I’ve got to pay more attention to the Toronto Blue Jays this season.
After achieving back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, I didn’t make much as much commitment to consistently follow the team over the last two season. Some may view this as me jumping off the bandwagon, but I can assure you this is not the case. I closely follow four Toronto sports franchises, so I tend to follow the teams that are the most entertaining first. Considering that both the Maple Leafs and Raptors extended their seasons into April and May, the Jays lost the battle of my remote control during their first few months of the regular season. At that point, I’d only catch the odd game if it happened to be on and occasionally read the box scores of games missed.
I spent most of my Jays fandom cheering on disappointingly mediocre teams, remembering when the likes of Chris Woodward, Josh Towers, Russ Adams, and Kyle Drabek held roster spots. Not only can many who enjoyed the recent playoff fun not even remember names such as those, some were pretty much tuned out entirely during the late, great Roy Halladay’s decade-plus run with the team. I think I deserve to step away every once in a while to indulge in other pastimes. My rejuvenated interest comes from the fact that since late last season, the team seems fully committed to re-building the roster. Seeing prospects getting a chance to start a promising career helps recharge the batteries of sports fans, and I know it will for me.
But enough running defense on my baseball credibility. What does this have to do with music? Plenty. Ever since Albert Von Tilzer and Jack Norworth penned ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ in 1908, baseball and music fit together like a hand in a (Rawlings) glove. New additions to the lineup means new songs blaring from the stadium speakers as batters step up to the plate and pitchers emerge from the bullpen. Such traditions have forever linked recent Hall of Fame inductee Mariano Rivera to Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’. On top of that, team cheers have been a long-standing part of just about any sport, many of which can have a musicality to them. Although it is not often accompanied by music, I must say that the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ ‘Oskee Wee Wee’ cheer does a number on my ears worse than a thousand boy bands playing at once.
Here’s a team cheer of sorts. More accurately, a team song, of which is still sung in part during Blue Jays games to this day.
I’ve wanted to get this record for years. I remember it being played heavily during the team’s glory years of their 1992 and 1993 back-to-back World Series championships, and my grade six class learned this song as part of a sports week in school a few years later. I rarely look for 7″ 45s, but the song just popped in my head one day and I jumped on eBay to, at long last, secure a copy. I also grabbed a 7” of Aerosmith’s ‘Dude Looks Like A Lady’ from the same store, possibly as it reminded me that reenacting Mrs. Doubtfire’s housekeeping montage was another long-forgotten childhood goal of mine.
For those Jays fans that maintain a similar fondness for this song, Keith Hampshire shed a little light on this single through the Behind The Vinyl segment on boom 97.3’s Youtube channel, discussing how his vocal similarities to Randy Newman helped win him the gig in 1981. Hampshire had some other hits as a solo artist prior to this session, most notably his take on Cat Stevens’ ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’. The remaining members of The Bat Boys also seem to be a random assortment of musicians rather than any pre-existing backing group. Some of these musicians have an extensive recording and performing history as well, such as drummer Barry Keane and guitarist Mike Francis. Both men appear on assorted Anne Murray and Gordon Lightfoot recording among their hundreds of combined credits.
While the song continues to be played at Blue Jays games, the only portions of the song that are played regularly are the first verse and the chorus. All lyrics, as well as the entire recording credits, appear on the back of the record sleeve shown below.
Seeing this sheet to re-familiarize myself with the words, I can understand why they use an abridged version today. The Dave they refer to in the second verse must be pitcher Dave Stieb, who many consider to be the first star player that the team developed. The fourth verse name-drops a Billy, who most certainly would be Oakland Athletics manager Billy Martin. Mind you, that was at the time the song was written. The single was not released until 1983, by which time the fiery Martin returned to manage the Yankees. The list of teams in that same verse isn’t necessarily all that dated, but it might explain the lack of variety. All eight teams listed played in the American League. Inter-league play did not start until 1997, and the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t switch to the National League until 1998.
Many Blue Jays song came and went, but ‘OK Blue Jays’ remains and has held up fairly well with age. Still, it’s interesting to sample some of the song’s contenders that would emerge in the wake of the success of ‘OK Blue Jays’. The first of these I’ve found is ‘The Blue Jays Rap’ from 1989. Raps, particularly once that sound like they are performed by Baby Boomers trying to appear cool in the eyes of their children, do not age well. However, that can be forgiven since proceeds of the single went towards the children’s charity Variety Club of Ontario. Consider it being cringey for a cause.
It eventually got to the point where enough Jays-themed songs came out that an entire album’s worth were compiled, containing both previously-discussed songs in addition to nine others.
Ones that piqued my interest are ‘The Ballad of Tom Henke’ that chronicles the journey of the team’s bespectacled closer (audio not found), and ‘Help Us Mookie’ doing the same to one of the most amusingly-nicknamed men on the team. Several tracks loosely based on Beach Boys songs and Chuck Berry among other artists. The ‘Sloop John B’ parody could be interpreted as racially insensitive by today’s standard, and probably was back then as well, but the public got a taste of Hoodat Singer whether they liked it or not. This compilation album seemed to get an update annually as the team became champions, with new interpretations being added whenever a fresh (or not-so-fresh) idea came along.
Here’s one you might need to dig a little deeper to find, but the aforementioned Dave Stieb actually guested on a rock album. I remember reading in the team’s 1992 yearbook that Stieb was a guitarist and friends with bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee of Rush, who can frequently be seen sitting behind homeplate at games and is quite the baseball enthusiast. Plus, he even has a cameo in Tesla’s music video for ‘The Way It Is’. Naturally, he must have been chomping at the bit to get into the recording studio.
What band provided him this glorious opportunity? Kideo.
You take Kiss, remove any Satanic overtones, and switch their sex obsession with a drive to teach children how to be upstanding citizens, and you basically have Kideo. I used to watch their children’s morning show, but didn’t realize that they actually had albums until recently. Stieb brought his on-the-mound intensity with him to lay down the guitar on ‘Strike Three’ off their second album, In a World Of Black and White. I have a feeling he didn’t get to choose the song, and it was either ‘Strike Three’ or they’re asking Jimmy Key if he can play a few licks.
I haven’t seen any other Blue Jays have album credits like this, but there were plenty of other baseball players who took up a musical instrument. It would only make sense that over an 162-game season, some guys wanted to develop other interests outside of the hotel room mini-bar. Randy Johnson was nearly a Jay in 1993, and he was a drummer. But did any other actual Jays develop a musical talent over their careers? Does Tony Fernandez play a mean harmonica? Can Carlos Delgado tickle the ivories? And what about the current Blue Jays squad? If you want to develop great team chemistry, get the infield to work as a barbershop quartet, and their double-play combinations will be as tight as their harmonies.