There are a few things that go hand-in-hand with Mariano Rivera's legacy. There's the cutter. The pinstripes. The all-time saves record. The rings. The class.
Oh, and don't forget "Enter Sandman." The longtime New York Yankees closer may not have had a hand in making Metallica's 1991 heavy-metal classic, but it's certainly had a hand in making him.
And it's all thanks to Michael Luzzi.
Odds are that name means nothing to you, but "Enter Sandman" would never have become a part of Rivera's legacy had it not been for him. He's the man who suggested the song for Mo's walk-up music, and it's a story that he fortunately doesn't mind telling.
Luzzi, currently a Senior VP with Turner, took a few minutes to chat about how he had a hand in adding one of baseball's all-time great walk-up songs to Rivera's legacy.
Zachary D. Rymer: So I just want to start at the beginning. When was it that you came to be associated with the Yankees, and what exactly was your role?
Michael Luzzi: I guess it was just before the ’98 season, which was a real ideal year to be there [laughs]. A good buddy of mine—a guy named Steve Kuebler—had worked as a crew person for the in-house show. They would need some guys, and he asked if I was interested in filling in for various positions. That’s kinda how it started.
ZDR: So you were there when Mariano was still a rising star?
ML: Yeah, pretty much. He was coming off of blowing that playoff save against the Indians. That was in ’97.
ZDR: And from what I understand, he didn't have walk-up music initially. Didn't "Enter Sandman" not come about until 1999?
ZDR: So what happened when he came into a game before "Enter Sandman"?
ML: You know, I was trying to remember that. I don’t know that we were paying much attention to it.
The funny thing is that right through the ’98 season, Derek Jeter and Chuck Knoblauch were sort of like ringleaders in getting people to have their batting songs be something different. Jeter would send up a note with one of the clubhouse kids saying, “Here, play this on my first at-bat, this in my second." Et cetera. Then there were guys like Paul O’Neill who had the same song for several years.
So in ’98 that kind of got started. Almost in every other homestand, somebody wanted a bunch of different batting songs. It was becoming important for the players.
What happened after the ’98 World Series was that ownership saw the cool reaction that [then-Padres closer] Trevor Hoffman was getting with AC/DC's “Hell’s Bells.” So they sort of tasked the director at the time—a man named Mike Bonner—with coming up with something that would have the same kind of effect.
ZDR: And that’s when they turned to you?
ML: No, actually. I was just sort of a technician. It was a second job. I had a day job working at Court TV in production. I would leave at the end of the day and go up to the stadium.
As the process of trying to find a song for Mariano progressed, the director started trying different songs. He was pretty much hellbent on having “Paradise City” by Guns N' Roses as the song. So he started using that a little bit, and we were all giving him a hard time, telling him, “This is so lame. This is not going to catch on. Nobody’s going to be into this.” But he really liked it.
All the guys in the crew were trying to come up with something else, and that’s when I said, “You know what? On Saturday I’m bringing my CDs up to the stadium. We can flip through all the CDs that I have.”
So I brought out my whole CD collection, and the goal was to look for something that was more ominous. Sort of the same deal as “Hell’s Bells” and stuff you’ve seen in baseball movies. Something that could get the crowd going on its own.
As I was flipping through, I’m like, “I think I’ve got it, guys.” I handed my Metallica CD to the audio guy and told him to play it, and everyone was like, “This is really cool, let’s try this.”
And that’s how it started. They tried it that game. And they started doing things to play it up. They would zoom the cameras in close to the nine on the scoreboard and then pan out as it was playing, and then get a cutaway of Mariano as he was coming in.
ZDR: When you guys first started playing it, could you tell that the crowd was into it? Or was the buzz something that built over time?
ML: I think it built over time, and I think that’s why they were doing some of the things visually to try and sell it. We started using it, and we thought it was pretty cool, but eventually the assistant director at the time came out and said, “You know, I have to ask Mariano if this is OK.”
And we were all like, “Oh no, don’t ask permission!”
But their mentality was always asking permission, so he went and talked to him after a game. Mariano was like, “I don’t care what you play.”
So like that, we were able to continue it.
ZDR: You can only imagine what would have happened if he had said, “No, I don’t like it. We have to stop this.”
ML: Yeah, exactly. There have been other pieces that you can easily find where they had Metallica at the stadium and he met them, and he was like, “You know, I don’t even know who Metallica is.”
Mariano likes Christian Rock, so I think his selection would have been very different.
ZDR: So once the song was pitched, it was never really in danger? Everyone was on board with it?
ML: Pretty much, but there is actually one funny thing.
With the George Steinbrenner stories, the depiction in Seinfeld is almost dead-on accurate how things were. If he was in the building, everyone was on edge. He would always send word to us that he wanted the music loud.
And at the time, the press box was directly in front of the speakers. So whenever we had it cranked up, they would end up writing stuff in their articles saying how ridiculously loud it was and how annoying it was for them. But we were sort of doing what George was saying to do. Make it loud.
But there was one time when he heard something about Metallica, and he said that he didn’t want any Metallica playing. He just said to somebody that he didn’t want any Metallica music playing. We were like, “Um...should anyone let him know that Mariano’s entry song is a Metallica song?”
But it didn’t take, fortunately.
ZDR: You mentioned earlier how Mariano is really kind of indifferent in terms of what “Enter Sandman” means for his legacy. But it is interesting how you can go on Baseball-Reference.com now, and one of the nicknames listed for him is “The Sandman.”
ML: That’s what’s so funny. You know, you bring out your CDs, and you just don’t expect something that to become synonymous with a guy who’s going to go down as the best closer to ever play.
ZDR: So is there a point of pride at all when you hear the song playing when he enters the game?
ML: Yeah, definitely. It’s very cool, you know. To think that some simple suggestion amongst a bunch of guys on a crew could take off like that. We were all looking through CDs at the same time. Mine just happened to be the right suggestion.
ZDR: I read a couple years ago [on MLB.com] that they decided that once Mariano is gone, they’re never going to play “Enter Sandman” at Yankee Stadium for anyone else. In your opinion, do you think it should be, maybe not officially retired, but unofficially retired for closers in general after he's gone? I think that would be a nice gesture.
ML: Yeah, but there’s also a story back when Billy Wagner came to the Mets [in 2006] that made it really start to feel like the "Enter Sandman" connection with Mariano was a real thing that people relate to.
So Billy Wagner comes in, his first game closing for the Mets. They happen to have their home opener first, and he came onto the field to “Enter Sandman.” And New York talk radio, the Daily News and so on went berserk about it. “How could he do this?! A Met, of all people!”
It turned out that he was using it back in Houston. It was just something that never became synonymous with him. So he was actually using it first, and he continued to use it. He didn’t stop once that whole thing came on. I’m pretty sure he played the entire season with "Enter Sandman" as his entry song.
ZDR: Well he’s done now. Mariano’s almost there. So maybe this will be the end of “Enter Sandman” as a closer entry theme.
ML: I would think so. At least, I’m sure the Yankees wouldn’t pin that song onto anybody else. But at the same time, if one of the players came up and said, “Here, play this when I walk on,” I doubt they’d tell him no.
ZDR: Well, I guess we're going to find out.