John Fogerty: Rockin’ In Cooperstown
John Fogerty has taken his turn at bat in some of the world’s best-known concert venues. Fillmore West. The Fox Theatre. Madison Square Garden. The Royal Albert Hall. But it’s likely the performance that meant the most to him was the one he gave on July 25, 2010 in Cooperstown, New York, at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. All at once John Fogerty played slugger and guitar hero.
With his baseball bat-shaped guitar, Fogerty took center stage at Cooperstown to perform “Centerfield,” the title track from his 1985 comeback album. Taking in Fogerty’s performance were a couple of great centerfielders, Willie Mays, name-checked in Fogerty’s baseball anthem, and Andre Dawson, that day officially inducted as a Baseball Hall of Famer. A fan of the game since boyhood, Fogerty seemed genuinely moved to be in the presence of his longtime heroes and the people in the audience, many who seemed as excited to see him as they were the greats of the game.
After his performance, Fogerty gave a short speech, similar in spirit to those often given by Hall of Fame inductees. Remembering his childhood days, Fogerty said “Centerfield” was an “eight year-old boy saying ‘thank you’ to baseball for all the joy and inspiration it has given me.” Thrilled to sing at Cooperstown and donate his guitar, “Slugger,” to the Hall, Fogerty declared, “that eight year-old boy is saying right now, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
“Centerfield” is a rarity: A rock and roll song about sports that actually works (Bob Dylan’s “Catfish” and Warren Zevon’s “Boom Boom Mancini” and “Hit Somebody” are among the others). Fogerty’s lyrics reflect the baseball history he’s absorbed, as well as the aura and symbolism the game evokes. “We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field” imparts the optimism embraced by participants and followers of the game as each spring a new season begins. Every year, on opening day, all big league teams begin with the same won-loss records: 0-0. For a brief but hopeful time, the also-rans from the previous season believe they can turn it around, and in the fall be World Champions.
John Fogerty, especially when he was with Creedence Clearwater Revival (7 studio albums, ’68-’72), composed a large number of songs that beautifully captured the clear-eyed determination of people working hard to make it. In particular, “Proud Mary,” “Lodi,” “Down on the Corner, ” “Fortunate Son,” and “Who’ll Stop The Rain” make for vivid American stories, some imbued with hope, others smacking of resignation. Fogerty’s songs, and the leading role he played as singer and versatile musician, helped make him and his bandmates omnipresent on radio stations, jukeboxes, turntables and tape decks during some turbulent years in our country, as people of various political views listened in and recognized certain truths in his songs. It’s difficult to hear Fogerty’s “Commotion,” for example, and not connect with the internal conflict America experienced in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It was evident during those years that Fogerty’s observations informed his music.
The Sun Came Out Today . . . . While “Centerfield” doesn’t reflect the America of the mid-80s, it does provide an image of the country that Americans have long preferred: a pastoral environment, where things aren’t so crowded and hurried, and most importantly, a country with a sense of fair play; a place where one had a chance to do better tomorrow, or the next at-bat. In his song, Fogerty envisions a player’s desire to “hit the ball and touch ‘em all” and have “a moment in the sun.” “Centerfield” gives us a front-row view of such individual triumphs that teams and communities celebrate.
Already a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Fogerty experienced his “moment in the sun” that July afternoon three years ago in Cooperstown. On the internet, film clips of him exchanging autographs with Willie Mays and Don Sutton put an exclamation point on what he had to be feeling that day. And he’ll be reminded of that feeling most any time he goes to a major league or minor league game, for it’s likely the sound system will be blasting out “Centerfield.”
You Bring No Honor To The Game . . . . Sepia-toned images come to light in “Centerfield,” with its references to Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Joe DiMaggio. The song, though filled with nostalgia, is a call for renewal. Its sentiments were most appreciated when it filled the airwaves in ’85. The country was “ready to play.” America’s economy had revived, making life easier for millions. That was worth celebrating – but with subdued enthusiasm. Wealth was being pursued with enhanced zeal. Conspicuous consumption abounded. No wrist was complete without a gleaming Rolex. Greed had taken hold; we were even told greed was good by one of the ’80s fictional heroes. In the 25-30 years since, despite an attack on the nation’s governmental and financial capitols and a lingering “great recession,” greed has reigned. And greed has had its impact on baseball. Never is that more apparent and sadly, laughable, when a player offered over $200,000,000 in a ten year contract feels unappreciated.
The player taking umbrage with the St. Louis Cardinals’ offer was Albert Pujols. It wasn’t that the offer was paltry; Pujols just wanted to be shown more love for all he had done with the Cardinals since making his major league debut in 2001. And he had done a lot. 445 home runs. A career batting average well over .300. A three-time National League Most Valuable Player. Two World Series rings. Also laudatory — in an era of cheating with performance-enhancing-drugs — was that Pujols did it clean. He was an all-star citizen, active in his church work and a champion of charities. Albert Pujols was meant to be a lifetime St. Louis Cardinal. The Cardinals approached negotiations with Pujols with that in mind. All the while, they didn’t plan to go beyond crazy with the money.
Reports circulated that the Cardinals initially offered Pujols $130 million on a five-year contract. The last Cardinals offer before Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was $210 million for ten years ($30 million deferred). The Angels offered $254 million for ten years plus a personal services pact covering the next ten years. When his playing days are over. When he’s 42. Pujols did what most people would do. He took the best offer. That extra $44 million easily makes up for not being a Cardinal for life. And that extra $44 million represents how the Angels went beyond crazy with the money.
Then there are those, like Pujols’ wife, Deidre, who go crazy over the money. When the Cardinals made a business decision not to ante up and confirm Albert as Cardinal-for-life, Deidre Pujols hit a boiling point. From listening to her, one might have gathered it was the worst decision to come out of St. Louis since the one on Dred Scott. Ms. Pujols went on a local Christian radio station (which the Pujols family has supported financially) to vent and rage:
“The city of St. Louis has absolutely been deceived and I have never seen hatred spread so fast and I understand why. Let me say that Albert and I never, not one time, ever made plans to leave this city.”
Deidre Pujols even admitted anger toward an authority above the Cardinals’ front office.
“When it all came down, I was mad. I was mad at God because I felt like all the signs that had been played out through the baseball field, our foundation, the Down Syndrome Center, my relationships, my home, my family close, I mean we had no reason to want to leave. People were deceived by the numbers.”
Finally, despite her anger at God, she surmises He has quite a sense of humor:
“It’s just like God to put us on a team called the Angels.”
If God does have a good sense of humor, He may also appreciate the irony of what’s played out since Pujols headed West. The St. Louis Cardinals replaced Pujols at first base with a third-year player, Allen Craig, who out-hit Pujols .307 – .285 in 2012 and is outhitting him again this year, .333 – .249 (as of the All Star break). Incidentally, Craig was born in Mission Viejo, California, less than a 30-minute drive from Anaheim, where Pujols and the Angels rallied to finish strong in 2012 yet failed to make the post-season. St. Louis made it to the seventh game of the NLCS. Pujols, however, like the rest of us, could only watch the Cardinals’ post-season games via TBS and Fox.
His Back To The Plough . . . . It’s a 31 mile drive from Anaheim to Chavez Ravine where the Los Angeles Dodgers play. The ace of the Dodgers’ pitching staff is Clayton Kershaw, just 25 years old, but already a three-time All Star. He won the Cy Young Award in 2011 and finished second in voting for that award in 2012. This season he carried a 1.98 E.R.A. into the All Star break, the best in Major League Baseball. Yet despite the lofty numbers and the acclaim he’s received, Kershaw is a well-grounded young man. He’s quite aware of the vast millions of dollars he should receive in the years ahead for his excellent mound work. He knows he will get what’s coming to him — things work out nicely for baseball players these days. But even as Kershaw contemplates the wonders of excess among the ultra-wealthy in America, he’ll tell you that being like them isn’t what moves him.
Two and a half years ago, Kershaw gave a reporter from The New York Times an idea of his worldview when describing the people he and his wife, Ellen, met on a January 2011 mission trip to Zambia. “The people, as long as their basic needs are met — they’re not starving and they have shelter — are such a joyful culture,” Kershaw said. Then he pondered his fellow Americans, saying, “You come home and you see people striving to get more money, bigger houses and more possessions, thinking that will make them happier. You go to Zambia, it helps put things in perspective. You realize where happiness comes from, and that’s not from material goods.”
It was Ellen Kershaw, long committed to helping Zambian children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, who convinced her husband, the Dodgers’ pitching ace, that he needed to see and feel Zambia for himself. So in December 2010, just days after getting married, they were on an African-bound plane. Not the honeymoon a couple might expect, but a positive life-changing experience. Ellen Kershaw put it succinctly, “We see the house we live in. It is hard to swallow. Why did we get all of this? Why were we born here and not there?”
Ellen Kershaw contemplates what can’t be explained and she’s mindful of the things we take for granted. John Fogerty revealed a similar perspective on his “Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You Or Me),” one of several discerning songs from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 album, Willy And The Poorboys. In the song, Fogerty considers those around him — and us — who are given short shrift: the laborers who come in, do the dirty work and then leave.
“Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You Or Me)” is a smart and breezy rockabilly number featuring a style that Fogerty, still early in his career, had made his own. The thoughtful lyrics were also indicative of Fogerty’s mindset, quite seasoned for a 24-year-old, even in those days. In Rolling Stone, record reviewer Alec Dubro wrote that the song was the most beautiful on Willy And The Poorboys, acknowledging that Fogerty’s questions and moralizing were part and parcel of a broad vision.
Who will take the coal from the mine?
Who will take the salt from the earth?
Who’ll take a leaf and grow it to a tree?
Don’t look now, it ain’t you or me
Who will work the field with his hands?
Who will put his back to the plough?
Who’ll take the mountain and give it to the sea?
Don’t look now, it ain’t you or me.
Fogerty declares that “someone’s done your starving” and “someone’s done your prayin’ too,” just as surely as someone will produce your clothing and shoes while also taking care of your promises. Asked why such things mattered, Fogerty answered with the very same question, then elaborating in Dubro’s Rolling Stone review, “Why does that matter? That’s exactly why I wrote the song. We’re all so ethnic now, with our hair and shit. But when it comes to the real crap civilization needs to keep it going … who’s going to be the garbage collector? None of us will. Most of us will say, ‘That’s beneath me. I ain’t gonna do that job.’”
Fogerty later said more about the song. Creedence Clearwater Revival biographer Hank Bordowitz, in Bad Moon Rising, reveals Fogerty as being dismayed with his own generation, not just older authority figures:
“There were things going on in the country that upset me,” John says, “but having grown up in the hippie generation, there were a lot of things that upset me about my own generation as well. The song, ‘Don’t Look Now,’ was trying to address that. It wasn’t that I was a fence rider, it was just that some stuff was getting out of hand.”
It could’ve come down to something as simple as what was observed at the Woodstock Festival. Fogerty and his bandmates in CCR performed at Woodstock. At the conclusion of the festival, the crowd picked up their valuables and headed home, leaving behind piles of litter and debris. Who cleaned up Mr. Yasgur’s property? Don’t look now….
A Bad Idea Will Take Just About A Lifetime To Explain . . . . Fogerty, one of the most successful artists in popular music, was on to something when he noted “that some stuff was getting out of hand.” Things were moving fast and not always in the right direction. However, a perspective on today’s culture makes it clear that 1970 has nothing on 2013. Consider the game of baseball. Salaries for players in ’70 were relatively low, in comparison to others in the business of entertaining. Willie Mays was the highest paid player in the game that year ($135,000), just as he had been most years since ’59. There was little, if any, doubt that Mays deserved every penny as he was surely the greatest and most exciting player in the game for most of his career. Yet given how much money he made for the New York-San Francisco Giants and the game itself, Mays was woefully underpaid. The same went for many other players. But in the decade ahead, compensation for players would reflect the values they produced for their teams and the game. Then as each successive decade passed, salaries skyrocketed.
Now it’s clear that some stuff is getting out of hand. Yet even with the mind-boggling salaries, it’s the attitude of entitlement, like that conveyed by the wife of Albert Pujols, that cause people to turn from today’s game. It’s a quizzical thing, given the strong Christian faith of Albert and Deidre Pujols. Surely, they must be familiar with Matthew 23:12, where Jesus says, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Pujols’ two disappointing seasons with the Angels, after all the hoopla, have to be humbling, as they would for any mindful player. It’s also likely clear that Jesus certainly wasn’t thinking about baseball when he uttered those words, but His message covers a lot of ground.
Words of humility — or at least a perspective similar to Clayton Kershaw’s — occur to many players, even if they come too late for some, quite enriched for their skills, and now happily retired. But some don’t get it at all. Take David Segui, the first baseman who played fifteen years in the majors. At the beginning of the 2000 season, Segui, then with the Texas Rangers presented his opinion on the rising salaries of baseball players, not just the stars who put fannies in seats, but the ones who’d be fortunate to receive a half dozen votes for the Hall of Fame. “Sure, it’s a lot of money,” Segui said, “but look, the stadiums are full and look at the money they are making off television. The industry generates that kind of revenue and without the players, who’s going to play? Joe Blow can’t play at this level.” Segui’s observations aren’t far off track but they’re certainly not guided by humility. Yet humility may seem a boring exercise for a player who earned $41, 936, 932.00 in his career, which included 1424 hits, giving him a .291 lifetime batting average. In 2007, three years after his retirement from the game, Segui admitted to having used steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in his career. “I have no problem talking about what I have done,” Segui told The Baltimore Sun.
What makes for Segui’s peace of mind is a convoluted mess. His comments about Joe Blow are particularly nettlesome. It’s Joe Blow, Joe Six Pack and Joanne Six Pack who helped pay Segui’s salary over the years, whether it was by attending games in Baltimore and Arlington or watching the games on television. When Joanne Six Pack buys a Toyota Camry and Joe opens another Coors Light, it makes the millions of dollars that sponsors pay major league baseball seem justifiable. One can’t say that for Segui’s remarks or his cheating.
Joe Blow and the Six Pack family are similar to those who make up John Fogerty’s “Don’t Look Now (It Ain’t You Or Me).” They do the grunt work for society and subsidize the elites from the world of sports and other entertainment fields with portions of their meager earnings. Exceptional things happen with the help of average Joes. So whenever Fogerty’s “Centerfield” is played at a big league park, let’s hope most of the players there appreciate the Joe Blows who pay to witness ” a moment in the sun” Fogerty so rightfully celebrates.
Jeff Cochran worked in advertising at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 27 years before accepting a buy-out in the Summer of 2008. In the seventies/early eighties, he handled advertising for Peaches Records and Tapes’ Southeastern and Midwestern stores. He also wrote record reviews for The Great Speckled Bird, a ground-breaking underground newspaper based in Atlanta.