MLB 2011 Season in Review: The Mix Tape
Ever since Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer penned “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in 1908, music’s run deep through the veins of our national pastime. From organ melodies to ninth-inning rally anthems, the sounds of the ballpark speaker system are as much a part of the baseball experience as anything that happens between the chalk.
So, what better way to commemorate a wonderful 2011 MLB season than with a few tunes?
Or as they say on the streets, M-M-M-M-MIXTAPE!!!!
What follows can best be described as a cross between John Cusack’s character in “High Fidelity” and an episode of “This Week in Baseball.”
Well, maybe there’s a better way to describe it, but you have to at least be intrigued. Right?
Money Talks, Albert Pujols Doesn't
Song: “Money Talks” by AC/DC
Lyrics: “Money talks/B.S. walks”
Spring Training couldn’t have gone much worse for the St. Louis Cardinals. On top of Adam Wainwright’s season-ending arm injury, they failed to re-sign first baseman Albert Pujols heading into the final year of the slugger’s contract.
Though the latter seemed like a coming distraction, Pujols made a clean break of it and refused to negotiate during the season. It was a bold move, and it worked.
Pujols’ silence stopped the story of the offseason in its tracks, forcing the national media hounds to seek new blood. As good a hitter as he is, Pujols might actually be better at damage control.
McCourt Break Up Selves, Dodgers
Song: “Papers” by Usher
Lyrics: “I can't deny how much I loved you / I done gave up everything I had too / As hard as it is I'm afraid I've gotta say, I'm ready to sign them papers.”
A disaster nearly a year in the making came to a head this April, when commissioner Bud Selig appointed a special agent to oversee Dodger’s owner Frank McCourt’s financial dealings. The erosion of McCourt’s reputation and fortune began when he and ex-wife Jamie began a protracted divorce settlement.
That’s probably the only thing Frank McCourt has in common with R&B superstar Usher, who responded to his own marital woes with a separation, a paternity test and this sing-song tribute.
McCourt, on the other hand, ruined a proud franchise. To each his own.
Francisco Liriano Comes out of the Blue
Song: “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” by Neil Young
Lyrics: “There's more to the picture / Than meets the eye / Hey hey, my my.”
Francisco Liriano seemed an unlikely candidate for history on May 3rd, or at least the good kind.
The hot and cold lefty had been mostly cold during April, allowing 24 earned runs in 23.2 innings heading into that evening’s tilt with the Chicago White Sox. Nine innings later Liriano had one of the most improbable no-hitters in recent memory, both for what it entailed (six walks, just two strikeouts) and also for what surrounded it (a woeful 2011 campaign overall for both team and pitcher).
It was almost as unlikely as a stringy Canadian dude with a wispy falsetto becoming a bona fide American rock star. Almost.
In April, Cleveland Rock(ed)
Song: “Cleveland Rocks” by The Presidents of the United States of America
Lyrics: “All the little kids / Growin' up on the skids are goin' / Cleveland Rocks, Cleveland Rocks”
Everything good that ever happens in Cleveland ever will remind me of this song. Ever.
And through the season’s first two months, Indians fans had reason to rock. The Tribe, coming off a 69-93 campaign, started hot and as late as May 23rd had a seven game division lead.
A surprising pitching staff helped along by some throw back offensive spark from Travis Hafner had Cleveland believing. With the Tigers, Twins and White Sox all struggling, the Indians seemed as good a bet as anybody to take the AL Central crown.
Then the calendar turned, the pitching regressed and the aforementioned rock faded into a dim, lo-fi buzz.
Cleveland enjoyed their last AL Central lead on June 18th, and spent the rest of the season engaged in a quixotic attempt to rediscover what was already lost. Detroit pulled away, and I’m pretty sure somehow the whole thing was LeBron’s fault.
Justin Verlander Is an Epic Video Montage
Song: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
Lyrics: “It's the eye of the tiger / it's the cream of the fight / Risin' up to the challenge of our rival”
Four days after Francisco Liriano’s shot in the dark, Justin Verlander struck a blow for sanity with his not-so-surprising no-hitter over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Not that it wasn’t cool or impressive, only that we can all file “hitting a 100 miles per hour fastball is hard to do” under “things we already knew.”
I’m assuming your filing system is incredibly detailed and complex.
Put simply, this was Justin Verlander’s year—that rare intersection of talent, maturity and good fortune few pitchers ever realize. The no-hitter turned out to be simply the start of his masterful season, one worthy of an epic video montage.
How fitting that the ultimate video montage song happens to mention tigers. Rawr!
Jack Is Back
Song: “Captain Jack” by Billy Joel
Lyrics: “Captain Jack will get you by tonight / Just a little push, and you'll be smilin'.”
I doubt Jack McKeon would recognize the heroin-injecting, nose-picking protagonist in Billy Joel’s lamenting ode to Long Island.
So sometimes it’s good not to read too deep into things and just go with the surface rationale: A song called “Captain Jack” befits a man known as “Trader Jack.”
There’s your reasoning.
Really, it’s an odd song choice for one of the season’s oddest moves. After losing 10 straight and 18 of 19 to fall well behind the Phillies in the NL East, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria fired manager Edwin Rodriguez. In his stead he hired 80-year-old former skipper Jack McKeon, I guess under the assumption that aged managers come with a side helping of fairy dust.
They don’t. And the Marlins continued to stink because (a) their best pitcher got hurt, and (b) their best hitter played hurt.
Stogies don’t heal bad rotator cuffs. Science has known that for a while now. We’ll wait for Jack McKeon and Jeffrey Loria to catch up.
Ervin Santana Is so Smooth
Song: “Smooth” by Santana
Lyrics: “Man it's a hot one / Like seven inches from the midday sun / Well I hear you whisper and the words melt everyone / But you stay so cool”
It was late July and “Team Faith Hill,” my country-music-loving fantasy team, needed a boost. We’d been near the top of the league all year, but uninspired play in recent weeks threatened to ruin our quest for glory.
Into the fray stepped Ervin Santana, plucked from the waiver wire because of his enviable strikeout totals and my fondness for his first name. For nine innings Santana dueled the Cleveland Indians and the fantasy powerhouse known as “Dan Puggla” with a ferocity heretofore unseen, striking out 10 and allowing just one baserunner.
The resultant no-hitter spurred “Team Faith Hill” to a strong second-half and an eventual league championship. Although that a$$hole Alex Fossi has yet to deliver the promised $60 reward for first place, when he does I’ll pour one out for Ervin “Supernatural” Santana for his midseason masterpiece.
Derek Jeter Has 99 Problems, but a Hit Ain't One
Song: “99 Problems” by Jay-Z
Lyrics: “The only thing that's gonna happen is I'ma get to clappin' / He and his boys gon' be yappin' to the captain”
The Jiggman’s ode to issues works on multiple levels as a corollary for Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit.
For starters, Jay-Z might be the only living person who’s done more for the Yankees brand than Derek Jeter. Both have spent their careers marketing the most recognizable logo in sports.
And Derek Jeter might be the only living person with more problems than Jay-Z. Or at least it felt that way in 2011. It all started with a contentious off-season negotiation that had both management and player near their breaking points.
The talks eventually led to a new contract, which in turn invited more criticism along the lines that Jeter was more a Yankee museum piece than a true everyday shortstop. When “The Captain” started the season slowly, those grumbles only grew louder.
The clouds didn’t break until July 9th, when the present took a backseat to history and Derek Jeter became the first Yankee to eclipse 3,000 career hits. When Jeter launched a David Price offering into the left field stands in Yankee Stadium, the media found itself “yappin’ to the captain” once again.
This time the yap went something like, “Congratulations.”
Prince Fielder, the Big Red Corvette
Song: “Little Red Corvette” by Prince
Lyrics: “I guess I shoulda known / By the way you parked your car sideways / That it wouldn't last”
Entering the 2011 All-Star game in Phoenix, Brewers fans knew it would likely be one of the last times Prince Fielder represented them on a national stage. Right on cue, Fielder showed them what they were missing by launching a 3-run homer and winning the game’s MVP award.
Like the characters in his namesake’s ballad, Fielder and Milwaukee weren’t built for the long run. His feats in Arizona set into motion a lengthy final bow that will reach its final act this winter.
And to continue the metaphor, I’m pretty sure the All-Star MVP gets a Chevy—or was that before the collapse of the American auto industry?
Was That the Pittsburgh Pirates Just Raising the Jolly Roger?
Song: “Jolly Roger” by Roger McGuinn
Lyrics: “Pull away, me lads o' the Cardiff Rose / And hoist the Jolly Roger.”
On July 18, 2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates claimed sole possession of first place in the NL Central. Stranger things have happened, but I can’t remember when.
Led by Andrew McCutchen and a ragtag rotation of overachieving starters, Pittsburgh reached relevance for the first time in nearly two decades. Though it wouldn’t last long, it was still pretty mind blowing.
Not sure what Byrds front man Roger McGuinn would have thought of Pittsburgh’s surge, but considering he dedicated an entire album to pirates, I imagine he would have enjoyed it.
The Arizona Skies Are Bright
Song: “Hey Willie” by Waylon Jennings”
Lyrics: “Hey Willie let's pack up and catch us a slow train / And go back to Phoenix to a far brighter day / Where stars were for shining in the Arizona sky”
When the surging Arizona Diamondbacks pulled into a tie with the San Francisco Giants for the NL West lead on August 2nd, it seemed like a passing fancy. Surely the defending champs, fortified with new acquisition Carlos Beltran, would pull away from the young challengers.
Arizona would take the lead for good on August 10th and cruise to a surprisingly comfortable division crown. Buoyed by Justin Upton and young ace Ian Kennedy, the Diamondbacks became baseball’s latest worst-to-first miracle team and nearly carried the momentum to a NLCS appearance.
Though the season ended there, the Arizona skies look brighter than they have in years.
Jim Thome, This Song's for You
Song: “Jim Dandy” by Black Oak Arkansas
Lyrics: “Jim Dandy to the rescue! / Go Jim Dandy! Go Jim Dandy!”
When Jim Thome became the eighth man in baseball history to eclipse 600 home runs, it marked a moment of universal cheer. As one of the game’s all-time good guys finally got his due, fans around the game gave salute. It was the rare feel-good moment that everyone actually felt good about.
The optimism lasted about a second before we realized Thome would have to share the honors with a couple of guys who probably cheated.
Life really isn’t fair.
Mariano Rivera Saves Another Baseball Game
Song: “Enter Sandman” by Metallica
Lyrics: Exit light / Enter night / Take my hand / We're off to never never-land.”
When talking about the great Mariano Rivera, will any other song suffice?
For more than decade, Yankee opponents have known exactly what to expect when they enter the ninth inning without the lead. Sixty seconds of “Enter Sandman,” 15 cutters and three outs.
As that familiar sequence played out for the umpteenth time on September 19th, it came complete with a bit of history. On that New York night Rivera became baseball’s all-time saves leader, an honor that only reinforced what we already knew about the greatest reliever ever.
The Red Sox and Braves All Fall Down
Song: “All Falls Down” by Kanye West
Lots of songs make sense here: “Freefallin’” by Tom Petty, “I’m Goin’ Down” by Bruce Springsteen, or even Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down,” if you go for the pop-punk thing.
No one, however, captures the despair of two epic collapses quite like Yeezy:
“And when it falls down / Who you gonna call now?”
I think most people in the affected communities called their local sports radio station. Just a guess.
He Was/Is a Carpenter
Song: “If I Were a Carpenter” by Johnny and June Carter Cash
Lyrics: “If I was Carpenter and you were a lady / Would you marry me anyway?”
In what turned out to be a preview of theatrics to come, the St. Louis Cardinals faced their first Mission Impossible moment in the NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Staring down the 102-win titans of the NL East and ace pitcher Roy Halladay, St. Louis jumped to an early 1-0 lead on the road. Chris Carpenter made sure they didn’t need another inch.
The resurgent red birds rallied behind their maligned ace for an improbable series win that announced bigger intentions. For the Phillies, 2011’s elimination was their second straight at the hands of team that qualified for the playoffs on the season’s final day.
Can you tell I’m bitter?
Nelson Cruisin' Through the ALCS
Song: “Cruisin’” by Smokey Robinson
Lyrics: “I love it when we’re cruisin’ together.”
I’m not sure what the zone is like. I’ve never been to the zone, and I’m fairly certain I’ve never been in it.
But Nelson Cruz has, and the whole world got to watch.
Cruz launched six home runs in the Texas Rangers’ six-game ALCS victory over the Detroit Tigers, setting a new standard for longballs in a postseason series. The manimal of a right fielder also made a name for himself on the national scene and lifted Texas to its second consecutive World Series.
Now like I said before, I’ve never been to the zone. But I would imagine it’s a golden-hued dream land where the dulcet tones of Smokey Robinson play on loop. That's what I'd like to imagine, anyway.
The St. Louis Cardinals Put Their Backs Against the Wall, Twice
Song: “Back Against the Wall” by Cage the Elephant:
Lyrics: “Chained down like a sittin' duck just waitin' for the fall /You know, yeah you got my back against the wall.”
How long do we have to wait before declaring Game 6 of the 2011 World Series the greatest baseball game ever? Is there a Cooperstown-like five-year waiting period? Does David Freese need to write a memoir?
Down to their season’s last strike in two different innings, the St. Louis Cardinals pulled off one of the all-time great comebacks and reminded America why baseball’s so freaking cool. No time limits, no impossibilities. The odds may grow long, but never insurmountable.
America needed that reminder, and Game 6 delivered it in spectacular fashion.
Red Reign: The Cardinals Win It All
Song: “Red Rain” by Peter Gabriel
Lyrics: “Red rain is pouring down / Pouring down all over me.”
Use your homonyms here, sub out “rain” for “reign” and it all makes sense.
Naturally, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t choose a better song to represent St. Louis’ moment of triumph.
Honestly, I don’t really like the Cardinals. So this is what you get.
See you in 2012!