Leaving it at the old ballpark: the Y.M.C.A.

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A few years ago — it must have been around 2002 or 2003 — I was sitting in the Tier Reserve for a mid-summer game. In front of me, one of the regular beer guys — muscular guy with tattoos up and down his arms — had stopped to serve a customer in the top of the 6th. As the inning ended, he was pouring beer, and a familiar refrain floated out of the Yankee PA system. “I hate this song,” he muttered to himself.

Now, I don’t like to use the word “hate” in labeling things. It’s a strong word, and it always seems fairly irrevocable. Once you hate something, you can’t really change your mind later on without seeming wishy-washy.

But I knew exactly how this guy felt because by that point, I too hated the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. I still do. At the exact same time in my life — the 1995-1996 school year on the Bar Mitzvah circuit and 1996 Yankee season — this song entered my life with a vengeance, and it’s never left. Every season, about 20-30 times a year, I’m subjected to this song and countless thousands of people attempting to sing along with it.

It’s not that it’s a bad song; I appreciate its place in disco history and its relevance for the gay community in 1970s America. But it’s also not a very good song, and enough is enough. There are some songs that can be played over and over. There are others — such as Nickel Back’s This Is How You Remind Me — that are insufferable. The Y.M.C.A. is one of the latter.

If anyone is to blame for sustaining the Y.M.C.A. craze well beyond any normal limit, the Yankees would shoulder that load, and a recent Spin magazine profile drives that point home. Jeff Pearlam — hat tip to BBTF — traces the page two, he traces its prevalence at sports events to Yankee Stadium circa 1996. Here’s how Joseph Malloy, a former General Partner with the Yankees, describes the origins of the now-tired sixth-inning grounds crew shtick:

It was the opening of Legends Field, our spring-training stadium in Tampa, and a couple of the grounds crew guys approached me with the idea of bringing a little excitement to the exhibition games. In the middle of the fifth inning, when they dragged the infield, the guys wanted to do the arm motions to “Y.M.C.A.” I hadn’t heard the song for a long, long time, but the crowd absolutely loved it. I thought, “Hmmm, this might work in New York.”

Malloy, who had no idea that the song is chock full of reference to a gay lifestyle at Y (duh), got more than he bargained for. Juan Gonzalez in the Daily News wrote:

[The grounds crew] began to dance, strut, and gyrate around second base while they dragged the field. The capacity crowd roared with approving laughter. We all cheered and applauded, and for a moment we all felt a little warmer inside. It was baseball poking fun at itself, reminding us all that this huge, multibillion-dollar, cutthroat business is, after all, about people having a good time.

And truth be told, it was fun. For a season. Now in its thirteenth year as a Yankee Stadium gimmick and one that has spread well beyond the confines of the House that Ruth Built, it’s tired and played out. The grounds crew isn’t nearly as into it, and it’s just one more noisy thing to throw at the fans in between innings.

The players themselves don’t seem to go for it either. “I hate Y.M.C.A. I’ve been over it since I first heard it,” J.P. Howell told Pearlman. I know you how you feel, J.P.

As the Yankees look north to their new ballpark this year, they should assess the state of between-innings entertainment and decide which, if any, of the distractions should cross the stay and which should stay behind at the old stadium comes down. The Y.M.C.A. is tops on my list. Let’s bury it in the remains of the House that Ruth Built.

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  • Joey

    And bury the wave along with it, please

  • George Kaplan

    Unrelated, but I know that some people have been asking for individual season stats on the TJ Rehab Watch. I second that and was wondering if it was possible. I love the current one, just trying to make a great site even better.

    Keep up the good work.

  • mooks

    I honestly thought the Yankees were going to get rid of that song due to the crowd taunting fans from other teams.

    I.E. the famous sing along “Why are you gay” which is directed at those wearing jerseys or hats or other merchandise from other baseball teams (usually red sox fans or met fans).

    I know there were complaints about it, and the fans that do it are supposed to get tossed, but there is so many of them doing it, I doubt anyone gets tossed for it.

  • http://www.impatientsufferance.com MischaG

    Three words.
    Cotton eyed Joe.

    • mooks

      Where exactly is the Yankee command center (or control room or whatever its called)?

      Last year, me and a couple of my friends were arguing this one over.

      Does “Cotton eye joey” sit with Bob Shepard in the same room when that song comes on?

      Is Bob Shepard actually okay, and just sick of cotton eye joe and the YMCA song?

    • dan

      fucking hate that song. I don’t see the point of it either…. the video is from like 1998 showing it doesn’t add anything over just playing the song.

  • Jeremy

    I don’t like the song but it is better than Cotton Eyed Joe and a million times better than the wave.

    The last time I saw them do it (a few weekends ago) no one was paying attention and they were not into it at all.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    I refuse to look at the screen when Cotton Eye Joe is playing. And it’s not a video. It’s actually someone in the booth dancing. If you sit on the first base side, you can see him doing it.

    • mooks

      Joseph P.

      Do you know where exactly on the first base side that D.J. guy is? and also, is that booth the same place where they do the announcements, i.e. where Jim Hall or Bob Shepard are during the games?

      I’m trying to settle this debate, I know its not a video, it is a guy there, but we are trying to figure out where.

      • Jeremy

        I don’t think he’s always there.

    • dan

      I’ve been to night games and rainy games where there is daylight in the background…. he might do it sometimes, but definitely not all the time.

  • AlexCT

    i totally agree. i live in boston territory and every time i go to the local bars there is a guitar player singer and every night the whole bar starts singing sweet caroline. i want to go to the bathroom and hang myself. there needs to be an end. with so many great songs written in the past 50 years, you’d think we could do better than neil diamon or the village people. its brutal

    • A.D.

      That just means the Guitarist isn’t good enough to play “Dirty Water” which is the song of Boston

  • Marsha

    I second the motion to get rid of YMCA, Cotton Eye Joe, and everything else I mentioned in my comment about the wave post. And while we’re at it, one of my pet peeves about the stuff that goes on at Yankee Stadium is the clearly phony videos of people dancing to the music being blasted on the loudspeakers (another thing to eliminate–does anyone out there remember quiet ball games?). Some of those are happening at the moment in the stadium but some of them are not. You can tell because either you’ve seen it 100 times before, such as the 2 guys in the big Uncle Sam hats or the older fellow with the flailing arms, or it’s 50° and everyone on the screen is wearing shorts and tank tops. Enough already.

    • Marsha

      Here’s my wave comment referred to above:

      Cotton Eye Joe is not the only thing the Yanks should get rid of. Add to the list the YMCA guys (I’m embarrassed for them whenever they have to stop sweeping the field), the great subway race, the match game, the guess the number game, the top hat tease, the banning of backpacks, and God Bless America. Have I left anything out?

  • A Couple Quickies

    You know, I’ve never been compelled to comment on this fantastic blog previously, but I had too, because I so stridently agree with this. The grounds crew is just pathetic on this one now, acting like its a chore. Hey chowderheads, what do you think you’re stars or something doing us a favor? As mentioned, a gay anthem being a “tradition” is a disgrace. I wouldn’t mind something that was a little more New York. “Back in the New York Groove” is recently overplayed, but somewhere in that vein. Ryan Adams “New York” for something. But this crap belongs in Quad Cities or Altoona, not New York. And Cotton Eye Joe, put a bullet in that one too.

  • A Couple Quickies

    Subway race stays! At least it makes sense!

  • BIGHEAD

    Amen!

    YmCa, Cotton Eye Joe, the wave, bury’em all!!!!!!

    One of the best parts about sittin in Sec. 39, is killin the wave!

    watch baseball losers!

  • eli

    it is demeaning to make those grounds crew guys dance.

  • http://nosenseworrying.vsport.tv Jen

    mooks, the Cotten Eyed Joe dude is in the last booth on the left. He’s basically under the French’s Mustard sign. I’m not sure if this is the same booth that Sheppard/Hall or the organist is in though.

  • Melissa

    I’m with you Ben, but the wave is much worse.
    And I’m going to try to work “on the Bar Mitzvah circuit” into a conversation.

  • mooks

    I do find it odd that they play cotton eye joe at the stadium. I’ll grant, they play the rednex version and in all likelyhood don’t know the history of the song, but its weird, here in politically correct New York, no one has ever complained about the songs racist origins.

    The rednex changed some of the lyrics for their song, but cotton eye joe is actually still pretty racist (the term itself, as well as the history of the song).

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos

    Things to eliminate from the new stadium:

    YMCA
    Cotton Eyed Joe
    Subway Races (what are we, Milwaukee?)

    Something I’d like updated:

    God Bless America by Kate Smith. Nothing against the song, but hearing that canned radio loop from 1943 sounds ancient and cheap. Can we get a better version of it? And while on the topic, why Kate Smith? I know it’s her signature song and all, but why not Ella Fitzgerald? She’s universally acclaimed as one of the best female vocalists in the history of the country, and she grew up in the Bronx and Westchester… isn’t there a single recording of Ella doing “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful” available?

  • http://riveravenuewatch.blogpot.com Mike NYY

    How about replacing Kate Smith’s God Bless America with Jimi hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner?

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