Classical to the plate

Pat Burrell of the Philadelphia Phillies awaits his turn at bat at RFK Stadium in 2006.Scott Ableman via Flickr; Creative Commons

May 19, 2015

The player swings two bats in the on-deck circle, watching the pitcher's every move, trying to get any kind of advantage in preparation for his turn to hit. Tossing one of the bats aside, the player makes his way to the plate.

And suddenly … WHAM! The batter's signature music is blasted through the speaker system at deafening levels. Hip-hop, hard rock, country — fans could hear just about anything. Except classical.

Imagine the spectacle if the home team's leadoff hitter walked to the plate in the season opener and was greeted with the opening strains of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring? Seems appropriate, doesn't it?

I think it would be a whole lot of fun — and with that in mind, I give you classical walk-up music suggestions for some of the greatest players in the history of the game. Just one line-up. No designated hitter. My apologies to the fans of many all-time greats who were left out.

Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, posed, holding baseball bat. Illus. in: Jackie Robinson. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Publications, c1951, v. 1, no. 5, back cover.
Library of Congress

Leading off - 2nd baseman, JACKIE ROBINSON
Robinson was perhaps the ultimate pioneer of the game, breaking the color barrier in 1947, becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era. His walk-up music? It has to be from another pioneer — in the classical world, that's Johann Sebastian Bach. Let's go with the opening Allegro from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. This music carries so much spirit and grace — typical of Bach's compositions and very much a reflection of how Jackie Robinson played the game.

Ted Williams
Ted Williams
Baseball Digest, back cover, May 1949; Wikimedia Commons

Batting 2nd - left fielder, TED WILLIAMS
"The Kid." "The Splendid Splitter." "Teddy Ballgame." Remarkably, Ted Williams played his entire major league career with one team, the Boston Red Sox. So it seems appropriate that Williams' walk-up music should come from New England. Amy Beach was the lone female member of the Second New England School of composers, also known as the Boston Six, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If Williams was born to hit, Beach was born to perform and write music. The man considered by many to be the greatest hitter of all time takes his place in the batter's box to the strains of the final movement of the Amy Beach Piano Concerto.

Willie Mays baseball card
Willie Mays baseball card
Baseball Collection via Flickr; Creative Commons

Batting 3rd - center fielder, WILLIE MAYS
The "Say Hey Kid" was the ultimate five-tool player: hitting for average, hitting for power, base-running skills and speed, throwing ability, and fielding ability. He could do it all. In the classical music world, that tag would have to go to Mozart. He could do it all, too: Mozart played keyboard and violin, and composed more than 600 works in nearly all genres — symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic and choral music. So as Mays strides to the plate, he's greeted by the final movement from Mozart's Symphony No. 41.

Babe Ruth in 1921
Babe Ruth in 1921
Library of Congress

Batting 4th - right fielder, BABE RUTH
Easily the most famous name in baseball. Ask the average Joe the first name that comes to mind when they hear the word "baseball." Yep. Babe Ruth. Ask that same Joe the first name that comes to mind when they hear the words "classical music"? Beethoven. So it seems fitting that as the "Sultan of Swat" enters the batter's box, those ominous first four notes of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 rain down. Look out pitcher (dee-dee-dee-DAH), the Bambino is about to hit another one out of the park.

Mike Schmidt's Baseball Hall of Fame plaque
Mike Schmidt's Baseball Hall of Fame plaque
Peter Bond

Batting 5th - 3rd baseman, MIKE SCHMIDT
Schmidt was not only a terrific defensive player, but when he came to the plate, man, did he look intimidating. He could stare down the pitcher like no other, and usually the confrontation ended with Schmidt stroking a hit, often times a home run. The walk-up music? This one's easy. The visualization of Schmidt staring down the pitcher is the perfect match for the opening of Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. If I'm the pitcher, I'm running for cover!

Lou Gehrig
Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees, cropped from a posed picture of 1937 Major League Baseball All-Stars in Washington, DC.
Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress

Batting 6th - 1st baseman, LOU GEHRIG
Integrity. Character. When you think of baseball and Americana, Lou Gehrig's story fits the bill perfectly. The "Iron Horse" was a rock of a man, a great player on America's great team, the New York Yankees. What's remembered most about Gehrig though, is his iconic farewell to the game, on July 4, 1939, when the man dying from ALS announced to the crowd at Yankee Stadium that he considered himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth." Fittingly, as Gehrig walks to the plate, his walk-up music comes from an American composer — Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man.

Johnny Bench
Johnny Bench baseball card
Ed McDonald via Flickr; Creative Commons

Batting 7th - catcher, JOHNNY BENCH
Bench played on those marvelous Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s and had that classic all-American-kid look. Baseball, apple pie, Johnny Bench. He was pretty good too, you know. The music I hear in my head as Bench walks to the plate comes from a Czech composer who had a nice little run in America in the late 19th century, Antonin Dvořák. It's the 2nd movement from Dvořák's Symphony No. 9. The largo was later adapted into the song "Goin' Home." That seems to fit, since Bench spent so much time behind home plate.

Honus Wagner, circa 1911
John Peter "Honus" Wagner, shortstop, Pittsburgh, National League, circa 1911.
George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress

Batting 8th - shortstop, HONUS WAGNER
If you have a Honus Wagner baseball card, keep it! It's considered one of the rarest and most valuable cards in the world. Wagner's walk-up music seems obvious, don't you think? He was known as "The Flying Dutchman"; in this case, "Dutch" being an alteration of "Deutsch." Yes, Honus Wagner was German, through and through. Just like another Wagner — Richard. So let's go with composer Wagner's classic Ride of the Valkyries for the baseball Wagner's trip to the plate.

Cy Young in 1908
Cy Young, pitcher, Boston, American League, photographed on July 23, 1908.
George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress

Batting 9th - pitcher, CY YOUNG
He's not here for his hitting, you know. Our 9th batter was arguably the game's greatest pitcher: 511 wins. No other player has more. Every year, baseball's best pitcher wins an award named after the guy. So when Cy Young steps to the plate, he deserves something fit for a king. Something regal. Let's go with Handel's Water Music, written for King George I in 1717.

So there you have it. Nine spectacular players with nine matching classical selections. Bravo! Now, let's PLAY BALL!