Billie Bugara makes her No Bells debut with the definitive guide to the MLB’s early obsession with rap music. When she’s not thinking about baseball, she covers some scene you might’ve heard of at Lyrical Lemonade and SoundCloud.
Some may say that rap music and baseball could not be more different from each other — and those people might be correct. Nonetheless, there was indeed a period of time where these two distant planets collided. It was in the midst of the 1980s, that blissfully unaware decade wherein more than a few baseball teams tried their hand at this brand new thing called “rapping.” Seems like an innocent enough concept at first glance, right?
You may not have known it, and perhaps it’s best you hadn’t to this point, but baseball players and a recording booth do not mix, they never have, and they likely never will. Why am I so confident in such a statement? Well, the precedent had been set from the jump, and when I say “the jump,” I really mean the jump.
The 1980s brought with it hip-hop’s most evolutionary period. Its roots were firmly planted early on, its soil was meticulously fertilized as the decade moved forward, and its flowers blossomed in full once its “golden era” took shape at the decade’s end. The genre made a magnificent journey from the deepest sectors of the underground to the cusp of mainstream culture.
No one knew that the genre would come to dominate the entirety of culture come the dawn of the new millennium. For a minute there in the ‘80s, its fate was being compared to disco’s just a decade prior. Could you imagine if that was the case? Would there have been a “hip-hop demolition night” too? Thankfully, the answer to that question is irrelevant as can be. Whereas baseball fans and players alike obviously shared quite the dismay for disco based on that incident, they took to hip-hop in a bit more welcoming manner. But not before football struck first.
Anyone Can Rap, Even A Bear
The 1985 Chicago Bears set the highest precedent imaginable during their historic 1985 Super Bowl-winning campaign, bringing together nearly their entire roster to record “The Super Bowl Shuffle” — a rap cut that somehow, someway, peaked at number 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart shortly after its release and was even nominated for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammys. Though most of the Bears were far from musically-inclined, the track really isn’t too awful given the period it was released in. It was a perplexing, yet valiant effort at flexing in an extremely ‘80s manner.
In all of this track’s success and glory, the MLB would try its hand at cashing in on the genre’s growing interest and influence alike. But there’s a reason that we only remember “The Super Bowl Shuffle” from this era of sports rap, and it’s really quite simple.
Baseball players cannot rap. In fact, I don’t exactly know if they understood the concept of “rapping” at all at that time. So let’s venture into some examples that will shed light on these claims, and on one of the most exceptionally awful appropriations of genre to ever exist.
Exhibit A: The 1986 New York Mets – “Get Metsmerized”
No team could have been better suited to represent the ‘80s in this light than the ‘86 Mets. This was a group of players who were very, very good at winning baseball games — among the best all-around teams in the game’s history, even. The only things they loved more than winning baseball games were cocaine and hookers (it was the ‘80s, people). Their magnificent quest to 108 wins and a World Series victory was marked by feverish competition, inner-clubhouse drama, and late-night antics that often turned into crime, classlessness, and embarrassment. They performed exceptionally well on the field, shamefully poorly off of it, and above all else, downright tragically in the booth.
In the same way that the Bears recorded their single before even winning the Super Bowl at all, the Mets took to the studio before the entire 1986 season even began. Not much is known about the session(s) this track was recorded in, but one can presume that they walked out of the studio thinking that they had a similar type of hit on their hands. Let’s just say it’s a good thing that most of their hits that year came from Keith Hernandez and Ray Knight instead.
Look, I’ll give this song credit where it’s absolutely due: the instrumental kinda goes. We can thank Derek David and Greg Spooner for that — two musicians that have next to no other significant contributions to the music world at large. They at least caught a nice and addicting groove here that does its job just as well as the beat to the Bears song, if not better.
The problem here lies in the Mets themselves. Nine players fill out the length of this track just as they’d fill out the nine positions on the diamond. The only difference is that these Mets were very, very good at playing baseball, and very, very bad at rapping. Concise structure is a complete non-factor in these verses; some go for the standard 8 or 16 bars, and others just begin and end when they feel like it. It’s a staggeringly disconnected mess.
Shout out to outfielder George Foster though, as he leads the track with a decent effort all things considered. The same cannot be said for top talent Darryl Strawberry immediately after, as his 14 bars here fall short in structure and content all the same. In particular, I love how no one decided to tell the 8-time All-Star that “Three strikes you’re out” is not a stand-alone word. That would be a phrase, Darryl.
Things get even better when the team’s ace pitcher Dwight Gooden comes through. His verse lasts for 4 bars, is then immediately cut off by a bridge and chorus, and then just resumes as though nothing happened. This leads into a tragic moment of irony, where Lenny Dykstra — a player who would eventually become known for his struggles with addiction, federal crime, and accounts of seriously problematic behavior — claims that “It’s a wonder I’m still alive” in his verse.
Everything is bad but it all pales in comparison to shortstop Rafael Santana’s genuinely incomprehensible attempt at a verse. I don’t know if he wanted to do this or if he was forced to. All I know is that it shouldn’t have happened. Bless your heart Mr. Santana, but you are, in fact, not “real smooth” as you put it.
Exhibit B: The 1986 Los Angeles Dodgers – “The Baseball Boogie”
While “Get Metsmerized” is honestly just as painful as I’m making it out to be, at least the team behind it was fascinating during that special year — and one of the best performing teams in the history of baseball, at that. The same can’t be said about the other team that tried their hand at rapping in ‘86; that season’s Los Angeles Dodgers squad spent their year slowly trudging towards a 73-89 record. Aside from their ever-eclectic ace Fernando Venezuela and pure managerial entertainment provided by Tommy Lasorda, the team was also lacking in character as well.
Maybe it’s because all of their focus that year was placed in this one song, because this is easily the best offering we have from that time. The team went above and beyond their counterparts from Queens by even shooting a video for the track, featuring most of the team’s roster doing half-assed choreography in what can only be described as the most 1986 set of outfits to ever exist. Oh, and they called themselves “The Baseball Boogie Bunch” instead of their team name. I guess they thought they could make this a thing?
To be quite honest, there isn’t much to comment on here outside of the hilarity that the video alone provides. The lyrics here are your standard baseball tropes in full effect, and each performing member does at least a decent job with their flow, inflection, and overall time on the mic. It’s unimpressive by itself, but when placed between our other two exhibitions here, it might as well be To Pimp A Butterfly.
There is one single passage that sticks out above the rest. The end of the track features a dialogue-driven interlude where the team questions “if management knows about this.” A fair question that’s kinda funny. I’ll give them that. Then the track spirals into madness. “Where are the bat boys?” asks a player. “We traded them…” someone else says. Another player: “Get that one, get that one.” And then someone asks where the team’s next game is, to which Orel Hershiser responds: “Vegas… THE BIG ROOMS…”
I have nothing else to say.
Exhibit C: The 1987 Minnesota Twins – “The Berenguer Boogie”
A year later, and the Minnesota Twins — the season’s World Series Champions, and a far more tame counterpart to last season’s Mets — recorded their own forgotten rap song. This is “The Berenguer Boogie” — a song about the team’s serviceable starting pitcher Juan Berenguer. Why did they push such an average, somewhat insignificant part of their championship team to its forefront? Well…
Apparently, this track was born from a place of revenge. Though Berenguer might’ve helped the Detroit Tigers reach the 1984 World Series with an 11-win season on the mound, he failed to make a single appearance for his eventual championship-winning team, and therefore did not receive a ring despite his contributions during the regular season.
Come 1987, and the man who touted nicknames such as “Señor Smoke” and “El Gasolino” found himself on a new team, yet was quickly re-introduced to his former Detroit club in that year’s League Championship Series. When his Twins beat the Tigers, it was a moment of pure and utter vengeance for him. His team carried him around the field after they made the final out; everyone knew how much it meant for him to get this victory, and of course that coveted ring just seven games later.
Naturally, there exists no better way to cap off these festivities than to record a song that truly cements his and his team’s collective legacy. So they did just that… kinda. See, the Twins knew they couldn’t make a song if they tried, especially one that is based on one of their most random players who just so happened to have a tiny narrative surrounding him. So in true Minnesota-music fashion, they hired a random funk act known as “The Castle Family” to make it happen instead.
Recorded at Paisley Park (yes, that Paisley Park), “The Berenguer Boogie” is a fusion of funk and hip-hop that comes off more as an intended novelty than anything else off this list. With this in mind, and certainly by watching the accompanying music video, one can see that the song was really only meant for die-hard Twins fans to enjoy and no one else. It’s like one of those “team season DVDs” that parents would make for their kids’ little league teams. This was not meant for the masses, and it shows.
The verses are full of baseline references to the sport as a whole and really nothing else. Aside from the track’s incessantly-repeated hook, its other portions are reserved for dry instrumental breaks. But damn… that hook. It’s so oddly-delivered, yet it’s still the catchiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. The amount of times I’ve heard “el gasolinooooooooooo” in my head is honestly not something I’m ready to internalize.
As far as pieces of Minnesota-based music to be recorded at Paisley Park and released in 1987, I think I prefer Sign O’ the Times just a little bit more than this, but Señor Smoke and his family of castles came through.