THE LEGACY OF baseball songs isn't pretty. Besides the traditional "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"—and maybe that line about Joe Dimaggio in "Mrs. Robinson" or the snappy but forgotten "Joltin' Joe (Dimaggio)"—meta-baseball stadium-speaker fodder is limited to Terry Cashman's "Willie, Mickey & the Duke" and John Fogerty's "Centerfield." (A note to fellow Mets fans: "Meet the Mets" is a classic—especially the exhortation to "bring your kiddies, bring your wives," with its delicious hint of polygamy—but the teamcentric nature of the song disqualifies it from this discussion.) Thank god the tastemakers at Safeco and Candlestick never latched on to Michael Franks' 1980 entry, a metaphor-laden lite jazz-pop track that attempted to convince us that "Love is just like baseball." In Seattle, that would translate to "Love is a losing season."
Big League Rocks (EMI Music)
But enough stalling. Big League Rocks is a collection of songs sung, written, or played by real-life Major League Baseball players and released to coincide with the start of the 2000 season. The whole concept is a stretch: A few of the songs tackle baseball themes, but others only feature a pitcher strumming a guitar or a shortstop playing congas while their non-ballplayer friends do the bulk of the work. The producers of the disc even extended the field to include a guy who will be a rookie in 2000.
Still, there are major stars among the contributors, including the Yankees' Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams, the Astros' Jose Lima, and the Blue Jays' David Wells. Unfortunately, no correlation exists between their ability to stroke a line drive or pitch a biting curve and their talent for singin' or strummin'.
Batting first is . . . Bob Costas? The used-car salesmanesque interlocutor gives a carefully worded disclaimer, noting that the recording is important because a portion of the proceeds will go to the Major League Baseball Players Trust for Children, before halfheartedly intoning, "Music and baseball—the perfect combination."
Next up is Seattle's own Mark Langston. The recently retired southpaw and four-time All-star apparently has a band in town called Magic Bus. On this disc he plays acoustic guitar behind vocalist Lynn Sorenson on the surging, almost catchy, and very 1983-sounding rocker "Take Me to the Show." Remember Survivor? The force behind "Eye of the Tiger"? If so, you have an idea of Mr. Langston and Co.'s musical vision.
The styles vary widely in the rest of the order, from pitcher-vocalist Lima's adequate if cheesy Latin workout "La Gozadera;" to pitcher-vocalist Wells' Sublime-like, SoCal skater rave-up, "OB Trolls;" to guitarist-outfielder Williams' translucent smooth jazz snoozer, "Eye of the Storm," recorded and cowritten with Late Night's Will Lee. Upping the weirdness quotient are Ozzie Smith, who sings a gaudy gospel number, "We Are the Future," and rookie pitcher-pianist and modern country singer Tyler Green ("As Time Goes By").
The most qualified ballplayer-musician here is Jack McDowell, who's known by fans for the potent fastball he threw as Blackjack, and to the record industry for the promising alternative-rock albums he's recorded as Stickfigure. "Silence" sounds like a revelation given the surroundings, but even on its own the guitar-driven, hook-filled track has style—not miles and miles, but still. . . .
As the Major League season gets under way this week, the excitement among baseball fans is nearing the pinnacle for this generation, which has endured player and umpire strikes, repeat drug offenders, and a near-dynasty in the Atlanta Braves that has failed, year after year, to generate anything but boredom. Adding to the enthusiasm is this spectacularly raucous off-season, when the John Rocker controversy and the Ken Griffey trade sparked fans' fervor for the coming year.
Conversely, this strange album falls flat. Even with Ernie Banks and Harry Caray's versions of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" thrown in, Big League Rocks is about as entertaining as a pitcher's duel between two last-place teams.