Rock and Reprise.net
Jay-sus! Here we go again. Every summer, with the heat and onslaught of baseball we get blasted with John Fogerty's supposed classic homage to the game, Centerfield. Nothing against Mr. Fogerty, who in all probability wrote the song with a semblance of heartfelt sincerity, but if that is the best we can do, let's kill baseball. Hell, let's kill rock music while we're at it and throw in classical and reggae, to boot.
You see, you want to glorify the game or a player in the game these days, you need to go for the throat (or the crotch for those more into the violent permutations of the real world). You want a real baseball song, go for Cross-Eyed John. A literate look at baseball-as-life rather than the major league sanctioned baseball-as-Hollywood, it is no Centerfield and certainly no Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It is Taxi Driver to MLB's Peter Pan and it kicks Centerfield's ass.
When Keith Morris sat down to write Cross-Eyed John, it was tribute, though doubtful the kind of tribute the game sanctions. “It's about race,” Morris says. “It's about celebrating the Negro Leagues.” Play the song for Bud Selig and more than likely he would disagree (though being the diplomat he supposedly is, he would not admit it). Morris doesn't care. The song had to be written.
“It started out as Appalachian gospel,” he related, “based as it was on an old Appalachian gospel song. I was watching snake-handling videos and got way into them and went for that 'trance' feeling.”
“The song makes sense on a number of different levels,” he went on. “it's not about baseball (ed. note: WHAT?) but about people who are fucked in the head and backwards (ed. note: Ah, so it is about baseball...). But it is about something that really happened in baseball.”
Okay, now I'm confused.
“It's about John Rocker, who insulted all sorts of minorities in an article in Sports Illustrated. In fact, 'Mr. Schuerholz' is a reference to the John Shuerholz who was general manager of the Atlanta Braves who had to deal with that ridiculous situation. Rocker was such a cartoon of a person anyway that you couldn't take a stand on that situation without looking ridiculous yourself.
“The Rocker thing was a good jumping-off point to address race and how it is still a problem. Not just in the South, but certainly in the South. It's stupid at this point, but it is still present, so I contrasted the Rocker nonsense with the Negro Leagues at the end of the song. You have this great story of the Negro Leagues and the great people who were involved with it back then. When I started reading about it, I found this whole world which was incredibly triumphant in the face of all sorts of oppression. THAT is the story, man. THAT is the story that we as a culture should have gotten--- the triumph over our ignorance and hatred--- but we're such a stupid culture, we never seem to really get it.”
Indeed, we don't. But Morris did. The song is track two on an album (Songs from Candyapolis ) which has nothing else whatsoever to do with the game. Musically, it is a gem, feeding from the trough of Leon Russell (Morris claims he has never heard Russell) and feeling church-born-and-raised. “I said, he ain' got a brain, oh no no/He ain't got no brain...” it begins and Morris is off and running through the elysian fields, strewing wildflowers everywhere. No slow motion fantasy run here. It's a shot from the Needle of Truth.
Selig and his horde of corpulent corporate heads will not worry their heads about it. They have legal departments and PR people to handle the flack (already we are forgetting the steroid mess thanks partially to the sleight of head of those 'experts') and have bigger and better fish to fry. And they're frying them, Centerfield blasting away in the background. Morris, in the meantime, will be frying up fish of his own (probably in a Weber) and is currently working on putting together a second album. He says he has written enough for four and, no, there are no plans for sports-related cross-promotion. The major leagues have a thousand rebuttals to every Cross-Eyed John and Morris can barely afford the fish he's frying.
In the meantime, we might as well all resign ourselves to another long, hot summer of Centerfield blasting away between short shots of the theme from Jeopardy. While it is doubtful that Morris will be there, if he is, he will be the guy in the Homestead Grays baseball jersey. The pretty lady to his side, wearing Kansas City Monarchs gear, will be Jennifer, his wife. She's the real hero here. She has to live with the guy, although dollars to donuts she doesn't have to hear Centerfield. Well, not all the time.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.