Because he was in a slump last June, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford made some adjustments to his approach at the plate. Namely, he switched his walk-up music to Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger." His batting average jumped 20 points in the second half.
Brandon Moss was also thinking strategically when he selected "Homeboy" by Eric Church as his walk-up song. "I probably shouldn't say," the A's first baseman said, "but there's somebody back home, and I'd like them to hear that song and catch their attention."
Outfielder Hunter Pence, meanwhile, recently sought the wise counsel of his Giants teammates. "I just wanted something country and something positive, so I asked Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner to give me some hillbilly stuff," he explained.
Like it or not, walk-up music -- and its pitchin' cousin, entrance music -- is now the unofficial soundtrack of any baseball season. This marks year 20, give or take, that teams have dispatched batters to the plate with their own personal anthem.
Modern players now select their songs with the same kind of care as they do their bats and gloves. Every hitter is a disc jockey; Casey Kasem at the bat. And if a player can't find just the right song from the musical oeuvre, one can be created for him.
"I have a buddy who is into music, and before my first start last year he said, 'Let me do your warm-up song,' " A's left-hander Tommy Milone said. "It's just computer program sounds and beats. It's pretty cool."
Baseball purists can rail all they want about turning down that dang music, but resistance seems futile. Roll over, Ty Cobb, and dig those rhythm and blues.
"When walk-up music started, the older generation thought it was total baloney," said Mike Krukow, 61, who didn't actually say baloney. "It was an 'I' thing that separated the individual from the team."
The Giants broadcaster pitched in the majors from 1976-89 and envisioned himself fuming on the mound if he had to wait for some disco diva to make his way to the plate. Krukow acknowledges that Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale might have treated such an act with a little chin music.
"That said, when that music comes on, every kid in the stands gets excited and everybody knows the song," Krukow said. "Therefore, if the fans are into it, then it's good. The game has changed in lots of ways over the years, and it's still the greatest game in the world."
When did the batter's box become a jukebox?
Pomp and circumstance
The origins of walk-up music are difficult to pinpoint. There is no "aha moment." Or even an "A-ha" moment.
Loosely defined, the concept has been around for decades. St. Louis Cardinals leadoff hitter Lou Brock, to name one example, used to ask Busch Stadium organist Ernie Hays to play the "Theme From Shaft" for his trips to the plate in the early 1970s.
Sparky Lyle of the Yankees was also an early pioneer of baseball as musical theater. In 1972, his first season in New York, the left-handed reliever would enter to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance." If manager Ralph Houk summoned Lyle, the word would get to organist Toby Wright, who would begin playing what was known familiarly as the graduation march.
Fans loved it, but Lyle wanted to focus more on the circumstance and less on the pomp. He told the Yankees to give it a rest.
A's shortstop Jed Lowrie is with Lyle; he doesn't love it.
"The (song) I have in Oakland, I think it's Rush. I didn't even pick it, somebody else did for me," Lowrie said. "It doesn't matter to me. I'm so focused on what I'm trying to do before I get up there that a song doesn't really change my mood. .... I don't need a song to kind of get in the zone."
Many teams, including the Giants and A's, dabbled with variations of walk-up music in the 1980s. The movement turned it up a notch with the 1989 movie "Major League," which featured scenes of Ricky Vaughn, played by Charlie Sheen, sending the home crowd into delirium by entering games to "Wild Thing."
Those were baby steps in the walk-up evolution. The big leap came at some point during the 1990s. One industry source pointed to the 1993 Seattle Mariners as the first team to do it as a ritual for every hitter in the lineup. If that's true, that would make this an anniversary season: It was roughly 20 years ago today that the Mariners told the band to play.
Kevin Martinez, Seattle's vice president of marketing, can confirm only that '93 was indeed the first year Seattle played walk-up music for each hitter. He does not know whether the Mariners were the first MLB team to do so.
In the least, Seattle had been experimenting with signature songs for the action on the field as early as 1990. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was played when closer Mike Jackson strode in from the bullpen (wearing just one glove), and Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" was played for Alvin Davis.
Alas, there is no record of whether the team ever played Frank Sinatra for Matt Sinatro. "We might have slipped 'Summer Wind' in there a time or two," Martinez said.
Rockin' in Oakland
In many ways, though, the big change can be traced back to the Bay Area. In a move akin to Dylan going electric, the A's became the first team to play rock music at a major league ballpark in 1981. The Haas family had just bought the team and was looking for ways to lure back fans turned off by the end of the Charlie Finley era. Executive Andy Dolich hired Roger Inman, who had just graduated from the broadcast school at San Francisco State.
"I was the first baseball disc jockey," Inman says now.
Inman's previous job was at the dearly departed Marine World Africa USA, where he guided tour boats past dolphins and elephants, an experience that shaped his future work with Tigers and Blue Jays.
"Basically, it was, 'The dolphin jumps up in the air and there's a piece of music that happens.' If the dolphin flips twice, there's a different piece of music," he said. "(With the A's) I sort of employed those sensibilities to the situation on the field."
Now, in the walk-up wonderland of the Oakland Coliseum, there's a signature song for every batter, every key reliever and, since the early '80s, every victory. As the Kool & the Gang song so presciently foretold, "it's a celebration to last throughout the years."
One pitcher even has exit music. It seems that Jerry Blevins, the situational left-hander with a funky delivery, objected to the playing of Metallica when he entered games. "You can't play that for me," Blevins told the music crew, "I don't throw hard enough."
Instead, the P.A. booth now waits to see if Blevins does his job. If Blevins succeeds, Metallica's "Sanitarium" blares as he walks off the mound.
These days, the Coliseum can feel like a music festival where a game broke out. There's a reason for that. David Don, the A's senior director of multimedia services, and Troy Smith, the team's senior director of marketing, oversee the action like conductors.
"We try to score the game as if it's a movie soundtrack," Don said. "It might be a few subtle things early, but late in the game, we might select something to create a sense of impending doom for an opposing pitcher.
"If there are two on and two out and the A's best hitter is coming up, we might use something from 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' "
From Mozart to metal
There are rules for this kind of thing. Major League Baseball has only so much patience for musical interludes and orders teams to keep things moving. The MLB office decrees:
Any musical clip used to introduce a batter should start immediately after the public address announcement and should stop when the batter reaches the dirt cut-out surrounding home plate. Music clips between pitches should be limited in order not to encourage the hitter to leave the batter's box.
And as with any new rules, there are those who figure out how to get around them, such as former Giants outfielder Kenny Lofton. "The rule came out that the music was supposed to fade out the instant a player stepped into the box, but Kenny Lofton would take extra long just because that was part of his ritual," Giants social media director Bryan Srabian recalled with a laugh. "It was almost a choreographed dance. One of his songs was a Missy Elliott song, and he'd kind of be bobbing his head and do a little head shake.
"He timed it perfectly so that when he walked into the box, the song ended where he wanted it to."
Other musical miscreants don't always get away with it. While with Boston in 2002, outfielder Manny Ramirez asked a clubhouse employee to help him change his tune at the last second. His new song, the profanity-laced and drug-themed "Good Times (I Get High)" by Styles P, prompted the Red Sox to change their policy: No more spontaneous requests.
Less threatening is this year's choice by Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder, who chose Mozart's 1791 piece Requiem.
That makes sense, considering that classical compositions are the original walk-up music. In opera, as in baseball, you can tell a lot about a character simply by the auditory cues.
"Well-composed music can conjure feeling, location and circumstances in the flash of several seconds by virtue of what we remember from the past," said David Gockley, the general director at San Francisco Opera and a former high school third baseman.
"Music can also express hope and unleash a kind of power. The listener's head is clear. That might be what a batter is looking for."
Pence, who leads the Giants with 10 home runs, prefers a little pop at the plate. While with the Houston Astros years ago, he selected a Katy Perry song because "we tried to get the cheesiest songs possible. Everyone did it. A lot of people were like 'Did you lose a bet?' But we were playing well in the second half of that year, so I kept it."
Most players, though, go for a harder edge, especially those who bring the show to a close: All-time saves leader Mariano Rivera of the Yankees comes in for the ninth to "Enter Sandman" by Metallica, and San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman's slow walk to "Hells Bells" by AC/DC was one of baseball's memorable spectacles.
"Even though, when you heard it, it meant you had to go face them," former Giants infielder Shawon Dunston said, "it was still nice to hear the music when they came out."
During a visit to AT&T Park earlier this year, Metallica lead singer James Hetfield reflected on the band's unofficial place among baseball's all-time hit leaders.
"It's been great," Hetfield said. "We love that it can inspire others to another level."
Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie.
Q&A with the man who has helped the Giants pick their songs over the years.
Listen to the music the Bay Area players walk up to at www.mercurynews.com/sports.
For a list of songs that accompany Giants and A's players, along with comments from music critic Jim Harrington, see Page 5.