The Most Rock 'n' Roll Baseball Players Ever
Mon, 13 Sep 2010 11:24:30
Everything was just better in the '70s. Let's face it. The movies—Taxi Driver, The Godfather, Alien, A Clockwork Orange, to name a few—led to arguably the last genuine film revolution. We still listen to '70s music today, whether it's the era's funky pop or "classic" rock. Baseball was also in something of its own renaissance.
Dan Epstein's fantastic new tome Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging '70s examines the game with a sense of reverence and a sharp sense of humor. Epstein delves into the decade with an impressive knowledge of all its intricacies—from stats to scandals and everything in between. His writing style is engaging and clever, making for an unforgettable trip back to the time of afros on the field. Most importantly, Epstein's passion for the game comes through on each page in poetic fashion. He knows the sport and loves it, and that's instantly evident. If you're a baseball diehard or novice, this is the perfect book on the sport, and the best perspective on '70s baseball you can get!
Dan Epstein sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author for an exclusive interview about the most rock 'n' roll baseball players in history. His list is pretty awesome…check it out below and be sure to pick up the book now.
The Most Rock N' Roll Baseball Players
We've got to start with Babe Ruth. Not only was he maybe the greatest player to ever play the game, but he was like the Elvis of baseball. He had gargantuan appetites—food, booze and women. In terms of personal charisma, he had rock star charisma before rock stars even properly existed. In a sense, he did for baseball what Elvis did for rock 'n' roll: Rock 'N' Roll existed before Elvis, but it became the national music after Elvis. Baseball obviously was around before Babe Ruth, but he really saved it after the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal, and elevated the sport to a whole new level of popularity. No one had ever hit home runs like that before, and his epic feats and outsize personality gave people something to focus on besides the shadier aspects of the game.
Satchel was like that great underground artist where more people know of him than are actually familiar his work – because, of course, he spent most of his career pitching in the Negro Leagues. When he finally got to the majors, he was much older. He was definitely past his prime but still very effective. He was so flamboyant that he made every game a performance. He wasn't one of those guys who just wanted to go out there and get it done. He'd do all of these crazy stunts in the Negro Leagues, like the one where he'd have all the players behind him on the field sit down. He'd be like, "I'm going to pitch to this guy with all of my teammates sitting down." It would psych out the batter because the batter would either try too hard to show up Satchel or he'd be intimidated by how much confidence Satchel had in himself. He also famously had a new wife in every town which always got him in trouble with his old wife. [Laughs]
Flash forward to the '70s with Dock Ellis. I talk a lot about Dock in Big Hair & Plastic Grass. He's the only major league player, to anybody's knowledge, who actually pitched a no-hitter while tripping on acid [Laughs]. It's ironic, considering if you wrote his name out on a lineup card as "Ellis, D.", his name actually sounds like "LSD." I don't think you can get more poetic than that. But while it’s true that he would hang out in his basement listening to Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath tripping all the time, Ellis was also warrior for truth: He was extremely vocal about black players not getting enough respect in the game. He wasn't afraid to say what was on his mind; he also wasn’t afraid to wear curlers in the bullpen, or wear earrings on the field — sartorial choices that got him in a lot of hot water with the more conservative factions of the sport. As much of a fuck-up as he was, he got sober in the '80s, turned his life around and became a really successful drug and alcohol counselor for prisoners, gang members and at-risk youth. He gave so much back to the community in ways most ballplayers never do. It's easy to remember him as the guy who pitched the no-hitter on acid, but people should also remember what an intense competitor he was, and what a difference he made in people's lives after he left baseball.
The "Spaceman," who pitched for the Red Sox and the Expos in the '70s, certainly deserves to be on the list. Not only did the guy have really good taste in music—he was a huge Warren Zevon fan—he was also into Buddhism, Zen and Eastern Philosophies, and pretty much anything to do with the counterculture of the era. He also wasn't afraid to say what was on his mind, whether it was about Richard Nixon, ecology, school busing, or the designated hitter. Friends of mine who lived in Boston during the '70s have told me that he'd often guest on the local rock stations during late night shifts; he'd come over after a night game and spend three or four hours spinning records and talking. Can you imagine a player doing that today? He'd have to jump through so many hoops with his publicist and the team just to make that happen.
If you want to talk '80s players, I'd go with Keith Hernandez from the Cardinals and the Mets. Obviously, he had more than just a passing acquaintance with cocaine back in the day, and he probably dated every Penthouse pet and Playboy playmate who lived in New York City in the '80s. That whole '86 Mets squad was out of control and crazy. Their parties were pretty legendary!
Late '90s and early '00s, you've got to go with David Wells. A hard partying dude, and a big fan of hard rock, he famously claimed that he pitched his 1998 perfect game "half-drunk," which he claims now he meant he was just hungover — but I’m inclined to believe his original statement.
Who do you think the most rock 'n' roll baseball player is?