Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about music and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
BASEBALL/MUSIC URBAN LEGEND: John Fogerty wrote “Centerfield” after watching the 1984 All Star Game from the centerfield bleachers at Candlestick Park.
One of the particularly interesting about baseball and songs about baseball is that while yes, there are a goodly amount of songs about baseball, there are not a whole lot of them that you would want to listen to when you’re not actually at a baseball game. John Fogerty spoke about this in a good interview with Tom Singer of MLB.com:
“Having grown up as a rock-and-roller, I was more into what kids my age were doing. Rock-and-roll has a certain set of formal dogmas, and the rule book says, ‘Anything that is perceived as lame, we don’t want it around here.’ Over the years it seemed like sports songs just didn’t qualify into the rock-and-roll lexicon. There was that unwritten distinction. It was never considered rock-and-roll.” Fogerty, naturally, challenged that notion with his classic 1985 tune, “Centerfield” (the title track to his comeback album of that year, an album that reached #1 on the Billboard charts) which both became an acclaimed rock ‘n’ roll song as well as a an instant baseball classic.
Nowadays, it is among the most famous songs ever written about baseball and it is even enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame (here is a picture of Fogerty at the event – note his baseball bat guitar)!!
There is a good deal of folklore about the song, which is about a baseball player who just wants a chance to play “Put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today; Look at me, I can be centerfield” – a sentiment that Fogerty explains also works as “a metaphor about getting yourself motivated, about facing the challenge of one thing or another at least at the beginning of an endeavor.” Probably the most common legend about the song is that Fogerty was inspired to write the song after watching the 1984 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game in the center field bleachers in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, just a hop, skip and a jump from Berkeley, California, which is where Fogerty was born.
It is a good story – but is it true?
Growing up in El Cerrito, California (a small town founded by refugees from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, about five miles away from the campus of University of California Berkeley) in the early 1950s (Fogerty was born in 1945), John Fogerty did not have a local MLB team to root for. The idea of the New York Giants moving to San Fransisco (which they would in 1958) was not even a pipe dream when Fogerty was a kid. Instread, the closest thing his area had to a team was the New York Yankees, since they had famed San Francisco native Joe DiMaggio on their team. Fogerty recalled:
Because of all those childhood tales I heard about DiMaggio, I grew to think that the most hallowed place in all of the universe was center field in Yankee Stadium. I knew there were other center fielders, but to go to the absolute perfect place, you had to get to Yankee Stadium. That was the coolest place in the world.
Still, even with the emphasis on Yankee baseball, it is true that Fogerty did, indeed, attend the 1984 MLB All-Star Game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
In fact, he began recording the album Centerfield soon after that game. In a feature on the album for Rolling Stone (who named it one of the 100 Best Albums of the 1980s), Fogerty recalled the game, “I was very aware of the connotation of center field — the comeback, spotlight angle of it. It all seemed very Zen-like and cosmic to me at the time.”
So it is very easy to see how the story began that Fogerty was inspired to write “Centerfield” after attending that game (a 3-1 National League victory, which saw Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden strike out six batters in a row between them). However, it is not true. You see, Fogerty actually had all of the songs for Centerfield written well before he went in to record the album as Rolling Stone noted in their coverage:
Toward the end of 1983 he finally regained his muse. “Stuff just suddenly started to click. So much so that I began to think, ‘I’m gonna be able to make a record pretty soon.’ He came up with about twelve songs but narrowed the song list down to the nine that appear on the album.
So it appears much more likely that Fogerty was just looking for the general mythical qualities that baseball has, rather than thinking of an specific game. As he told Singer:
I’d hear about Ruth and DiMaggio, and as my dad and older brothers talked about the Babe’s exploits, their eyes would get so big. When I was a little kid, there were no teams on the West Coast, so the idea of a Major League team was really mythical to me. The players were heroes to me as long as I can remember. The song was my way of putting an identity on all the tales I’d heard. It expressed my state of mind about me that was honest at the time.
And it expressed it awfully well.
The legend is…
Thanks to Tom Singer, Rolling Stone and, of course, John Fogerty for the information!
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