Adam Jones mid-swing during an Arizona Diamondbacks game.
Baseball has a long and storied connection with great music. Whether it's the walk-up music, selections from the seventh-inning stretch, or anything featured in those cheesy ad campaigns, it's these songs that speak to the sport's greater appeal. As such, if you truly want to understand baseball, you need only listen to the following collection of eight songs. A mix of crowd favorites and oddball choices, each speaks volumes about baseball's cultural significance, its inner workings and politics, and even its core values. That, and they sure beat another terrible rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
John Mellencamp, 'Authority Song'
Do you ever think about the role of baseball (and if so, why are you lonely)? Whereas rough-and-tumble football feels rebellious, and basketball seems too squeaky to transcend corporate connotations, baseball falls somewhere in the middle ground. Sure, it's a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, but it’s mostly retained that some down-home sensibility from its early days. Which is why John Mellencamp's "Authority Song" feels like a great choice: It's about a man stuck between doing what feels good (fighting, rabble-rousing) and what's right (growing up, getting on with life), and that just feels like the best analogy for this sport. Maybe baseball leans more one way than the other these days, but that earnest spirit still imbues the game. That, and $5 beers, of course.
Wheatus, 'Teenage Dirtbag'
Anyone who has heard "Teenage Dirtbag" — it's been played in the neighborhood of 4 trillion times since its June 2000 release — knows that Wheatus captured something essential. Our adolescent protagonist struggles with trying to find himself and fall in love, learning a mighty lesson about the real power of self-acceptance. And baseball certainly could stand to do the same. Even if it is technically America's pastime, baseball is often overshadowed by football and, sometimes, even basketball. Yet like the song's titular "dirtbag," baseball does its best when it stays true to those key elements that appeal to all fans: patriotism, honest competition, and day-drinking galore. That, baseball fans, is how you get the girl — err, snag big ratings and pack ballparks.
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Baseball is America's star-spangled sports extravaganza. There's a certain overt patriotism coloring the sport; spectators know to expect little American flag lapels on uniforms or some extra-cheesy rendition of the "National Anthem." That's exactly why Rise Against's "Hero Of War" feels like the perfect song for grasping baseball's true sense of patriotism. It checks all the major boxes: 1. a curious blend of both anti- and pro-war sentiments; 2. acoustic grooves with a sturdy alt rock energy; and 3. just enough sentimentality to make this suitable for public crying. God bless America and rock 'n' roll.
Rob Zombie, 'Dragula'
Most American sports don't have the awareness or fortitude to make the hard choices in music selections. Call it corporate influence, or that BMX has a monopoly on anything dope, but baseball seeks more universal appeal. So, if the game wanted to get weird and still satisfy those corporate overlords, they could feature "Dragula" by Rob Zombie. The song's popped up in sports before, and it needs to make more appearances. What other tune is totally weird and intense, but in a way that doesn't really seem all that offensive (like the game itself). Even throngs of people screaming "dig through the ditches" would be both playfully bizarre and still acceptable (also like baseball). And who doesn't want to hear this song while skipping work on a Tuesday afternoon?
Christina Aguilera, 'Fighter'
A few years back, Phoenix New Times spoke to Arizona Diamondbacks players about their walk-up songs. One lesson seemed immediately clear: Players put little work into their choices. They seem to pick songs less for an overt sound or message and more how they feel as it blares over loudspeakers. Which is why Christina Aguilera's "Fighter" should be blared full volume at more parks. Is this song actually about personal empowerment and coming back from total romantic loss? Sure is. But could a team then re-appropriate it into this Jock Jams-esque ditty about overcoming the odds and fighting on with a champion's heart? Yes! If years of listening to baseball songs have taught us anything, it's the best choices reek of irony.
Rush, 'Tom Sawyer'
A lot's already been said about baseball as a whole. Like, how it's got real carny vibes. Or that it's not nearly as popular as other sports. But lest we forget, it's also deeply nerdy. It's something about all the emphasis on stats, the uniforms, and perhaps the helmets that scream "dweeb energy." But that's why Rush's seminal hit "Tom Sawyer" is the perfect song for addressing the soul of baseball. It's this unabashedly nerdy prog rock jam that's all about standing as your own person. It rocks not just because of Neil Peart's drumming (though that helps) but because the band readily embraces what makes this song so weird and left-of-center. Baseball is at its collective best doing the same, maintaining its authenticity despite all the pinstripe uniforms in the world.
Shakira, 'Whenever, Wherever'
This choice feels like it ticks a lot of the same boxes as some of the other songs. It's a totally weird appropriation of a song about the wonders of finding true love. It's also kind of nerdy to admit you still happen to love it all the way in 2021. And it's got that sense of directness and simplicity that makes for truly great baseball anthems. Yet this song does speak to a larger truth about the game: If you play it, people will come to have a little fun. This song, like baseball itself, transcends any rules or observations, and captures people's attention for being too fun to truly deny. Maybe it's not a perfect fit like some of the other songs, but it would kill during almost any seventh-inning stretch — especially as an entire ballpark shakes their hips in collective joy.
69 Boyz, 'Tootsee Roll'
Of all the entries featured on this list, this songs the most direct fit with baseball (and thus has been featured on Jock Jams). It's a mostly innocuous, culturally transcendent jam that's basically about dancing and having a good time (right?) And therein lies the whole point: It works on so many different levels, and yet it never has to do a thing at all. Does its inclusion hint at some larger sense of hipness by baseball? Maybe. Does the slightly risqué subject matter speak of some subtle depth and baseball's larger place in the canon of pop culture? Could be. Or is this just a dope song that people truly love? Also a possibility. Either way, that's baseball to a T: you can ask questions, but you're better off watching grown men smash a cork ball with wooden sticks.
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.