In the pantheon of baseball films, Charlie Sheen’s 1989 “Major League” tends to get lost in the shuffle. But, one of the most memorable scenes of the sleeper hit was Sheen-as-Ricky-Vaughn’s walk-up to the mound to save the day, set to X’s “Wild Thing.” At the time, personalized walk-up music was a rarity in Major League Baseball games, with player introductions handled by the organist – if at all.
Twenty-six years later, nearly every hitter and relief pitcher can count on a personally chosen musical cue to introduce them, a la Ricky Vaughn. Have it be Kansas City Royals’ Alcides Escobar with Zion y Lennow’s “Pierdo la Cabeza,” Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant with 2 Chainz’ “We Own It,” New York Mets' Travis d’Arnaud with Drake’s “0 to 100 -- the Catch Up” or Toronto Blue Jays’ Aaron Sanchez and Wiz Khalifa’s “We Dem Boyz,” the race to the World Series this year would have felt different without these personally-chosen walk-up tunes.
Unofficially the soundtrack of the MLB season, walk-up music has become serious business – warranting polls, charts to track walk-ups’ popularity, and a litany of articles detailing why one player’s entrance is better than another’s. For the 15 seconds or more that it takes to move from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box or from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound, the walk-up music is the player’s best chance to rile up the crowd and get their support. More important, it’s the player’s chance to get psyched up for the challenge to come.
“Your walk-up music has to mean something,” said Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter to ESPN. His most popular walk-up song is “Immortal” by Kid Cudi. “[When] I step to the plate and I hear, ‘Tonight I feel immortal,’ I just feel unstoppable.”
The perfect walk-up song can place an exclamation on the player’s appearance on field, displaying a side of his personality that may otherwise not be seen. While some players choose popular songs or those reflective of their names or physical appearance, others take the time to choose the perfect music to intimidate their opponents, get the crowd loud, or soothe their inner doubts.
While some walk-up song choices can be strange – such as Oakland A’s right fielder Josh Reddick, who once entered to George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” or Texas Rangers’ Prince Fielder, who doesn’t have a walk-up song but is instead introduced with an air raid siren – most become part of the tradition and ritual surrounding the ballpark experience, discussed and debated as much as a team’s draft picks or a player’s at-bat record.
Hip-Hop Rules the Diamond … Barely
The average age of an MLB player is 26.8 years. As such, most players would have grown up with hip-hop and rap as influential music styles – as of December 2014, for example, the most tweeted-about musical genre in America is rap.
It is no surprise, then, that the artist accompanying the most walk-ups is Canadian rapper Drake – a distinction he has held for the past two years. In 2014, Drake’s song “Trophies” was chosen by more players than any other song. For 2015, Drake is tied with country music artist Jason Aldean for having the largest number of current walk-ups with 15 songs each.
As tracked by MLB.com, Drake and Aldean is followed by Daddy Yankee and hip-hop artist Pitbull. The two most popular cuts from Drake on the list – “6 God” and “Energy” – came from his latest album “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.” Aldean’s most popular tracks are “Gonna Know We Were Here” and “Just Gettin’ Started.”
Walk-up song charts are also typically dominated by male singers, although Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and other female singers occasionally break into the lineup, for various reasons. Seattle Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison walked up to Katy Perry’s “Firework” on the outside chance the pop star would date him, while Kansas City Royals second baseman Ben Zobrist walked up to music recorded by his wife.
The Beat of the Diamond
According to Billboard, these are the most popular walk-up songs for the 2015 season:
“Blessings” by Big Sean featuring Drake (used by David Ortiz, Billy Hamilton, CC Sabathia, Ryan Howard, Justin Upton, Robinson Cano, Jon Jay, and Jose Reyes)
“Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin (used by Ryan Lavarnway, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Huston Street, Scott Kazmir, and Chase Utley)
“Como Yo le Doy” by Pitbull featuring Don Miguelo (used by Victor Martinez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Elvis Andrus, and Edwin Encarnacion)
“El Perdon” by Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias (used by Luis Valbuena, Alcides Escobar, Cesar Hernandez. and Rene Rivera)
“GDFR” by Flo Rida featuring Sage the Gemini (used by Jake Lamb, Shane Greene, Hank Conger, and Matt Joyce)
Considering that each MLB team carries a 25-man active roster amounting to 750 batters and pitchers, 649 of which have their own walk-up music, the notion that the top song was only used by eight players shows the diversity of choice in choosing the right entrance music.
Music Driving the Performance
There is no scientific evidence suggesting that one type of music is better for hitting or pitching than another. However, this doesn’t stop home teams from refusing to play walk-up music for the visiting team.
As players change walk-up songs regularly, correlating box scores to a particular song is difficult and tends to yield imprecise results. However, just like wearing the same pair of socks for every game or wearing a hat in a certain way, the walk-up song can be part of a superstition ritual that may serve to bolster the player’s self-confidence.
The songs used by the MLB’s best players can be as diverse as the players themselves. With a batting average of .338 for the regular season with 429 at bats, Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is the MLB’s regular season batting leader. His most popular walk-up song for 2015 was Jay-Z’s and Kanye West’s “Ni**as in Paris.” For the second-place Dee Gordon of the Miami Marlins (.333 batting average, 615 at bats), it’s Big Sean’s “Guap,” and for third-place Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals (.330 batting average, 521 at bats), it’s Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel.”
Among the relief pitchers, San Francisco Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit – who leads the league in average outs per game in relief at 5.1 (76 innings pitched) – walks up to Calle 13’s “Los de Atrás Vienen Conmigo.” Boston Red Sox’s Craig Breslow (3.9 outs per game in relief, 65 innings pitched) enters to Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality,” while Pittsburgh Pirates’ Mark Melancon (51 saves, 76.2 innings pitched) is introduced to AC/DC song “Thunderstruck.”
Ultimately, the best walk-up music is the music that gets the job done for the player. “Of all the things he could have asked me, that’s what he needed to know?" Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor told ESPN about his experience with minor leagues questioning him about his playing days with the Toronto Blue Jays. “It’s all about the walk-up music.”
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We pulled every walk-up song for MLB players from MLB.com and compared it with 2015 regular season’s batting and pitching stats for all the players listed with a walk-up song. We limited batting stats to genres with at least 10 different players walking up and artists with more than one, and we limited pitching stats to genres with at least five. We then used the iTunes API to get previews of player walk-up songs.
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