Please, banish ‘Sweet Caroline’ from Fenway Park
Risk-takers. That’s my Red Sox, whether it’s sticking Daniel Nava on the bench for a beard with a “winning personality” or starting a kid with 44 regular season at-bats at third.
As the Sox push for their eighth championship, here’s another change to make. Please, Ye Olde Towne Team, ship “Sweet Caroline” out of Boston.
Why now? We’re on the big stage again and our credibility’s at stake. My World Series nightmare isn’t Jon Lester coughing up a three-run homer or Mike Napoli channeling his inner Pete Incaviglia. That’s baseball. My fear: We’re down by a crooked number in the eighth and, when it comes time for the team theme song, instead of gripping our armrests with intent — as if we actually care — we’ll do it like Miami or San Diego or some other third-rate baseball town, swaying to the soft rock as our championship run screeches to a karaoke-choked stop.
If only they knew how close we’d come to ridding ourselves of the pap albatross that is “Sweet Caroline.” This week, Dr. Charles Steinberg, Red Sox executive vice president-slash-
entertainment ringleader, confirmed what I’d only heard as rumor.
Last year’s clubhouse mess almost convinced the Sox to send “Sweet Caroline” away with Bobby Valentine. There were no formal talks, said Steinberg, but there were “chirpings and musings” about finally dropping “Sweet Caroline” from the Fenway iPod playlist.
“For some people, they had had enough,” he said. “For other people, it is as much a part of a visit to Boston and Fenway Park as having clam chowder or a lobster roll.”
A ballgame is supposed to be fun. If we’re rolling, feel good. If we’re losing, feel a little down. Don’t let a regular season loss drive you to the upper deck of the Tobin, but don’t think it makes cosmic sense to face defeat with a chorus of “so good, so good, so good.”
I’m not alone on the “Sweet Caroline” issue.
“I hate the ‘tradition,’ ” the Sports Hub’s Tony Massarotti tells me, “but I’m a baseball guy.” As if he has to apologize for that.
The decision to play “Sweet Caroline” during losses is not my only gripe. It’s time for a change. By my count, “Sweet Caroline” has played 891 times since 2002, when it became standardized at Fenway. That doesn’t count the playoffs.
The song isn’t exactly “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” It’s a largely forgettable, three-minute slab of Velveeta with a distinct creepiness (“Warm, touchin’ warm”) when you consider it was written by Neil Diamond, pushing 30 at the time, about Caroline Kennedy, then a preteen. For whatever reason, the Sox, so innovative and dynamic in so many ways, treat the tune as if it’s one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“When you get magic in a bottle, that’s when you move from fan entertainment to fan engagement,” Steinberg explained. “When you have a song that motivates and mobilizes fans so that they participate, you change the energy in a ballpark.”
“ ‘Sweet Caroline,’ ” he says, has “transformative powers.” It’s a song that can uplift a melancholy crowd. Which makes another point.
We don’t need a baseball-ready Prozac to make us forget what we’re watching. Sometimes, reality bites. That’s sports. If this year taught us anything, it’s that winning heals all.
And we don’t have to watch this “national disgrace,” as my brilliant colleague, Bob Ryan, described the playing of “Sweet Caroline” during last year’s 69-93 campaign. Just look across town. Do the Celtics trot out Gino when they’re down by 17 to the Pacers to please the jamokes who have come to watch the dancers?
During our chat, Dr. Charles even used the fateful afternoon of April 21, 2012, for his argument. Perhaps you’ve forgotten. That Saturday, against the Yankees, the Sox built a 9-0 lead. Then everything fell apart. Cheery Alfredo Aceves and Vicente Padilla coughed up 10 runs. The Sox lost 15-9.
“This wasn’t fun at all,” Mike Aviles, the Sox shortstop, said afterward.
Au contraire, Mike.
During the eighth inning of this disaster, Dr. Charles walked out and heard fans singing. Somehow this baseball man, the orchestrator of so many fantastic pregame moments, found comfort in this response to a massive, early-season choke.
“When people were wondering aloud about whether we should keep it, the answer was, the answer is, the fans determine it by their participation in the song,” he said.
Participation. An act that also brought us the Salem witch trials, two terms of Nixon, and “The Bridges of Madison County” on the bestseller list.
So how did “Sweet Caroline” get out of the doghouse?
After the Marathon bombings, teams across baseball, looking to show solidarity, played “Sweet Caroline.” “You scored a home run in my heart,” Diamond tweeted after hearing it played at Yankee Stadium.
Then, Diamond took an overnight flight to Boston and showed up, unannounced, at Fenway. He performed for the crowd. Inspired generosity or marketing genius? You decide. But with his strategic visit, Neil brilliantly ensured that we’d be stuck with “Sweet Caroline” through at least the Koji era.
It may be too late, of course. At this point, “Sweet Caroline” is emblazoned on our brains like the Giant Glass jingle. Guess what. Another song, played 891 times in a row, can become just as catchy. Just try. If Dr. Charles needs classic rockers, I’ll throw out “Lola” by the Kinks or the J. Geils Band doing “Love Stinks.” Want contemporary? You can’t deny the catchiness of Katy Perry’s “Roar.” And if it’s so important to stay loyal to Neil, how about Neil Young doing “Hey, Hey, My, My?”
Treat the playlist like a baseball team. If a song doesn’t work, option it to Pawtucket.
Don’t take my advice. Put together a group of music-savvy baseball lovers. Sit Bill Janovitz at the head of the table. He’s known for his band Buffalo Tom and helping organize the Hot Stove Cool Music event run by Peter Gammons and Theo Epstein. He’s also a season ticketholder. What song would be better than “Sweet Caroline?”
His answer was swift.