Grammy Nominations 2017
Indians vs. Cubs: Which Team Has the Better In-Game Soundtrack?
Evaluating the two World Series competitors based on their walkup music and in-stadium soundtracks.
After an already epic first two rounds of the playoffs, the MLB season is down to its final two teams: the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, with a combined championship drought of 176 years between them. (The Indians last won in 1948, the Cubs all the way back in 1908.) A wide array of factors will determine which team finally breaks through — Chicago's power pitching vs. Cleveland's power hitting, the World Series experience of Indians manager Terry Francona vs. the right-brained innovation of Cubs skipper Joe Maddon, and the late-game battle between the teams' dominant relief corps. But here at Billboard, we're mostly interested in one matchup: Which squad has the better tunes?
Thanks to the team pages on MLB.com (as well as various other fan sites), you can now see an entire Spotify playlist's worth of a team's chosen soundtrack: The chosen walkup music of nearly every player, the regular jams for the home stadium's in-game listening, sometimes even the go-to victory music. So when it comes to providing the extra juice each squad of 25 needs to power through late-inning dramatics and moments of extreme clutchness, we already know who has the edge. Let's break it down:
Walkup Music Diversity: As with just about any #squad in entertainment, you want a nice mix of personalities with your team — you don't want 25 guys who listen to the same music; you'd rather have an interesting blend of genres, eras and sensibilities. The Indians roster definitely has its musical sweet spots — country, metal, rap — but still makes for a pretty interesting synthesis. The Cubs, however, are all over the damn place, offering everything from psych-reggae fusionists Slightly Stoopid to EDM party-starter Martin Solveig and even secondary hits by '90s teen rappers Kriss Kross. "Warm It Up" is pretty underrated, you know.
Best Veteran Throwback Jams. Of course, with all the kids choosing their predictable new-school favorites by Chance the Rapper, Major Lazer and Imagine Dragons, it's up to the old heads to show 'em how it's done by dialing it back to the walkup jams of yesteryear. The Cubs have a couple choice #TBT selections, most courtesy of soon-to-retire 39-year-old catcher David Ross, who has used Tone-Loc's "Funky Cold Medina" and Alphaville's "Forever Young" this season. But they can't compete with the Indians, who have 36-year-old outfielder Coco Crisp repping for Eric B. and Rakim's golden-age classic "I Know You Got Soul" and 25-year-old oldster-in-training Tyler Naquin working in Billy Squier's arena-rock staple "The Stroke," a throwback trump card if there ever was one.
Most Interesting Personal Musical Connection: Cubs fans might not recognize the walkup music of second baseman and occasional outfielder Ben Zobrist, the EDM-inflected motivational pop anthems "Alive" and "The Dawn." That's because they're actually performed by his wife, Julianna Zobrist, a relatively successful Christian dance artist who actually hit No. 48 on Billboard's Christian Digital Songs chart with "Alive" in November 2015. The Indians undoubtedly have some wild stories behind their personal soundtracks, but it's unlikely any of them involve their life partner (and Jesus!) singing them to greater heights.
Best Stadium Soundtrack: The Cubs' website list a number of classic Jock Jams as providing their music for pitching changes and players taking the field: Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer," Tom Petty's "Running Down a Dream," Tinie Tempeh's "Written in the Stars." All well and good, but the Indians really pull out the stops with their listed soundtrack: Unexpectedly inspired choices like Elvis Costello's "Welcome to the Working Week," Alice Deejay's "Better Off Alone," Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser" and Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen." You'd hope that the home city of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would have a pretty deep knowledge of musical history, and the Cleve doesn't disappoint here.
Best Reliever Entrance Music: No musical cue in baseball packs more drama than the song that soundtracks a lights-out reliever's first stroll to the mound, a walk that has cemented songs like Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and AC/DC's "Hells Bells" in the game's lore for all time. The Indians introduce indomitable setup man Andrew Miller with the bellowing synths, snapping beat and timeless riffing of Michael Jackson's "Beat It," about as unquestionable a closer anthem as we've had in recent years. Aroldis Chapman's go-to as Cubs closer is the "Kashmir"-borrowed guitar stomp of Rage Against the Machine's "Wake Up" -- a pretty badass choice in its own right, even if it is borrowed from Neo.
Close call here, but the Cubs probably have to be dinged in the closer-music department for their possibly accidental, definitely stupid choice to play the Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" after Chapman, a league-penalized spousal abuser, exited in the ninth inning of an August game. It's enough to give the Indians the edge here, and for the entire competition.
OVERALL 3-2 WINNER: CLEVELAND INDIANS