Musician Randy Newman once said, “I think that baseball fields are about the most beautiful things in the world.” From those very fields some players dream about the view from center stage. Latin to hip hop, metal and country, even a bit of folk in between, here are a few of baseball and softball players that have had second careers in music.
Charlie Pride was a sharecropper’s son from Sledge, Mississippi. Raised in the heartland during the ’40s the Grand Ole Opry was central to his way of life. At 14-years old Pride purchased his first guitar out of the Sears Roebuck catalog and taught himself to play listening along to the radio.
By age 16 Charlie’s talents on the ball field had first priority. In 1953, he signed with the Boise Yankees. During the season an injury hampered his pitching and he was eventually released. He would spend the next 3 years as a journeyman player. In 1956 he won 14 games and earned a spot on the Negro American League All-Star team. As an all-star Charley pitched against Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Al Smith and Gene Baker.
Throughout his time on the road his guitar was his constant companion. Together they entertained teammates and, whenever possible, found time to perform on stage as well.
At the end of 1956 Pride was drafted into the army but served in Colorado assigned to the fort’s baseball team. He was released from active duty in 58’ and continued to pursue his baseball career. By 1960, he was playing at the semi-pro level and working as a smelter. It wasn’t long before his focus returned to music.
In 1962, Pride met country music legend Red Sovine and, in ’63, signed with Sovine’s publishing company following the final baseball tryout of his career. The switch proved fruitful throughout the years. Behind Elvis, Charley became RCA’s second best selling musical artist of all time. In addition to three American Music Awards, three Country Music Association Awards, three Grammy Awards and an Academy of Country Music Award, in 2000 Pride was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Charley had 52 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Charts between 1966-1987. 29 eventually climbed all the way to #1. He is one of only three men of color to ever become a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
As for baseball, some dreams die hard. In 2010, Pride became a minority owner of the Texas Rangers.
Hall of Famer, All Star and AP Athlete of the Year Denny McLain earns the title of most colorful artist. In addition to having a great baseball career that included two Cy-Young awards and producing two albums with Capitol Records as an organ player, McLain also landed in jail with a 23-year sentence for his involvement with the mob. Before he was eating three squares however, Denny appeared alongside fellow baseball player Bob Gibson on the Ed Sullivan Show. McLain was on organ with Gibson on guitar (with that name what else could he play?). McLain also made appearances on both the Steve Allen and Joey Bishop shows.
Gibson however, never pursued a music career. With nine All Star appearances, two World Series championships and two Cy Youngs he was too busy cementing his first year of eligibility induction into the Hall of Fame.
When he’s not coaching his sons in baseball or basketball, alongside his own father, Jack McDowell is a busy man. He writes and records music, and owns his own studio.
The 1993 Cy Young Award Winner and three-time All Star was the frontman of the band Stickfigure through all four of their full-length albums. During his career he performed in the off-season in a variety of alternative rock groups. His first band V.I.E.W. (1989-1992) which included two teammates as bandmates, released two albums and toured with the Smithereens.
“From Centerfield to Center Stage” that’s what his website says. Forever #51, New York Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams has carved out a second career as a guitarist. The five-time All Star, winner of four Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and MVP award, the 16-year Yankees veteran is a classically trained in guitar. He has composed and released two jazz albums and was nominated for a Latin Grammy.
As amazing as he is to watch perform in his specialty, it is something else entirely to watch as his two loves collide. There are few things more baseball than this video. Williams plays Take Me Out To the Ballgame for friend and teammate Jeter’s final game, which happens at Fenway – enemy territory for Yankees. Fenway fans, leaders in all things baseball, sing along and replace the usual “Take me out to the Red Sox” with “Take me out to the Yankees” as tribute.
Ben Broussard’s music is a direct product of his career in baseball.
“I definitely felt more relaxed and focused when I was playing guitar and writing regularly. All my songs came from my experiences traveling the countryside playing baseball. In Seattle, the equipment room was where most of my songs on ‘Renovated’ were written.”
The former Indian has recorded two, well-received, full-length albums since leaving the game. His 2009 album featured Tony Levin on bass (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Pink Floyd), Pat Mastelotto on drums (King Crimson, The Rembrandts), and David Grissom on guitar (Dixie Chicks, John Mellencamp).
Containing all original tracks several songs from the album were used in television programs including Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, Cold Case, The Real World and The Black Donnelly’s.
In his playing days Cy Young pitcher Barry Zito wasn’t seen as much more than a hobbyist in the music business. Perhaps folks weren’t paying attention.
Despite carrying his guitar in tow throughout his career, Zito never had much confidence in his vocal chops. Still, he regularly organized celebrity music jams for charity. His charisma and acoustic tendencies in the heyday of guys with names like Mayer and Johnson, were seen as proof of his laidback nature. He was so well-liked that the Giants even created “Barryoke”. During home games Barry played acoustic guitar and fans would try to name the song.
Today it seems that Zito has given music priority in his life. Just weeks ago Zito released a new song.
The piece is lyrically strong. Vocally he’s still working it out but it’s original and he’s written what he knows. Indeed, the sign of a true writer. Perhaps he was paying attention growing up. See, in the Zito household, music was King, literally. His father was the conductor for Nat King Cole’s band and his mom sang with the legend.
For the Love of the Game
In 2005, Omar Visquel, along with teammates and retired singers, joined up to record some of their favorite songs. The Venezuelan shortstop sang and played drums on an album entitled, Oh Say Can You Sing? While the vocals may not be flawless the accent more than makes up for it, in “can’t help but smile” factor.
On the album there are two original pieces. Wish List by Jimmy Rollins and Coco Crisp’s We Got That Thang, which is definitely amateur but my favorite for stuck in your head, in a good way.
There are some guys who should simply stick to what they know. Jimmy Rollins’ song is exhibit A. The NL MVP shortstop with 5 pennants and a World Series ring decided to try his hand at the rap game. Like Deon Sanders before him, Rollins was not the triple threat he’d hoped to be. Simply put, the song is a strikeout.
On the flip side, there was some real talent in the mix as well. Aubrey Huff showed he has a country music future if he desires. He’ll either need to learn to write or collaborate with songwriters but the vocal skills are undeniable.
Perhaps the reason we’ve not heard more from Huff since his retirement from the game is explained in his new book, Baseball Junkie. Due out over spring training in 2017, the book covers Huff’s well-known battle with anxiety, and some of the coping skills he’s learned since his 2012 breakdown. The two-time World Series champion certainly has the skillset to succeed. Perhaps the journey of this book will now give him the courage as well. His voice is one that should definitely be shared.
Ben Broussard, Sean Casey, Jeff Conine, Matt Ginter, Scott Linebrink, Ozzie Smith and Kelly Wunsch round out the album’s baseball singers. The album is packaged with a behind-the-scenes DVD of the recording sessions as well. When released, there were hopes for additional albums but none have followed.
The brainchild of Chicago White Sox Pitcher Jake Peavy Woodjock, was created as a night for baseball stars to go rock star. Peavy, who has performed with Kenny Chesney, pulled friends together during spring training for a night of music and fundraising. The events, which took place in 2010-2012, benefited the Jake Peavy Foundation. They helped a variety of charities including those specializing in veteran and autistic care needs.
Included in the lineup were many names we’ve mentioned in this article such as Bernie Williams, Brandson Arroyo and Ben Broussard.
Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, known better to some as JoAnna Garcia’s husband, released a children’s album in 2011, to benefit his charity Swish’s Wishes. The full album is Swisher singing upbeat covers. As you can see in the video, he’s clearly as much a musician as fan of music. It’s nearly as much fun to watch him being a fan as it is listening to him sing.
You may know him as the 3rd base coach of the San Francisco Giants. Before Tim Flannery was a coach, he played infield for the Padres. To many of his fans however, he’s known simply as a member of The Lunatic Fringe. Flannery has shared the stage with Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffett and the Grateful Dead. Performing in the off-season, to date, he’s released nine albums.
Perhaps this will come as no surprise but Tim Flannery and the Lunatic Fringe have a large following in Ireland and play, primarily, charity events.
Stepped Up To The Plate
Retired World Series infielder Scott Spiezio spends his days as the front man for the metal band Sandfrog. Though they call themselves a garage band, the sound is heavier and faster than most of what you’ll hear from the genre. In 2015, the band dropped their latest, self-titled, album.
Thanks to the magic of time and place, Bronson Arroyo is probably as well known for his musical talents as his pitching skills.
The former Red Sox pitcher was with the team during their historic World Series win in 2004. That set the stage for his guest slot on a Dropkick Murphys' album as well as his on-stage performance with his favorite band, Pearl Jam, in Fenway Park.
Arroyo has a very distinct vocal sound that is perfectly suited to both band’s music. He’s recorded a variety of cover songs and even released an album featuring some of his World Series teammates. Aptly named Covering the Bases, included on the album is their version of the quintessential ode to Boston, Dirty Water.
Sticking to covers for the time being, Arroyo is often performing right alongside the song creators at charity events. He also leant his vocals to Chad Perrone’s Since You.
Former teammate Mark Trumbo, who played with Arroyo in his first-ever public appearance as a musician, said, “He's got legitimate talent. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him do a lot of this post-playing career. He's got an incredible voice, an incredible feel for music in general. He's very passionate about it and it's a pleasure to get to play with someone that capable.”
Just for Fun
Brenda Belvin was a professional softball player for many years. Now retired she plays regular gigs with cover bands in her local area.
FIBS coach, and baseball Hall of Famer, catcher Mike Piazza is an amateur drummer. A huge fan of metal his voice provides the growls on the Black Label Society’s song, Stronger Than Death.
Musician Matt Nathanson once said, “I used to think the “baseball parks as church” metaphor was hype from the movies, but standing on the pitcher’s mound, on a perfect day at the park, singing the national anthem to a very packed stadium on the Giants opening day, it hit me, baseball is community. It is religion. Mixed in with the smells, the sounds, the sun, was this palpable, contagious sense of togetherness. All these people from different cultures, different classes were there, united by the pride they had for their team. It’s rarer and rarer these days to find anything people agree on. Cynical folks think common ground is a thing of the past. Those people have never been to a baseball game.”
Many people have similar philosophies about live music. Maybe that is why players always want to be rock stars and musicians’ baseball players. For those who have taken the enormous steps to try their hand at both, we salute you.