The walk-up song is an odd little tradition. It’s a declaration of purpose. It’s a batter’s chance to say he has bad intentions where the baseball is concerned. It’s a musical extension of the pitcher staring down a hitter from the mound. It’s a momentary pause, and chance to focus, before doing the very hard work of baseball. It's a brief burst of personality. Sometimes, it's an extension of the player’s brand. Marc Anthony will be writing a song specifically for Carlos Correa’s use this season. Royce Clayton has built a whole company around creating customized walk-up music for major leaguers.
So what constitutes a baseball player jam? To find out, I built the world’s most (un)important baseball related data set, aggregating every “Player Music” entry from MLB’s Team Music page, normalizing song and artist names where there were inconsistencies, removing player duplicates, and incorporating genre, using the highly scientific methodology of Google to fill in the gaps in my own musical knowledge. Not every team reported songs from every player. Some team pages featured extensive in-stadium playlists; other left their fans to fend for themselves between at-bats. Some of these songs may change before Opening Day. In all, 790 song selections from 586 pros were splashed across the internet for our praise or derision. While they represent different teams and cities, countries and backgrounds, some trends did emerge. The first? Baseball players love rap. Below are the genres representing at least 1 percent of total songs reported.
Rock puts up a good fight, and Reggaeton shows well. It’s perhaps no surprise that a league with Justin Smoak and Madison Bumgarner on active rosters would have a healthy country showing. But Hip-Hop/Rap is the runaway favorite. The Dodgers reported the most Hip-Hop/Rap selections with 20. The Cubs were rather sparse with just two, and that’s only if we generously interpret the genre contributions of Marky Mark and his funky bunch. The Diamondbacks are the most country-focused team with 8 total selections, although Zack Greinke accounts for a quarter of those. The Nationals were the most metal team; the Oakland A’s the most rock and roll.
Some 145 players had more than one song listed on their team page. Presumably, different songs play in different games situation. Something zippy for your first at-bat; something intimidating for your third. Perhaps Zack Greinke prefers George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” when he’s in the middle of a run of quality starts, but opts for the grit of Metallica’s “No Leaf Clover” when he’s in a rut. Maybe Michael Bourn’s selection of “About My Issue” was in reference to his .229 TAv with Atlanta; it’s hard to imagine the scenario described by Fabolous’ “We Good.” But different musical moods are one thing; five different walk up songs is another. Just three players had five different songs indicated: Carlos Gomez, Jose Lobaton, and Tyler Skaggs. As a group, they are projected to be worth 3.9 WARP in 2016, making their WARPPS, or WARP Per Song about 0.26. That seems like an awful lot to ask of your stadium DJs, given the return.
The most popular walkup song in baseball? In a victory for lovers of tailgates, cowboy boots, and macrobrews, “Outsiders” by Eric Church narrowly takes the crown, forcing us to contemplate how outside the outsiders can really be if they are so popular among the insiders. Glen Perkins, Drew Storen, Cody Allen, and Andrew Miller all feature “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” allowing a delightful pitcher focused reinterpretation of the lyrics “Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand.” All the players who selected “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” were position players, saving us from a slew of poor WHIP/Whip puns.
And the most popular artist? Drake leads the top ten, no doubt ensuring his welcome in post-season locker room celebrations for years to come.
Of course, musical preferences present us with their share of oddities. We all have guilty pleasures. Pirates third baseman Josh Harrison has two walk-up songs, “Awwsome” and “I Got Me,” both of which are by his brother, Shaun Harrison. We have to hope the misspelling of “awesome” was intentional. Bryce Harper had four walk-up songs, including a rendition of “The Best Is Yet To Come” by Frank Sinatra. Nationals fans no doubt hope so. Brayan Pena of the Cardinals is “About The Money,” which makes sense, given his assertion of “All I Do Is Win.” Michael Wacha chose “No Hands” by Wacka Flocka Flame; I suppose he really just needs the right one. Much to the disappointment of baseball writers everywhere, only one player, Jake Peavy, selected a Bruce Springsteen song. Five players are marred by Linkin Park, but just one brought their musical taste into question with Limp Bizkit. No one dared mess around with Nickelback.
Eight players featured songs from television, film, or wrestling soundtracks. Jayson Werth came to the plate to “The Rains of Castermere,” a Red Wedding allusion that no doubt felt different before his wrist injuries and lengthy DL stint than it did after. R.A. Dickey used the theme from “Game of Thrones”. I wonder which House weaves the knuckleball into its words? Tim Collins, Matt Reynolds, and Matt Holliday all ventured into WWE territory. Collins and Reynolds used Stone Cold Steve Austin’s Entrance Music; the artist is omitted but I prefer to think it’s Steve Austin himself. Astro’s pitcher Mike Fiers went with the theme from “Saw.” And Jesse Hahn walks out to the Monstars’ anthem, “Hit ‘Em High,” an odd choice for a pitcher who presumably would prefer not to hit ‘em at all.
Some of these songs will no doubt change, falling out of favor because of poor play or repetition or new summer hits. We’ll cringe and sing along in turn. We’ll belt out old standards and beg for reprieves from particularly painful choices. But only for 15 seconds at a time.