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High and Tight: A View From the Bench

Ken Casey, Ben Gibbard, Alice Cooper and more weigh in on our national pastime

Chicago Cubs players sit in their dugout during a game in San Diego on October 8th, 1984.Chicago Cubs players sit in their dugout during a game in San Diego on October 8th, 1984.

Chicago Cubs players sit in their dugout during a game in San Diego on October 8th, 1984.

AP Photo/Pete Leabo

Every baseball fan has fantasized at some point in his or her life about hitting a World Series-winning walk-off homer, pitching a perfect game, or committing some other indelible act of diamond heroism. But how many of us have also daydreamed about getting to watch a game (or a whole season) from the dugout bench, as an actual uniformed member of a favorite team?

As a kid, I used to think about this a lot. Having grudgingly accepted the fact that I’d never possess the skills required to be a major league star, I held out hope that just maybe, if I busted my ass enough, I could still make it to the bigs as some kind of bench player. A utility man/late-inning defensive replacement who gets maybe 80-100 at-bats a season? Hey, that sounded great to me, even in the days before backups and role players were regularly pulling down (at least) six figures a year.

For a couple of years back in the late Seventies, I would have traded several internal organs for the chance to be a utility man on the Los Angeles Dodgers, because, A., they had my favorite player (Ron “The Penguin” Cey), and B., they sure seemed like one big happy family – a pathetically naïve notion of which I was summarily disabused when news of Don Sutton and Steve Garvey’s clubhouse fistfight hit the papers in August ’78.

While I can’t say I fantasize much these days about being a spare part for any current team (though Jim Leyland’s penchant for putting consistently lousy players in the starting lineup means I would probably receive ample playing time on the Tigers), my writerly forays into baseball history have certainly provided ample grist for the daydream mill.

For instance, how cool would it have been to be a follicly-enhanced member of the Oakland A’s “mustache gang,” as they battled owner Charlie Finley, the entire American League, and even each other on the way to three straight World Series championships? Or to be part of the ’79 Pittsburgh Pirates “We Are Family” family, and maybe earn a couple of “Stargell stars” while Pops led the way to a World Series ring? Hell, I’d even settle for a bench gig with the ’77 Chicago White Sox; the “South Side Hit Men” only finished second in the A.L. West that year, but they sure seemed to have a blast along the way. I’d be perfectly willing to wear one those horrible Bill Veeck-designed collared tunics, just to have the honor of watching Oscar Gamble groom his voluminous Afro on a daily basis.

Or maybe I’d get out of my Seventies comfort zone and sign on with the ’84 Chicago Cubs. Not only did I follow that team’s every move during that memorable summer, but they also boasted a dynamic mix of veterans (Gary Matthews, Dennis Eckersley, Larry Bowa, the aforementioned “Penguin”) and young guys (Bobby Dernier, Keith Moreland, Jody Davis, Leon Durham and a future Hall of Famer named Ryne Sandberg) who put the Cubs in the postseason for the first time since 1945. And since all their home games were played during the day, they had plenty of evenings free to hit the Windy City’s endless array of bars. Sure, it all eventually ended in heartbreak, but boy, would it have been fun to take that rollercoaster ride with those guys.

This week, we ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: You get to be a bench player on any team from any year in major league history. Which team do you choose, and why?

alice cooper

Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

1968 Detroit Tigers. I would have been just the right age to be on the team, but still young enough to not have to play. Plus I’m a left fielder, and we almost never get hurt! So the chances of me actually playing would be slim. That’s OK, though, because the Tigers won the World Series that year, so I would have ended up with the best seat in the house and a World Series ring without ever having to get my cleats dirty!

george thorogood

Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

The 1927 Yankees – so I could sit and watch Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig do all the work.

Name: Pete Yorn
Vocals, Guitar

Bench player on the Chicago “Black Sox” of 1919. Just to hang with Shoeless Joe Jackson. I feel for the guy. He had such a good World Series that year; he wasn’t on the take.

Dale Earnhardt jr jr

Name: Daniel Zott
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Vocals, Guitars

I’d like to be on the bench during any year with Ty Cobb and the Tigers. People were better storytellers back then, and I’m sure he’d have some spectacular things coming out of his mouth all game.

Name: Scott Ian

1927 Yankees come to mind, but I have to go with the 1977 Yankees. The Bronx Zoo. They were the team of my youth, they were my heroes, and I dreamed about being in that dugout every day that season.

Name: Ben Gibbard
Band: Death Cab for Cutie
Vocals, Guitar

1969 Seattle Pilots, seeing as there was just one season.

Name: Steve Wynn
The Baseball Project
Vocals, Guitar

No question about it – the 1977 Yankees. I would take in the excitement and controversy in the dugout and clubhouse, revel in the chaos and mayhem in the stands, and then dust myself off and head downtown to see Television and the Ramones at CBGB’s before returning to my insanely cheap Soho loft at the end of the night.

Name: Scott McCaughey
The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Guitar, Vocals

The 1927 Yankees. Murderer’s Row. Sixty home runs. Lou “Old Biscuit Pants” Gehrig. But not only because it was one of the greatest teams of all time – more because of the ballplayer’s life back then. Train travel. Cigars. Bootleg liquor. All-night poker. Most of all, just to see Babe Ruth living large. Following his escapades on and off the field would have been the ultimate reality show to experience live and in person.

Name: Ken Casey
Dropkick Murphys
Bass guitar, Vocals

’67 Red Sox, because they used a lot of personnel. They were done at the All-Star break and came back to win the pennant with an “impossible” comeback.

Name: Steve Earle
Vocals, Guitar

1977 New York Yankees, just to be a witness to the war between Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson.

Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba

Sorry, I gots two: 1927 Yankees, so I could hang with George Herman “Babe” Ruth, and the 1956 Yankees, so I could go out drinkin’ with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin after the game.

vinnie paul

Name: Vinnie Paul
Hellyeah, Pantera

I’ll stay current and go with the Texas Rangers. It’d be cool to be Michael Young – he understands his role at DH and coming off the bench. He’s a great utility player, and can play every position with great skill and knowledge of each.

joe pernice

Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Vocals, Guitar

The obvious answer would be a championship-clinching team. But I would like to have been part of one of those come-back-from-10-runs-behind games. Take your pick. Whenever you see the guys in the dugout as they’re storming back, they almost always look like they’re having a blast. There’s a sense that there’s no way they can’t come back. Must be a trip to be part of it.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Guitar, Vocals

That’s easy. I would a bench player on the 2003 Chicago Cubs playoff team, except I wouldn’t stay on the bench for long. I would head straight up into the stands during the seventh inning and choke out Steve Bartman before he had a chance to ruin the game for us.

Dan Epstein’s book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s, is now available in paperback.


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