This month’s contribution from sports fan, music nut, and author Geoff Moore is about two cultural signposts in Western culture: rock ‘n’ roll and baseball. Specifically, we’re talking about John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” a single from a bygone era, and yet encompassing a timeless theme …
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum last Monday announced that the august institution will celebrate John Fogerty and the 25th anniversary of his hit single ‘Centerfield’ during its annual induction ceremonies, scheduled for next July 25 at Cooperstown, NY – where Abner Doubleday most certainly did not invent the game of baseball.
Time can go all Stephen Hawking on you if your method of measuring it is unconventional. A discography is deceptive when held up against a traditional Gregorian calendar. Fogerty is an artist who has twice gone a full decade between new releases, so there’s standard time and John Fogerty time (which sometimes flies compared to a nine inning major league game), which makes the news that ‘Centerfield’ is now 25-years-old somewhat shocking because it still seems relatively recent*. After all, it was just a few albums ago.
The palaces of pro sport are as guilty as commercial radio networks when it comes to murdering music. Game time? ‘Start Me Up!’ Despite its brittle 80s production and cheesy sound effects, ‘Centerfield’ still, against all odds, sounds fresh to these ears. But baseball is difficult here in Alberta. After the three western Canadian AAA Pacific Coast League franchises pulled up stakes and moved south of 49, the upstart Canadian Baseball League staggered through half of its inaugural season before calling a permanent time out. The lowly independent Golden League clubs existing in Calgary and Edmonton now are curiosities who may or may not play ‘Centerfield’ to death; does a song make a sound if nobody’s in the bleachers to listen?
Watching the Montreal Expos play at Parc Jarry and le Stade Olympique in the 70s and 80s, an era when people had longer attention spans, the action on the field was enhanced simply by the hands of an organist on his keyboard. The was no pre-recorded music to provide distraction as the entertainment was the sport itself. However, many games were spent trying to consume nine beers in nine innings so memory becomes problematic – but know this: there were sure no goddamn cell phones. But fair’s fair; the Baseball Hall of Fame’s endorsement also rubber stamps ‘Centerfield’ as cliché which means there must be legions of rock ‘n’ roll-loving baseball fans who hope to never again to be serenaded by its “Put me in, coach!” chorus.
No sport is as narcissistic about its self-image and strengthening the strands of its myth already entwined in popular culture as baseball. Some of the game’s arts-inflated hubris is warranted. Did not life imitate art as the withering, fin de siècle Expos played ‘home’ games in Puerto Rico, pretty much mirroring the homeless Port Ruppert Mundys in Philip Roth’s ‘The Great American Novel’ (1973)? Yet for every good novel, piece of journalism, song or poem, movie or delightful Ring Lardner short story there’s a twin, tobacco spit-tinged work of wretched nostalgia.
‘Centerfield’ is like an elusive line drive bouncing around in a corner of the outfield. Any song that quotes Chuck Berry, references ‘Casey at the Bat’ and name checks two centerfielders who found fame in New York during baseball’s Golden Era is, face it, a staggering ditty of sheer genius. It bubbles up from the same source of elation in Fogerty’s soul that gave us ‘Willie and the Poor Boys,’ ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Girls’ and ‘Travelin’ Band.’ Music that makes you glad all over. ‘Centerfield’ isn’t really about baseball at all, but baseball is metaphor we can all grasp as easily as a lazy fly ball.
Everybody wants their shining moment in the sun, their turn at bat. Fogerty, after a 10-year hiatus (What do you do doing nothing for 10 years? Go crazy? Brood? Raise chickens?), obviously felt that way too.
The only ballplayer being inducted at Cooperstown this year is 1977 National League Rookie of the Year, gold glover, silver slugger and 1987 National League Most Valuable Player Andre Dawson, likely the last man into the Hall who will sport an Expos cap on his bronze plaque. Dawson, of course, played centerfield.
[* 25th anniversary edition of the ‘Centerfield’ album drops June 29 (Geffen/UMe].
Geoff Moore is a writer who lives in Calgary. He swings away every time, and never bunts.