HomeTrending MLB NewsHow Many Times Have MLB Players Heard “Centerfield” by John Fogerty?

How Many Times Have MLB Players Heard “Centerfield” by John Fogerty?

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Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar

There are a couple records I love so much that I don’t actually listen to them very often. I know that sounds weird, but I’m afraid of losing what makes them special. I’ve gotten sick of records before, listened to them so often that they’ve completely lost their ability to surprise me and started feeling flat. Some music is too important to risk it. I don’t ever want to live in a world where I’m not completely dumbstruck by the opening chords of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. That would be an unimaginable loss. So I only listen to it a couple times a year. I’m not a hoarder in other aspects my life, but this particular calculus seems worthwhile to me.

I tend to think a lot about the lasting power of music. I spent Sunday in a recording studio in New Jersey. To nobody’s surprise, I was the member of the band who was slowing down the mixing process to ask whether we could throw some tremolo on the lead guitar track, or turn down the reverb on the vocals in “Rat Czar.” (Technically, the song is called “Rat Czar Czar,” and it takes the form of a job posting. I wrote it when New York City announced that it was hiring a Rat Czar to eradicate the rats. I figured that the rats must also be hiring a Rat Czar Czar, whose job was to eradicate the Rat Czar.) I understand that no song is going to be perfect, but I just didn’t want to wish I could change it every time I heard it. I love live music, but to me personally, records are just that: the official record of a song. They’re forever. For that reason, I was all over it when Eric Nusbaum tweeted a question: How many times do you think the average Major League Baseball player has heard the song “Centerfield” by John Fogerty? Eric is the editor-in-chief of Seattle Met and the author of the fantastic book Stealing Home. Like a vulture, I immediately swooped in and asked Eric if I could steal his idea. Like a busy editor-in-chief of a magazine, he very graciously let me have it.

“Centerfield” is ubiquitous in baseball, and its digital handclap intro is also a ballpark staple. John Fogerty is a musical legend, the lead singer and songwriter of the iconic Creedence Clearwater Revival. The song is the title track off of his comeback 1985 solo album, and it was an immediate hit. He’s played it in center field at Dodger Stadium, and at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown (on a baseball-shaped electric guitar that was very definitely plugged into absolutely nothing). I’ve heard it at big league ballparks, and I remember hearing it over the press box speakers during regionals when I was 9 years old. “Centerfield” has been able to stick around for so long because it walks a very fine line. It’s kitschy, but not tiresome. It’s catchy, but it’s not gouge-your-eyes-out-because-that’s-the-only-way-it’ll-ever-leave-your-head catchy. It’s too innocuous to reach the heights of CCR’s best work, but that also makes it very appropriate for a public setting. For the most part, people don’t groan when they hear it; if they notice it at all, they just get nostalgic for the ballpark.

Naturally, there’s no actual way to answer this question precisely. It’s a Fermi problem, which means that the best we can do is make a good estimate. As Caroline Chen wrote in The New York Times Magazine, “The goal here isn’t knowing the exact number but rather being able to estimate the right order of magnitude using nothing but common sense.” Now that I’ve stolen the question from Eric, it’s time to try solving it. As I was finishing this article up yesterday, I circled back with Eric and asked him if he had a guess: he went with 600. JJ Cooper, editor-in-chief of Baseball America, made an extremely thoughtful estimate and came up with 1,000, but that was only for American-born players.

My estimate is made up of a bunch of sub-estimates. I tried to approximate how many games the average player spent at each level of baseball, from little league up to the majors. Then I estimated what percentage of games the song was actually played in. I started with data from our major and minor league leaderboards and pulled in data from various sources along the way. I also consulted with some of my more knowledgeable colleagues in order to come up with estimates for how often the song is played at each level of baseball. What follows are just my best guesses. I encourage you to use the comments section at the bottom to quibble with my estimates, to make your own, or just to get in some savage burns about my musical taste, if that happens to be your thing.

Major Leagues

In 2023, 1,457 players saw time in the majors. According to my rough calculations, they had to that point averaged 4.83 big league seasons. The average team plays 28.13 spring training games, 162 regular season games, and 1.25 playoff games, for a total of 191.38. I’m not knocking off any games to account for the short 2020 season, because this is a theoretical exercise, and because I’m so sick of factoring that into all my non-theoretical research.

“Centerfield” is played before every game in both Seattle and Atlanta. That represents 6.67% of all regular season games, and it’s also the reason Eric thought to ask this question in the first place. He brought his kids to a Mariners game, and the song came on while the Guardians were taking batting practice. Although it’s not an every-game staple in the other 28 parks, it definitely gets played a fair amount of the time, whether during batting practice, between innings, or in other mid-game pauses. I’ll estimate that it’s played at 12% of all big league games.

4.83 seasons x 191.38 games x 12% of games = 110.9

Minor Leagues

I calculated 4.45 seasons in the minors for the average player. The length of the minor league seasons varies by level, but between spring training, the regular season, playoffs, and fall leagues, I estimate 80 games per player each year.

I also estimate that “Centerfield” gets played a lot more often in the minors than it does in the majors. By design, the minor league experience is sillier and kitschier than the major league experience. Eric Longenhagen told me, “There are definitely affiliates in the minors who play that song every night, and their guys hear it 80 times a year. It’s played in every game at Scottsdale Stadium during Fall League.” I’m going with 40% of the time. As Eric said, “All you need is a person of a certain age on the Aux cord.”

4.45 seasons x 85 game x 40% of games = 142.4

College

According to Spotrac’s MLB college tracker, there are 566 active players who attended college, so we’ll call that 39% of all players. Nearly all MLB players who went to college played there for three years, and last year’s College World Series participants averaged 56.5 total games. We’ll bump it up to 70, because MLB-bound players were probably good enough to get invited to play in summer leagues like the Cape Cod League.

I estimate that “Centerfield” is played at 42% of college games, slightly higher than in the minors. I was going to put it at 40%, but Michael Baumann, our resident college baseball expert, thought the number was likely a bit higher. Baumann also had a surprisingly generous opinion of the song. He acknowledged that he’s heard it too many times and that it’s one of Fogerty’s minor works — it ain’t no “Fortunate Son” — but it doesn’t drive him up the wall either. “Which is no small feat for a song about sports,” he said. “Given the choice between spending eternity in a hell in which ‘Centerfield’ is the only music and listening to ‘The Hockey Song’ by Stompin’ Tom Connors even once all the way through, I’d pick the former and not think twice.” I had actually never heard of “The Hockey Song” until Baumann mentioned it, and after I finish writing this sentence, I’m going to look it up on YouTube and give it a try.

And I’m back. Holy God. I made it 12 seconds before I had to stop.

39% of players x 3 seasons x 70 games x 42% of games = 34.4

International Players

From this point on, we’re in the realm of high school and little league ball. That means we need to start drawing a distinction between American-born players and international players. I just can’t imagine that kids in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela are hearing much John Fogerty. For the last several years, MLB.com has published the percentage of international players on opening day rosters. It has stayed right around 28.5%. We’ll assume those international players heard the song twice at some point or another before arriving in the states.

28.5% of players x 2 = 0.6

High School and Travel Ball

First, we’re starting with the 71.5% of American-born players. According to Baseball America’s rankings, the top 50 high school teams averaged 32.74 games in 2023. Presumably, players who were good enough to end up as big leaguers also attended some showcases and played travel or American Legion ball, so we’ll bump it up to 52 games. We’ll also estimate 3.5 varsity seasons. After all, these are future big leaguers; most of them were probably insufferably cool four-year starters in high school.

I’m estimating that “Centerfield” is only played at 10% of high school games. Eric Nusbaum’s high school played it before every game, but most high schools either don’t have a PA at their field, don’t play music at their games, or just specifically choose not to play novelty songs from the 1980s at their games. Some of us didn’t even have a baseball field in high school.

71.5% of players x 3.5 years x 52 games x 10% = 13.0

Little Leagues

For our purposes, little league runs from ages 9 to 15, as it’s unlikely there’s themed music playing during coach-pitch games of 8-year-olds. (Note: This is for all little leagues and not just Little League, because plenty of kids play in Cal Ripken or the various other youth leagues that are not affiliated with Little League International.) For those seven years, we’ll estimate 25 games played. That’s a long little league season, but consider the fact that most future-MLB players probably made it to the all-star tournaments that can extend the season for weeks.

I’m estimating that 8% of little league games featured “Centerfield.” I’m sure that some leagues play music all the time and that “Centerfield” is a staple for them. However, in general, most little league games don’t feature music until you get to those all-star tournaments.

71.5% of players x 7 years x 25 games x 8% = 10

Everywhere Else

There are plenty of other places a player could hear the song. Those who listen to classic rock or country could hear it on the radio somewhat regularly. Besides, among the 1,500 MLB players, hasn’t there got to be just one Fogerty superfan who finds “Centerfield” at the very top of his Spotify Wrapped every season? I say there is, and for facial hair reasons, I’ll go ahead and assume that it’s Andrew Chafin. However, there’s no way there’s more than one MLB player who’s listening to this song that frequently by choice. They just hear it too often at work.

The song has also been in plenty of movies and TV shows. Most recently, it soundtracked a particularly memorable scene in Ted Lasso. I estimate the average player has encountered the song in a non-baseball context 10 times.

Some American-born players probably heard it during practices and events. They certainly heard it when they were growing up and attending professional games as a fan. Combining all of these edge cases, I estimate they’ve heard it 32.9 times.

And that’s all our variables. Here’s one last table that adds up all our estimates.

The Final Tally

LevelYears% of PlayersGames% of GamesTotal
MLB4.83100%191.3812%110.9
Minor League4.45100%7540%142.4
College339%56.542%34.4
High School3.572%5210%13
Little Leagues772%258%10.0
Games Attended as Fan1572%220%4.3
Various Practices and Events72%4028.6
Other Media100%10
International Players29%20.6
Total354.2

Well, there’s our answer. According to these estimates, the average major league player has heard “Centerfield” 354.2 times. If we just limit ourselves to American-born players, that number grows to 418.3.

I suspect that number will feel way too low for many people. If you grew up hearing this song at every single little league, high school, or big league game, your guess was probably closer to the 600 or 1,000 that Eric and JJ went with. I’m sure there are some big leaguers who have heard it that many times (not to mention Andrew Chafin, whose number might well be in the millions). But we also need to balance them out with the American-born players who rarely heard it and the international players who might not have heard it at all until they arrived in the United States.

Of course, there’s an even trickier question waiting for us: How many times do you think the average player has actively noticed that they were hearing this song? For those of us who go to the ballpark with any frequency at all, it quickly starts to blend in with the rest of the ballpark noise. For someone who spends their life at the ballpark, that probably happens much faster. I don’t even know how we would go about estimating the answer to that question, so we’re stuck with the first one. Regardless, however you feel about my estimate or about “Centerfield” itself, I’m sure we can agree on one thing: It’s a whole lot better than “The Hockey Song.”

Many thanks to Eric Nusbaum, without whom this article wouldn’t exist, and JJ Cooper, without whom it would be much worse.

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