In Search of Music Recorded by Players for Toronto Sports Teams

Over the years, various professional athletes have made forays into popular music.  These musical efforts may be solo projects, or they may be larger endeavours produced by teams, with one or more star players singing (or rapping) about their team, sport, and/or city.  Particularly popular in the 1980s, these songs seem to be an extension of the role given to athletes who play team sports, that being a sort of cultural ambassador.  The key difference is that while the athlete (ideally) possesses some skill at their given sport, their musical talent tends to be meager (if it exists at all). 

One of the best-known examples of this kind of song is The Super Bowl Shuffle, recorded by the 1985 Chicago Bears shortly before their victory in Super Bowl XX.

Another example is the 1979 single Hockey Sock Rock, performed by John Davidson, Ron Duguay, Phil Esposito, Pat Hickey, and Dave Maloney of the New York Rangers, with the B-side Please Forgive My Misconduct Last Night by Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, and Dave Taylor of the Los Angeles Kings.  (Both of these songs were apparently written by Alan Thicke.)  In this case the songs were done for charity, and while neither song is explicitly about the team, the lyrics are most definitely about hockey.  Excerpts from both songs can be found in the clip below:

The earliest song I know of recorded by a Toronto athlete is Honky the Christmas Goose, a 1965 Christmas single by Leafs star goalie Johnny Bower, although this song is not even about hockey, much less the Toronto Maple Leafs:

The year after Bower’s song, a group called Douglas Rankine and the Secrets released a song called Clear the Track, Here Comes Shack about popular Leafs’ forward Eddie Shack, although Shack does not perform on it:

The late 1980s saw The Ballad of Tom Henke, credited to the Section 15 Orchestra, written about the Blue Jays relief pitcher (nicknamed “Terminator”) although, again, the athlete does not appear on the recording:

Not quite in this category is Moxy Früvous’ re-working of The Association‘s “Windy,” with the words altered to make it about quarterback Doug Flutie.  Although Moxy Früvous was from the Toronto area, this was recorded after Flutie’s time with the Argos, when he was playing for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills:

In recent years, of course, several Toronto sports fans have written and presented their own songs about Toronto athletes and put them up on YouTube, although none seem to have captured much public attention.

In terms of songs actually recorded by athletes, there is La Playa, which features former Blue Jays pitcher Kelvim Escobar, albeit recorded after he had moved on to the Anaheim Angels.  I’m not really sure what this song is about, but the video suggests it’s neither about Toronto nor baseball:

Shaker’s Rap

To my delight, I finally found the sort of song I’ve been seeking: Shaker’s Rap, as performed by ’80s Blue Jays outfielder Lloyd Moseby:

This website indicates that it was released as a 12-inch single in 1986, and suggests that the record included a non-Blue Jays version of this song (?), an instrumental version, and an additional track called “Stick to It,” all apparently by Lloyd “Shaker” Moseby.  The record was reportedly distributed by RCA.  According to an article in the August 7, 1986 Toronto Star, “Stick to It” was actually considered to be the lead single when released on August 15, and according to Moseby “it’s about telling kids to stay away from drugs, stay in school, that scene.”  He told Sports Illustrated that “I wouldn’t have done it if not for the message.  I’m no singer; no way am I doing love songs or anything.”  So far I have not been able to track down a version.  

The Star‘s Peter Goddard wrote that Shaker’s Rap sounded like “a Japanese disco after midnight,” and that “[it] isn’t going to make anybody forget Michael Jackson.  Or, for that matter, it won’t make anybody forget Roy Lee Jackson, the last Blue Jay to sing in public.”  (Roy Lee Jackson was a pitcher with the Jays from 1981 to 1984, who on at least one ocassion sang the pre-game national anthems, an event immortalized on a baseball card the following season.)

Although “Shaker’s Rap (Blue Jays Version)” is a bit thin on lyrics, it is still, like all of these athlete-recordings, an interesting reflection of the time in which it was made, and an enjoyable piece of Toronto’s history.  I’m glad this recording was uploaded by Toronto blogger Toronto Mike, and encourage readers to explore some of the content uploaded to his Soundcloud page, as he has posted several other interesting songs about Blue Jays players, including a song about outfielder Mookie Wilson (with the team from 1989 to 1991) set to the music of the Beach Boys’ “Help Me, Rhonda.”

I assume that any other songs officially produced by Toronto sports teams would have surfaced by now and be staples of our popular culture, but given that it took a bit of effort for me, a Jays fan, to find evidence of Lloyd Moseby’s rapping career this may not be the case.  If you know of any other songs recorded by the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Argos, or Raptors, especially ones which are over ten years old, please leave a comment.  (Also, if you know of a video for “Shaker’s Rap.”)  We tend to forget about these sorts of things in Toronto, so it would be good to keep these songs in our collective consciousness.

In conclusion, allow me to present my favourite example of this genre, Get Metsmerized!, which features nine members of the 1986 New York Mets rapping as best they can about what it means to be a New York Met.

Update – rICK vAIVE & “Penalty Box Blues”

A nice gentleman with the Twitter handle @juicyjuicebob has alerted me to the existence of a 1984 recording by Maple Leafs forward Rick Vaive, called Penalty Box Blues.  So far I have not been able to locate a recording of it online.

Toronto Star headline, January 15, 1985.

Penalty Box Blues was actually part of a charity LP called Team Rock All Stars 84/85.  The album was put together by recording engineer Bob Leth and was an effort to raise funds for minor hockey teams.  According to an article in the January 15, 1985 Toronto Star, the album included contributions by noted folk singer John Allan Cameron, the Good Brothers, and noted session drummer Bernard Purdie, whose website bills him as “the world’s most recorded drummer.”  Other hockey players who reportedly recorded on the album were retired-Leaf (and City-TV sports reporter) Jim McKenny, Brian Glennie, and Doug Patey.  As of the time of this article, albums were being sold to minor hockey teams at low rates, who in turn were invited to re-sell the album for $10 (about average price for an LP in those days) and keep the profits.

Without an available audio sample, the only clue to the sound of Penalty Box Blues comes from Bob Leth, who told the Star that Vaive “does an Elvis-type song… he’s got a real rockabilly voice.”  Anyone have a copy of this album at home?

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Blue Jays: Lump it or like it

The original Toronto Blue Jays logo, as seen on a button.

The Toronto Blue Jays recently unveiled a “new” logo for their organization, one with a strong resemblance to their first, classic logo that served the team from their start in 1977 through the 1996 season.  Public response to this new, retro logo has been mixed, but on balance Blue Jays fans seem to be supportive.  The Blue Jays original logo, seen at right, was designed by Savage Sloan Ltd. in 1976, and unveiled in October of that year.  Toronto’s newspapers reveal little public reaction to the design.  The initial media concern was not over the team’s first logo, but over the name “Blue Jays” itself.

The Globe and Mail announcing the new Blue Jays logo, October 13, 1976.

In the summer of 1976, the team’s owners held a contest to name the new baseball franchise.  Over 25,000 entries were submitted, for a total of about 4,000 different potential names.  Amongst the names mentioned in the Star and the Globe and Mail were: the Toronto Towers, Antelopes, Bears, Beavers, Wildcats, Dingbats, Hippos, Sea Fleas, Tarantulas, Canaries, Owls, Peacocks, Greyhounds, Bulldogs, Airedales, Fighting Turtles, Unicorns, Loons, Hogtowns, the Godfreys (in honour of Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey, who had been instrumental in getting Major League Baseball to put a team in Toronto), the Crombies (in honour of then-mayor David Crombie), Teamsters, Dillingers, Eskimos, Sad Sacks and the Titanics.  Many of the names were apparently suggested to appeal to Labatt and their 45% controlling interest in the team, as other reported suggestions included the Bootleggers and Boozers (“Brewers” was already taken by Milwaukee), and many names including the word “Blue,” likely in reference to the company’s flagship beer: Blue Sox, Blue Shoes, Blue Hats, Blue Bonnets, Blue Bats, Blue Balls (yes, really), Blue Chips, Blue Bloods, Blue Beavers, Blue Birds and yes, “Blue Jays,” although there was no indication that “Blue Jays” was especially likely to win.

The executives of the company picked their favourite, and the winning name was announced in the press on August 13, 1976.  A statement issued by the club said “[The blue jay  is] strong, aggressive and inquisitive and it dares to take on all comers.  It’s down to earth, gutsy and good looking.  We felt the Blue Jay is a true representative of major league baseball in Toronto.”

The Star went with the headline “Blue Jays: Lump it or like it …that’s the name for Toronto’s American League ball club,” hardly an enthusiastic endorsement, and indicative of the mixed reaction to the name.  All the major Toronto newspapers collected public reaction, with the majority of the feedback varying between bemusement to outright fury.  Typical of the negative comments are the words of secretary Jackie Dangelo, who told the Sun: “That’s terrible.  It’s worse than terrible.  It stinks.  It’s pathetic.  I think anything would be better than the Blue Jays.”

The Toronto Star's sports section announces the new baseball team's name, August 13, 1976.

Specific objections the name varied.  Some thought the team should have a name which had something specific to do with Toronto or Canada.  Many seemed to think it was silly to name the team after a bird, despite baseball already having two teams named after birds, the Baltimore Orioles and the St. Louis Cardinals.  Some felt the name didn’t sound very athletic.  Joey Slinger, then a Sun columnist, wrote “it’s not what you might call a terrifically macho name.” 

The Globe and Mail took a strange position, choosing to criticize the blue jay as a bird.  Christie Blatchford wrote that “the species often behaves completely without honor [sic].  One of the blue jay’s most repugnant habits is its fondness for eating the eggs and nestlings of other birds.”   A few days later the Globe and Mail ran the syndicated column of sportswriter Red Smith, which also touched on this point, claiming that “the Blue Jay is a raucous, obstreperous, thieving cannibal who robbs [sic] the nests of smaller birds, eats the eggs, devours the young and then comes around bragging about it.”

Paul Godfrey, who had worked vigorously to bring a baseball team Toronto, said he was “not impressed” with the name, voicing a preference for simply the “Blues.”

The Toronto Sun's opinion of the team's name, August 13, 1976.

Not everyone was against the “Blue Jays.”  The Star spoke to several people who liked the name, and a few letters in favour of the Blue Jays name made the Sun.  Hugh Halliday, who contributed a regular column to the Star on birds, perhaps in response to the Globe and Mail‘s denigration of the species, produced a column in apparent defence of the blue jay.  Halliday wrote “his [a blue jay’s] alleged rascality has not been well-defined.  However, he is smart, clownish, mischievous, amusing and handsome.” 

Another to write in defence of the name was the Sun‘s Trent Frayne, who pointed out that the names of sports teams seldom have much to do with the city they play in.  He wrote “when Connie Smythe swiped the name Maple Leafs from the Toronto ball club, why did he make the leaf blue instead of green?  Who ever heard of a blue maple leaf?  What’s a New York ranger?  A Los Angeles laker? …What kind of name, if we’re examining names, is Phillies?… All I’m saying is that the Toronto Blue Jays is a name that one day will be as much a part of the language as, oh, say, the Chicago White Sox, who, by the way, wear red knitted stockings.”

Frayne appears to have been correct.  Nobody today seems to complain about the Blue Jays name.  And many Blue Jays fans seem to be happy that their team is, once again, wearing blue.

The Globe and Mail: July 28, August, August 14, August 25, October 13, 1976.
Toronto Star: July 28, August 13, August 14, August 16, August 20, 1976.
Toronto Sun: August 13, August 15, 1976.