Who would have ever guessed that the biggest talking point of the Mariners’ season so far would be a novelty song with largely unintelligible lyrics that was written in 1955?
Granted, this is not one of the burning issues of our time. Yet it seems to have touched a strong chord — A, D and E minor, I’m told — with fans who poured into T-Mobile Park for the first weekend of home games, and beyond.
When it came to the seventh-inning stretch on opening night, many fans were stunned when “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” ended and “Louie Louie” did not come next, as it had for the previous 32 seasons. That was the case Saturday and Sunday, as well. As I tweeted last month during a spring-training game, unaware of the hornet’s nest that would be stirred up a few weeks later, “After two decades at Safeco Field/T-Mobile Park, my brain subliminally anticipates ‘Louie Louie‘ the moment ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ ends.”
That is absolutely the case, I’m certain, for many others. It might take a while before the “Louie Louie” replacement chosen by the Mariners, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” becomes as strong an earworm.
Reaction was immediate, and vehement, on social media. Many people expressed outrage that such a long-established tradition had been breached. Others said it was high time for the Mariners to break away from old traditions, considering their track record on the field. Still others seemed OK with ditching “Louie Louie” but ragged specifically on Macklemore as the artist choice to take its spot.
Lookout Landing called the change “devastating” in an eloquent essay titled, “Oh, baby, ‘Louie Louie’ did not have to go,” calling for the restoration of “Louie Louie.” It was debated on both local sports-radio stations and became a trending topic on Twitter. I saw at least one Change.org petition demanding the return of “Louie Louie.” Yet I’m also told that at the ballpark, most fans over the weekend seemed to be rockin’ to “Can’t Hold Us” with vigor and joy.
That’s the thing with songs — they can elicit impassioned reactions that are completely disparate. What you love, I might hate, and vice versa. I mean, how else do you explain The Insane Clown Posse?
I conducted my own Twitter poll that has elicited more than 4,200 responses as I write this. It’s a landslide win for “Louie Louie.” Sixty-two percent of respondents say to bring it back. Twenty-three percent voted to keep Macklemore. Ten percent want to change to a different song, and 5 percent would prefer no song after “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”
I’m a “Louie Louie” guy, but I don’t feel strongly enough to get too worked up over it. I can also acknowledge that “Can’t Hold Us” is a rouser that gets people pumped up, too. And frankly, I’m not enough of a music aficionado to understand the virulent Macklemore backlash. He seems like a pretty good dude to me, dedicated to the city of Seattle and its sports teams, and while I fully acknowledge I’m not in his prime demographic, I really like a few of his songs.
I was getting so many questions about this that I went straight to the man himself, Kevin Martinez, the head of Mariners’ marketing. He acknowledged that with regard to the decision to drop “Louie Louie,” the buck stops with him as the senior vice president of marketing and communications. He says that he is well aware of the backlash in some quarters, and that the Mariners will continue to evaluate. And he says that for the foreseeable future, Macklemore will continue to be the seventh-inning-stretch companion, like it or not.
Martinez said the genesis of the change was a “listening tour” the team’s executives conducted near the end of last season and into the offseason to solicit feedback from fans on all aspects of the ballpark experience.
“What we heard was bringing a new, fresh energy to the ballpark,” he said. “Music was something we heard about from fans, including the seventh-inning stretch. So we looked at everything from the game-presentation experience.
“We had been playing the ‘Can’t Hold Us’ Macklemore song since 2012 in the ballpark, in various places, and thought, every time we played it, there was a good energy and reaction from the fans in the ballpark. And we looked at this as an opportunity to freshen up the seventh-inning stretch with something that was from Seattle, and that had been a part of Mariners baseball for the last 10 years, and just repositioning it in the seventh-inning stretch. That was the thinking as we as we went into the season.”
As for the negative reaction, Martinez said they’ve certainly seen it “and we’re paying attention to it. And we’ll continue to monitor it and listen to it. We have seen those tweets, but there’s also been positive feedback on it, too. I think anytime when music is involved, you’re going to hear a lot of different opinions on it. So while there have certainly been people who have expressed their desire to have it come back, there have been other people who have expressed their happiness to have a new song. We’re going to monitor it and continue to listen to our fans and see where we go with it.”
For Martinez, it’s a full-circle moment. He was in his first year in the Mariners’ marketing department in 1990 when the decision was made to segue from “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” to the iconic version of “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. It was the first year of the Jeff Smulyan ownership, and the new group was trying to put its stamp on the team and make the Kingdome a fun venue for Mariners games.
“We were looking at everything from a fresh lens,” Martinez said.
After mulling over using “Tequila” — and rejecting it because it was too closely associated with the Huskies — they settled on “Louie Louie,” which had been part of a highly publicized (but ultimately unsuccessful) campaign in 1985 to make it the official state song.
The Mariners started pairing “Louie Louie” with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in the seventh inning at the start of the 1990 season, but it really cemented itself as the official seventh-inning stretch song June 2, 1990, when the Kingsmen were invited to perform live at the Kingdome as a promotion. The Portland-based band played “Louie Louie” while perched on the dugout in the middle of the seventh inning. To allow them enough time do the song justice, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” wasn’t played at all.
“Talk about breaking traditions,” Martinez said with a laugh.
Wouldn’t you know it? Randy Johnson pitched a no-hitter against the Tigers that night, the first in Mariners history. And “Louie Louie” continued to be played after “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” for the next three-plus decades — through the Griffey years, the Ichiro years, the Felix years and into the Kelenic years. They even played it in 2020 when no fans were in the stands.
Until Friday, that is. Martinez says he’s pleased to see the passion that’s being displayed, even if some people disagree (vehemently) with the decision. One example of that passion that went semi-viral was a video posted by Seattle’s Devon Beck on Saturday. He has a lighthearted running bet with his friend, Peter Barbarone, a more recent Mariners fan, that “Louie Louie” will always be played after “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” For years, Beck has filmed himself belting out the two songs as proof of his victory — but at Friday’s opener, the video captures Beck’s stunned look when he realizes it’s not “Louie Louie” after all.
Here’s the thing, though. Everyone assumed that Beck’s shock indicated outrage. He said that wasn’t the case at all.
“The video probably doesn’t portray it well, but I’m actually kind of happy,” said Beck, a rabid Mariners fan who manages Joe Bar, a cafe on Capitol Hill. “I was mostly just shocked that something different had happened. … I kind of felt like, new traditions, new outcomes for the season, maybe? I mean, we obviously have had a lot of futility. Things change, and I’m OK with that. Particularly if maybe it changes some of the outcomes for the Mariners. I just was shocked that change happened, but change isn’t always bad.”
In “Can’t Hold Us,” Macklemore and partner Ryan Lewis ask, “Can we go back?”
The answer for now — to the dismay of “Louie Louie” zealots, and to the pleasure of those ready to shed a stale Mariners past — is no.