An Ode to the Walk-Up Song, Baseball's Last Semblance of Cool
We’re in a time where sports are virtually nonexistent. Media outlets like ESPN and Bleacher Report are reaching further for content than ever before (I don’t know how many more happy birthdays to irrelevant athletes I can handle), and leagues whose seasons have been suspended have reached back into their archives of classic games.
Yet, it seems like baseball has hardly been missed. Most of the pining I’ve seen on social media has been directed towards the absence of the NBA Playoffs or Champions League. Hell, even MLS fans have been more vocal about missing their sport. This is just one symptom of the disease baseball has slowly been succumbing to over the past few years — an alarming lack of cool.
Baseball’s spot in cool purgatory alongside A-Rod, Kyrie Irving, and Russell Wilson is all but assured. The league’s best team was embroiled in a cheating fiasco unlike any other in sports, its best player by a mile is objectively bland and wasting his prime years on a mediocre team that doesn’t even play in the city it claims, and new pace of play rules are verging on absurd.
And if you dare to show even the slightest sign of having fun while playing? Here’s a 95-mph heater to the ribs. Sure, the stigmata around this may be changing, but when MLB has to run a campaign entitled “Let the Kids Play” in a last-ditch effort to appeal to young fans, that’s how you know the game has become devoid of all things fun.
But baseball still has one thing going for it that no other major team sport has — the walk-up song.
Have you seen Creed? (If you haven’t, close this page and give yourself time to question your existence on this planet.) Think about how you felt the first time you saw the scene where Adonis walks out of the tunnel to face Ricky Hatton. Tupac’s “Hail Mary” blares through the speakers, and chills go down your entire body. That’s the feeling you get as your walk-up song plays while you stroll up to the plate or mound.
In a game where it’s encouraged to repress any and all emotions, a walk-up song offers a player an outlet to express their personality without having to fear being thrown at. It’s one of the few fun things about baseball that won’t piss off purists who routinely say things like “play the game the right way” or “act like you’ve been there before.”
But what makes a good walk-up song? The perfect track can be of any genre, and it doesn’t even need to be “good” per se, as long as it fits a player’s personality and is somewhat original. No one wants to hear “Sicko Mode” or “Crazy Train” again.
Players that stick with their walk-up song long enough eventually become synonymous with it, especially closers. But just because a walk-up song is iconic, it doesn’t mean it’s good. Let’s dissect a few memorable walk-up songs from players over the years to evaluate if they were truly good or not.
Mariano Rivera: "Enter Sandman"
Before he became the GOAT, Mariano Rivera was an up-and-coming star that needed an identity. As former Yankee Stadium technician Michael Luzzi told Bleacher Report, the Yankees were awestruck by Padres closer Trevor Hoffman’s “Hell’s Bells” routine during the 1998 World Series, and they wanted something similar for Rivera.
Mo was pretty much indifferent to what song he walked out to, and Luzzi eventually dug up Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” from his record collection, and the rest was history. However, it’s important to note that this is a case of the player making the song, not vice versa.
The fact that Rivera didn’t even care what song he came out to says it all. He could’ve come out to a single note a la Mike Tyson and it would’ve become iconic. So all in all, if we separate the song from the player, it’s just OK.
Eric Gagne: "Welcome to the Jungle"
The yin to Rivera’s yang, Eric Gagne was considered by some to be the best closer in the game during his peak (he won a Cy Young, something Rivera never accomplished). The very first baseball game I ever attended was right in the midst of his ‘roid-fueled run of dominance, and the entire Greater LA Area had Gagne fever — so much so that they went out of their way to buy those terrible beard t-shirts.
I don’t recall much about that first game I attended, but what I do remember is the bone-chilling opening riff to “Welcome to the Jungle” that induced a frenzy within the surrounding stands. I had no idea what was going on until my baseball coach, who had taken the entire team to the game, screamed “HERE COMES GAGNE!”
That is the perfect response to a perfect walk out song. Chaotic energy, rabid fans, and a lump in the opponents’ throats that translates to “game over.”
Adrian Gonzalez: "El Mariachi Loco"
Growing up in LA, attending Dodger games was a recurring activity, and from about 2012-2016, that meant that Adrian Gonzalez was in the middle of the lineup. The first time I heard the almost comically jovial horns of “El Mariachi Loco” as he stepped to the plate, I clowned on it. But the song’s cartoonish nature somehow grew on me.
By his third at bat it won me over, and every time I attended Chavez Ravine I looked forward to hearing it. It sucks that he went out on the terms that he did because El Titan was really a fan favorite, especially amongst the Latino community, something he deserved. His walk-up song certainly played a small role in that.
Derek Jeter: "Square Dance"
Jeter had plenty of incredible walk-ups throughout his career — something you’d expect from one of the coolest players to ever do it — but the one that stuck with me most was Eminem’s “Square Dance.” Sure, Eminem might be as cool as baseball currently is, but you can’t deny the hard-hittingness of the song’s intro. The haunting accordion, the banging piano, and Slim Shady’s vocalized record scratches all combine for one hell of a walk-up song. The rest of the track is pretty skippable, but that opening 30 seconds is tremendous.
A look back at Jeter’s other walk-up songs, which include Biggie’s “Hypnotize” and Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It," confirms his impeccable taste and solidifies his role as the epitome of baseball swagger.
Jonathan Papelbon: "Shipping Up to Boston"
Fuck Jonathan Papelbon and fuck this stupid fucking song. As a lifelong Yankee fan, it would be sacrilegious to have even the slightest affection towards Papelbon, but I guess his walkout song served its purpose. It’s still fuck that guy until the end of time though.
I want to end this by taking you into the mind of someone as their walk-up song plays. I’ll do this from a batter’s point of view, since that’s the only experience I have. I played Division III college baseball, which is on the list of things you should never brag about in any manner whatsoever, but when I tell you that I was never as cool as I was my junior year when I walked up to Eve’s “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” I mean it.
Picture this: You’re on the on deck circle, and the current at-bat ends. It’s your time to shine. The opening guitar to “Let Me Blow Ya Mind” starts playing, but you don’t start your walk until the drums come in. Your stroll is slow — there’s nothing more lame than someone so eager to hit that they run to the plate. I guess this plays into the “act like you’ve been there before” quip that gets on my nerves, but maybe hearing it so many times has its effects.
The slow stroll not only shows your savvy, but it gives more time for the song to play. You finally reach the batter’s box, you dig in, and look the pitcher in the eye. He’s looking right back at you as if to say, “good choice.” You’ve already won the at bat. You get into your stance, and it’s go time. Play ball.