Best Baseball Traditions: From Sausage Races to ‘Sweet Caroline’

Best Baseball Traditions: From Sausage Races to ‘Sweet Caroline’

Baseball fans are weird. That is a delightful thing, though. No negativity implied. Major League Baseball fans built unique cultures, from Baltimore Orioles fans belting out “Ooooo” during the national anthem to Los Angeles Angels fans screaming for their rally monkey. 

Unique, in this case, means quirky. 

Quirky is good, and it makes sense for this oddball sport. Games usually have long quiet stretches where fans can make their voices heard — much to the chagrin of certain outfielders or slumping batters.

While you’re at it, see how your favorite team’s mascots are holding up

Cleveland’s Drum

If you’re looking for the moment MLB fans stepped into modernity, Aug. 24, 1973, is as good a place to start. That was the day the founding father of bleacher bums, John Adams, made a $25 purchase of a used drum. Adams took the bass drum to Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium and hauled it to the top of the bleachers above the left-center field.

Then, as you might imagine, he started banging on the drum. He never really stopped. In 47 seasons, he missed 37 home games. Adams played through the end of the 2019 season and died in January of 2023. Never mind that the Cleveland teams were terrible for a couple of those decades. Never mind they didn’t win a World Series in his lifetime. Adams had an unofficial job to do. He was asked in 2021 why he kept showing up, hauling his bass drum to the top of the bleachers for every game. 

“What keeps anybody a fan? I’ve loved the game since I was a little kid. How do you explain how you fall in love with something? You just do. That’s what happened to me,” he said.

It worked out. Adams was inducted into the team’s hall of fame. The 1989 movie Major League included bleacher drummers in the vein of Adams. There’s even a bronze statue of Adams high above left centerfield in Cleveland.

Oakland’s Own Beat

Taking a cue from Adams, fans in Oakland started their own drumming group starting in 2000. That’s when the Athletics were really good, featuring studs like Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. The Oakland 68s fan group encouraged folks to bring anything they could bang on. Some brought huge, marching band drums. Others brought little snares. The only thing that mattered was simple: make a racket. It worked. During the 2001 playoffs, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner asked the league to muffle the drummers. It didn’t work.

Those teams never won a World Series and recently the A’s are, for lack of a better word, dreadful. Still, the fans show up in the bleachers. The 68s have their own website and social media presence. They’re a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit group. And they’re an institution beloved by the Athletics.

“I love the drums,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said in 2022. “You know, it’s been a part of my baseball life here. It’ll continue to be a part of baseball life here. Their spirit, their energy, passion for the A’s doesn’t go unnoticed for sure.”

Lively fans and subpar teams are a common mix in baseball. 

Chicago’s Bleacher Bums

Chicago Cubs fans know all about creating their own hijinks to entertain themselves. In the 1990s, the team wasn’t very good. But Slamming Sammy Sosa was hammering baseballs out of the park on a regular basis, and the fans in the outfield ate it up. The bleacher bums stood to welcome him to the field before the game. They stood when he batted. They went nuts when he did basically anything. 

Cubs fans are starved for success — the 2016 World Series title notwithstanding. And in 1970, one of the bleacher bums had enough. Bartender Ron Grousl caught a home run hit by Atlanta Braves‘ Hank Aaron and decided he wasn’t interested in a keepsake. He tossed the ball back onto the field. 

“I just thought: ‘Get this out of here. I don’t want it,'” Grousl said in 2016. “I just threw it back.”

That’s all it takes to start a quirky tradition. Fans were allowed to keep home runs hit by the Cubs, but the bums chant relentlessly “Throw. It. Back.” until the opposing team’s home run ball is sent back to the field. Cubs pitchers were known to send up an autographed ball from the bullpen to thank fans for their efforts. 

Fans have been known to cheat a bit, bringing a dummy ball to toss back in case they catch a keeper. Mostly, though, they let it fly. One fan made SportsCenter for chucking a ball all the way to home plate. 

Making a Run For It

Some MLB quirks require some local knowledge. For instance, it’s helpful to know Wisconsin has extensive ties to Germany, with the highest U.S. percentage of its population tracing their ancestry back to the old country. And also the Johnsonville sausage company is headquartered in Wisconsin.

That’s the context needed before we ponder the Milwaukee Brewers‘ famous racing sausages. Starting in the early 1990s, meat mascots raced around the warning track at Brewers games. The sprints feature a bratwurst, hot dog, polish sausage, Italian sausage and chorizo. The race is usually run by employees of the Brewers, but the fans go bananas for it. You’ll overhear fans refusing to go to the bathroom or the concession stand because the race is happening. Since the team has never won a World Series, the sausage race is basically peak entertainment some years.

It’s the granddaddy of mid-game entertainment. The descendants include the Presidents Race at Washington Nationals games. That sprint has a running leaderboard tracker on Wikipedia. (Yes, Abraham Lincoln is the all-time wins leader, but Teddy Roosevelt didn’t get a victory in his first six seasons on the track.) 

A quirky derivative of the mascot race showed up in Atlanta about six seasons ago. Here’s how it works: A fan is selected to run a race around the warning track against “The Freeze.” The fan gets a huge head start, then The Freeze goes to work. A former college track runner, Nigel Talton absolutely destroys fans, sometimes hilariously. Think about a fan who’s had a few beers tripping and falling on the warning track. The race is a fan favorite — except for those poor souls who trip and fall.

Belt it out: Singing for your favorite MLB teams

If you know anything about Fenway Park, you know what’s coming. But we’ll start with the songs maybe you don’t know about. Sure, Orioles fans belt out the “O” in “O say can you see,” but that’s just a minor moment relative to other teams’ singing traditions.

In Houston, a first-time fan may be surprised to rise for the seventh-inning stretch and hear Deep In The Heart of Texas instead of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. In Seattle, fans belt out Louie Louie. In Miami, it’s La Gozadera

OK, avert your eyes, Red Sox haters. This is the time we talk about Sweet Caroline. We need to preface this discussion with the knowledge that the song is divisive. Only in Boston could fans having fun be controversial. 

Here’s the deal: In the middle of the eighth inning of every home game, the Red Sox blast Sweet Caroline throughout the stadium. The team has played it since 1997, when a bunch of fans got really into singing along with Neil Diamond in an otherwise-forgotten game. While admittedly divisive among some fans, these days it’s a whole production, with fans yelling “So good, so good” and “bom-bom-bom,” creating the world’s largest karaoke singalong 81 nights a summer. 

Marlins Man is Everywhere

Among all the weird baseball traditions, there’s one that’s easy to miss — if you’re colorblind. Laurence Leavy sets up shop behind home plate in a bright-orange Marlins jersey at games around the country. Only, due to a price spat with the Marlins, he doesn’t sit behind the plate for home games. 

For nearly a decade, Leavy has shown up behind home plate, front row, at World Series games, World Baseball Classic showdowns and basically any game with a national audience. When the home team’s colors are dark blue — like the Royals or Dodgers — Leavy’s shock-orange jersey would be visible from the moon against that dark backdrop. On TV, you can’t miss the guy wearing a shirt that looks like it’s powered by 9-volt batteries. 

Leavy, a Miami lawyer, travels all around the country to wear the jersey of a team not even playing — and a team whose home games he skips. 

All Rise for our Final Fan Favorite

Deep sigh. 

It’s painful to give the New York Yankees credit for much of anything. Their fans are well-versed in how many titles the team won, almost entirely in the 20th century, and they like to talk about it. 

But the Yankees hit it out of the park for their fans with the “Judge’s Chambers” section in right field. When it became evident in 2017 that Aaron Judge was a superstar, the Yankees put in faux wood paneling to create a box around 18 seats. Fans can’t buy the spots. The team works with nonprofits to put folks in the box, or they hold social media contests to earn the chance to hang out by Judge. 

Fans sitting in the chambers get wigs, signs, Styrofoam gavels and black judicial robes. And, of course, they go berserk every time Judge does anything good on the field. With his MVP award from last season in tow, Judge figures prominently in the Yankees’ attempt to win their second World Series title this century. 

Red Sox fans hope to hear Dirty Water after every World Series game. The Angels have their rally monkey. St. Louis has a rally squirrel. As the regular season starts up, there are 30 MLB teams whose fans are hoping for a World Series run. And each one’s path to a title could be quirky.

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