Wednesday, March 30, 2016

TMFW 134 - Roundin' Third, Headed for Home / A Terrible Baseball Team Inspires a Great Band

Yo La Tengo is an indie group from Hoboken, New Jersey.  The co-founders and leaders of the group are Ira Kaplan and his wife Georgia Hubley; as Ms. Hubley's entry on Wikipedia notes, she and Kaplan got together after "finding a common ground in music, and sharing a love of New York Mets baseball."  It is that latter connection that is the subject of today's TMFW.  

In 1962, the Mets were a first-year expansion team.  They had a historically bad season, finishing 60.5 games out and racking up 120 losses.  (To add insult to injury, the NL pennant was taken by the San Francisco Giants, who had left New York just five years before, and the World Series was won by the stupid old Yankees.)  The Mets' centerfielder was future Hall-of-Famer Richie Ashburn, playing in the final year of his career.  Their shortstop was Elio Chacon, a Venezuelan player who spoke very little English.  

As the story goes, the language barrier between Ashburn and Chacon caused a handful of miscues in the field, with both players chasing a fly ball and running into each other instead.  So rightfielder Joe Christopher, who spoke both English and Spanish, had the idea to teach Ashburn a Spanish phrase to call off Chacon.  That phrase, of course, was "Yo la tengo!," which means "I have it!"

Allegedly, the phrase worked precisely as imagined.  Later in the season, a pop-up went to left-centerfield, and Ashburn called to Chacon "yo la tengo!"  Chacon backed off, but right as Ashburn was about the catch the ball leftfielder Frank Thomas mowed him down and the ball dropped in for a hit.  

Thomas, not understanding what had just happened, asked Ashburn "what the hell is a yellow tango?"  And with that, baseball (and indie rock) history was made.

BONUS FACT: Yo La Tengo are famously talented at playing cover songs, and for more than 10 years they have put that skill to use to help raise money for WFMU, the famous New York independent radio station.  During WFMU's annual pledge drive, Yo La Tengo has a marathon session where they hang out in the studio and play requests, like a live-action jukebox.  In 2006, the band put out Yo La Tengo is Murdering the Classics, a compilation of some of the covers.

BONUS FACT 2:  In an episode of the sitcom Parks and Recreation, the character Leslie Knope organizes a rock concert for the cities of Pawnee and Eagleton, Indiana.  One of the featured acts is "Bobby Knight Ranger," which is a Night Ranger tribute act in which each member dresses as the famous Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight.

Bobby Knight Ranger was played on the show by Yo La Tengo; each band member "got dressed up in red sweaters, khakis, and white wigs, and they played ‘Sister Christian’ in front of a thousand people."  That's a good gag.

BONUS FACT 3:  Most baseball fans know that in the olden days New York had three teams: the American League Yankees and the National League Dodgers and Giants.  Those latter two teams headed to California in the first wave of western relocation (each in 1957), and their departure paved the way for the expansion Mets.  The Mets' colors are a blend of the Dodgers' blue and the Giants' orange: a small but fitting tribute to New York City's baseball past.   (Thanks to TMFW reader and neighbor Clifton for this one.)

BONUS FACT 4:  Yo La Tengo has a thing for quirky sports-related titles: their 11th studio record is called I am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.  That quote came courtesy of New York Knicks forward Kurt Thomas during a 2005 NBA game; Thomas said it to his teammate Stephon Marbury as the two argued on the bench.
BONUS FACT 4.5:  The Wikipedia link above (at the album title's name) suggests that it was NBA player TIM Thomas who threatened Marbury rather than KURT Thomas.  But TMFW went back to contemporary sources to bring you the true facts.  (Both of those players were with the Knicks at the time, so the screw-up is understandable.)

BONUS FACT 4.75:  While we are (sort of) on the subject of great declarative album titles, I would be remiss if I didn't include the debut record from Philadelphia band Marah: Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight.  Marah's song "Freedom Park" (from a different record, but still) is on the TMFW all-time greats list.

BONUS FACT 5:  TMFW fans will surely recall that I teased in TMFW 113 about "TMFW 134 future subjects Yo La Tengo."  I have been saving up baseball stories to go with Opening Day.  And here we are!  It's the best time of the year.

BONUS FACT 5.5/TITLE NOTE: the first part of today's title is a continuation of lyrics from (TMFW 87 subject) John Fogerty's great song "Centerfield."  That song is not related to today's subject except through baseball, but lyrics were previously used in the Opening Day entries of TMFW 29 and TMFW 81 so I thought it appropriate to continue the theme.

BONUS OBSERVATION 5.75:  I can't believe we've been doing TMFW long enough that this is our third Opening Day.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:  Like the story of "Deep in the Heart of Texas" in TMFW 19 and The White Stripes' short(est) concert in TMFW 75, today's inspiration came from Dan Lewis' excellent newsletter Now I Know.  If you like TMFW's weekly entries, you will surely like Now I Know's daily ones.

1 comment:

  1. If you're a fan of great declarative album titles (and also great albums), you'll want to check out Mclusky's first and last records, "My Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful Than Yours" and "The Difference Between Me and You Is that I'm Not on Fire."