In 1968, Detroit Tigers Denny McLain became the last pitcher to record thirty wins – make that 31-6. Only eleven players have ever accomplished this feat. McLain was also a musician of moderate note. He copped an endorsement from Hammond Organ Company and released two sides on Capitol Records; Denny McLain at the Organ (1968) and Denny McLain in Las Vegas (1969). By 1970 the groove merchant through his skillful bookmaking activities found himself on the wrong side of organised crime.
McLain was the first player in Tiger’s history to earn $100,000 a season and he eventually fell bankrupt. In 1985, McLain was given a 23 year prison sentence for attempting to traffic in cocaine – the conviction was overturned and he served five years parole. In 1996 he was found guilty of conspiracy theft and served six years in prison – released in 2003. This sounds like one of those “gangsta rap” sagas.
Where does McLain rank among baseball’s fantasy musicians?
The best of them is former Yankee star outfielder Bernie Williams, a respected fusion/jazz guitarist – then we take a cautious step down the skills ladder. There’s the “Phillies” Jimmy Rollins who rapped like a high school linebacker with a stiff neck, pitcher Barry Zito’s surf jams, Omar Vizquel and his wavering voice, Bronson Arroyo and those cover songs, Aubrey Huff took a swing at country, Ben Broussard and “Black” Jack McDowell — slid by without harming anybody.
I’ve known so many “music folk” who have dreamt and still dream of being baseball players. Baseball, like music, sticks to the soul. We love and respect the game for the stillness, the quick reflex and crushing sound of the ball against hard wood. Let’s not forget the arresting fragrance of an oiled glove – the way it fits the hand – the lace that binds the fingers together – the substance needed to soften and the way it soaks the palms when cooked by unrelenting heat.
Baseball is about holding position for three or four hours and staying alert (much like that early 60s’ gig with James Brown) under blazing sun and buggy nights. The quick sprint, the play, the misplay — falling back in place – prowling fresh cut grass – the dash through a low mist of steam heat — tracing the audio crack of the bat and errant ball crashing earth just out of glove reach. The frustration and the euphoria!
For those who play it’s hard to express baseball feelings in words. For those who collect stats – there is probably no greater thrill. Either way there’s nothing like it. My partner Kristine used to complain – “It’s like watching paint dry.” I would respond – “Once dried you can frame and hang this exquisite memory on the wall.”
The Toronto Blue Jays have given us some impressive numbers over the years. A record-setting 10 home runs in a game against Baltimore September 14, 1987. Number 1, 2, & 3 in batting average in American League in 1993 – John Olerud .363, Paul Molitor .332 and Roberto Alomar .326. George Bell’s three home runs opening day against Kansas City in 1988. Monster home run seasons from Jose Bautista (54), George Bell (47) Jose Canseco (46) and Carlos Delgado (44) – recently, Edwin Encarnacion’s three home run – nine RBI afternoon. Cy Young Award winners Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay and 2015’s solid pitching staff: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marco Estrada, Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, David Price, Aaron Sanchez, Bret Cecil, Roberto Osuna and possibly one of the finest hitting and defensive Blue Jays teams ever fielded; Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Ben Revere, Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, Ryan Goins, Chris Colabello, Kevin Pillar and Justin Smoak.
As much as I loved the Joe Carter, Alomar, Devon White era and the two World Series wins – I equally loved the Barfield, Upshaw, Moseby, Stieb and Clancy days under Bobby Cox. This was the old Exhibition Stadium – the worst facility ever condemned a baseball venue.
Kristine and I would bike down and sneak a view through fence netting. You could hear the screams of fans and when Moseby connected – you knew that sound — that roar of approval – the big joy – the big love for home town Blue Jays! If we stayed long enough we’d catch the big “pale blue” celebratory rush from the side gates. Baseball is about the long run – the full season – the daily grind – much like life in general. The fun is in getting there!
I asked music industry friends to pen their favourite baseball moment and posted below. I thought about this and seriously, for me, there are too many and most forgotten in a collision of seasons dating back to 1954 when I started paying attention. So I decided to run with the Joe Carter episode.
We’d been hired to play the early set at Meyers Deli in Yorkville. Upon arrival I notice there are no seats available and a room crammed with twenty-something’s — a raging fired up bunch. The trio paced back in forth until a couple of seats opened near the bandstand. We were pre warned, “Do not play while game is on.” That’s never been an issue. As the game rolls down to bottom of the ninth and Jays up three – two in the series against the Phillies, Joe Carter faces 43 saves/closer, Mitch “Wild Man” Williams. Without repeating the obvious – Carter crushes a 2-2 count – all eyes follow the ball on the projecting screen as it streams down the left field line — out of the park. Not a whopping record setting 491 foot home run like Manny Ramirez's fifth deck blast June of 2001 off Blue Jays pitcher Chris Carpenter, but far enough to ensure a seat for Carter in Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
At least two hundred party-hearty baseball fans rise to their feet and storm out the front door – not one hesitated and paid for an evening of winning baseball and sustenance. Staff and waiters pursue in a mad chase waving food and drink tabs through Yorkville. Gone, gone, and forever gone!
The room had emptied and that’s when the Deli manager walked over and said,”You can leave now.” Talk about a surreal feeling of having a sentence commuted. I took the long victory lap up and down Yonge Street.
Here’s some on my music pal’s stories. When you get to Graham Shaw; put in Google translator.
Scoot Erwin: I had to remind then Governor of Texas, later to become President George. W. Bush in 1995 that Toronto was still the reigning World Series Champions, even though they won it in '92 and '93. He asked how could that be? I explained to him that the World Series was cancelled in 1994, due to a strike. He finally remembered, and he was one of the owners of the Texas Rangers. Here I am, in the Governor's Office in Austin, explaining it to him.
Ian Anderson: Ted Williams HR over the right field wall at Fenway. PERFECT ENDING. I cried for hours that I would never get to watch him swing a bat again. I still go to YouTube on occasion to remember that day. He was retiring because he was only hitting .303. He was washed up. LOL.
Greg Godovitz: Sat on the third base line in the front row once. Said to the guy next to me, "Must get a lot of line drive foul balls coming in here." He says, "Kid, I've been sitting here for years and never seen one." Guess who gets hit by a sizzler the very next at bat? Tore his diamond ring right off his hand. Two lovely souvenirs for some lucky fan. I kept my eye glued on the batters for the rest of the game.
Tom Veitch: Opening day — 1st year for Blue Jays. Exhibition Stadium. Cheap seats were $2. Get a tap on my shoulder — it's the Vice Principal and Principal from my High School — turned and said ''you guys can't say a word either!"
Jeffery Peeters: Cubs-Expos. Bill Buckner batting for Cubs. Gary Carter catching for Expos. Buckner hits foul pop-up on which Carter tossed his mask. Billy Buck used his bat to spear mask & offer to hand it to Carter. Instead he dropped it just as the Expo was grabbing it.
Andrew M. Smith: Last game of the 1982 season. Jays went 7-1 in the last 8 games, winning the last game 5-2 over Seattle, which was enough to tie Cleveland (who lost 7 of the last 10 games) for 6th place in the AL east. It was the first time the Jays didn't finish a season in last place alone. The crowd went nuts ... and my fave memory is the chant that followed the game: "We're number 6, we're number 6!"
Gordon Enright: May 4, 1980. Three weeks before my 15th birthday. I was at Exhibition Stadium watching a double header — Toronto Blue Jays and the Cleveland Indians. It was raining so the day seemed to go on forever and I loved it — a double header with rain delays. That day Otto Velez hit 4 home runs. What an awesome experience
Graham Shaw: i got one, king, you lazy dick...wait i got two...first one...Heathcliff Johnson comes to the plate...the faithful at exhibition stadium decide they gonna do the wave...Cliff steps outta the box...waits it out...mebbe 2 minutes...steps back in...goes yard...the intrepid Fergie Oliver takes the mic over to “heathclip” and chirps 'what was that you hit, Cliff?'...Cliff says 'Tater'. Walking down Yonge with my good man Bob Halligan Jr post game...one million happy Canadians singing the anthem, open liquor, cops grinning no violence...i was damn proud.
Went to a 3 game stint at Wrigley..my man “clintchuck's” wife was director for TSN baseball broadcast...way down right field game two...Larry Walker picks up a single and makes a gun throw to third for the out...sees my Expos jacket...gimme a eyebrow...cubs fans around me go...yeperee.
Gary Chowen: When Sparky Anderson was coaching the Toronto Maple Leaf baseball team at old Exhibition Stadium I was a watching and standing near the dugout in awe of the players and Anderson walked by and tossed me a ball!!!!
Lasha Woloshyn: Game Six — Joe Carter hitting THE home run! Being in the dome and still hearing an entire country inhale at the same time! Then watching random Jays players running along first base line spraying champagne at the fans. Smile, emotion.
Bob Roper: Baseball is my favourite sport. My parents turned me on to it when I was very young. We went to see two or three games a month at the beautiful old Maple Leaf Stadium — home of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League. I watched player/manager Sparky Anderson.
Sunday double headers against such teams at the Buffalo Bisons and the Havana Sugar Kings. Long gone to history now, but it got me playing the game and becoming a fan.
Kris King: October 24, 1992, the Toronto Skydome was free to the public and filled to capacity to watch Jays vs. Atlanta Braves in game six of the World Series Blue on the Jumbotron.
That night the Blue Jays made history beating the Atlanta Braves 4-3 in the 11th inning to win the championship. As soon as they won everyone hit the field, I decided to run all the bases and collect base dust from each base and home plate, it has been in this jar since that night in 1992.
Ted Woloshyn: Several years ago I met Cito Gaston and told him what a surreal experience it was being at the Dome and watching Joe Carter hit the home run that won the ’93 World Series for Toronto. I spoke of how the crowd went silent when Carter first hit the ball and then exploded in such a loud noise when it went over the wall that I though the roof was going to blow off.
He told me, “I didn’t see it. I was sitting on the bench in the dugout and a bunch of the players were standing on the top stairs, but when I heard the crowd roar I figured something good happened.”
Bob Segarini: "Several years later, when the Giants moved to San Francisco (1958), my Mom, a baseball fan and lover of children, chartered a bus the first three years and took my friends and I to Seals Stadium to see a game during the optimistic beginning of the season every Spring. We would sing, we would play games, we would look out the windows of the brand new Greyhound and watch the world go by, wondering what adventures lay ahead. Driving through the Altamont, (yes, where the Stones played the concert that officially brought the Peace and Love era to a crashing halt a decade later), was a feast for the eyes. Dry and brown during the Summer, the rolling hills of the Altamont were lush green in the Spring and covered in California poppies, a blaze of orange on a sea of green under an unrelenting deep blue sky. We would all gaze out the windows, quiet for a few minutes only to resume the horseplay and laughter as soon as the bus wended its way down the other side of the tiny mountain range into the Livermore Valley. I can still see that landscape when I close my eyes, when I’m feeling nostalgic, when I miss my mom, and those friends, and those times."
Victor Bains Marshall: When I was given the opportunity to interview Cito Gaston in '93 for the Black Business Association of Toronto in honour of him being the first black man to manage a World Series Champion. While interviewing Cito I found out that he really liked Robert Cray and it just so happened that Robert was in town that week (during the Jays '93 World Series games) and so I got in touch with my buddy at Universal to see if he could arrange a backstage meeting with Cito and Robert. He did and I was also invited! What a night at historic Massey Hall that was! Particularly when Cito and his wife took their seats, front row balcony to a standing ovation! I still get goose bumps remembering it!
Jim Casson: Sitting in Chuck Jackson's apartment with the whole band watching Alomar hit the homer off of Eckersley. That's the best moment outside of a World Series win.
Barbette Kensington: I was the captain of the Grossman's baseball team in the late '60s, what a hot mess. I don't think we ever completed a full game.
Don Graham: My favourite baseball moment happened when I was about 12 years old. My dad and I used to throw a ball around and watch the games on CBS and go to see to Montreal Royals at old Delormier Stadium. I was like most kids, I didn’t think dad knew that much about baseball or ever played much, although he said he did. One summer we were visiting my grandmother in Toronto, in the Beach, and dad took me to Ted Reeve Park to watch a fastball game. It was a men’s league team and the pitcher on the home team was an older guy, a friend of dads . He had a smoking fastball. Dad caught his eye and after warm up he came to the sidelines to talk to us. They shook hands and laughed and dad introduced me to “Curly”. He shook my hand and said “ Kid, he’d never tell you this, but your dad was the best second baseman in the city at one time.” From that day on when dad talked baseball, I listened.
Jane Harbury: I've been a huge follower and fan of our Toronto Blue Jays for a very long time — well before the two World Series outings, which were both wonderful but for sheer goose bumpy, emotional reactions - from me and so many others - this past weekend when Edwin Encarnacion almost hit for the cycle and in the process broke yet another record - the crowd's reaction [I was watching on tv] was beyond thrilling - the hats flying on the field, the amazing standing Os - will NEVER forget those few minutes.
Bernie Finkelstein: I’m a long time Blue Jays fan. Had season’s tickets since the beginning in 1977 and still have them.
As some may know I put out the Blue Jays theme in 1985, “Okay Blue Jays, Let’s Play Ball” and lo and behold in 1985 the single went gold. We got to go to the Skydome and present a gold record to Jimy Williams, the then Blue Jays manager. The Blue Jays got in the playoffs that year but didn’t get to go all the way but it’s one of my favourite baseball moments for sure.
The next one would be Joe Carter’s 3 run walk-off “homer” in game six, which won the world series for the Blue Jays in 1993. Never going to forget that but hoping for more of the same this year.
Wayne Webster: Joe Carter of course, Game six, 1993 World Series
A buddy and I had tickets up the 500 level but traded them plus some cash from a scalper to sit in the 100 level. We were in left field not too far down from third base. Very tense game.
When Joe hit the ball I didn’t think it was going to go out, then from our vantage point you could see that it was going to clear the wall. Then of course everything went wild. I headed down to Yonge Street, walked up and down celebrating with everyone. Awesome night!
Ron Canner: As a kid, when near the end of his career Mantle comes back from a long stint on the DL and promptly hits a game winning pinch hit homer; then limps around the bases pathetically. Brought tears to my eyes. As an adult, Jeter's 3000th hit, a home run and goes on to go 5 for 5.
Jordan John: My insatiable affinity for baseball stems as far back as I can remember. Growing up in the Greater Toronto Area, you were either a Toronto Maple Leafs fan by winter or Toronto Blue Jays fan by summer (with a dash of Argos CFL somewhere in between). For me, it started with The Jays and it hasn’t let up since. My childhood bedroom walls were plastered with the CIBC promotional Toronto Blue Jays player posters. Stars like Tony Fernandez, Manny Lee, George Bell and at the centre piece of my mini Jays player shrine was my piece de resistance; the poster of my favourite, Fred McGriff. Following a strong 1990 season but coming up short in the playoffs, I recall asking my father (as any concerned 4 year old would), “Dad, you don’t think the Jays would ever trade Fred McGriff do you?” My father very confidently replied, “Oh no, son! They would NEVER trade Fred McGriff!” Not even two days later during the 1990 Baseball Winter Meetings, arguably the biggest trade in Blue Jays history occurred sending Tony Fernandez and my beloved Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter. It took my father a whole day to muster up the courage to tell me the sad news. As I stood in front of my mini-shrine, head hung and tears rolling down my cheeks, my father picked me up and assured me, “Not to worry son, you just wait and see! I promise you this will be for the better. This young Roberto Alomar is going to be one of the best you’ve ever seen and I know that Joe Carter is going to do great things for this team.” When the 1991 season began, my father took me once again to the CIBC Bank to collect my new Jays Posters. Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter quickly became the new fixtures of my Blue Jays shrine and more significantly of my childhood identity - and in both 1992 & 1993, my father, Prakash was able to make good on his promise to his son.