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Put him in, coach: Fogerty to play at Hall
05/25/2010 10:00 AM ET
It was the mid-'80s, and John Fogerty, adrift professionally and personally, was searching for dry land.

He had untethered himself from Credence Clearwater Revival in 1972, and the ensuing years had hatched a pair of solo albums, neither successful, and he needed a reason to get back in the studio and back in the game.

So, like a lot of people trying to adjust their rudder, Fogerty fell off the wagon of his artistic sensibilities to take a nostalgic swig of a childhood muse.

For him that was baseball, even though as a perceived tool of The Establishment, it was anathema to the culture in which Fogerty spun.

"Having grown up as a rock-and-roller, I was more into what kids my age were doing," Fogerty said in an exclusive interview with "Rock-and-roll has a certain set of formal dogmas, and the rule book says, 'Anything that is perceived as lame, we don't want it around here.'

"Over the years it seemed like sports songs just didn't qualify into the rock-and-roll lexicon. There was that unwritten distinction. It was never considered rock-and-roll. And I realized creating this song would very much put baseball in a rock-and-roll setting. I expected to be roundly thrashed by owners of the flame."

He wrote and recorded "Centerfield" anyway.

On July 25, Fogerty will take center stage.

He knows that territory very well, but this won't be just any center stage. It will be the induction stage on the Cooperstown lawn for the ceremonies welcoming the 2010 class into the Hall of Fame.

For years, Hall of Famers have paraded to their seats on that stage to a recording of "Centerfield."

This time he will perform the song live, immortalized on the 25th anniversary of that iconic classic as the first musician ever so honored by the Hall of Fame.

The creator of expressive lyrics -- and the recipient of numerous honors, even his own Hall of Fame induction, Rock and Roll division -- can't find the words to define this honor.

"It's pretty indescribable," he said. "I adored Major League Baseball, followed it my whole life, but I certainly didn't play it. It's quite hard to put into words. I never expected to even attend an induction ceremony, let alone be honored.

"It fills me with a lot of pride. This is a real accomplishment I can't yet quite absorb."

Fogerty's life teems with musical accomplishments. As the lead singer of CCR, his raspy vocals carried such rock-and-roll anthems as "Proud Mary" and "Bad Moon Rising." His best-selling solo album furthered his legend, with such tracks as "The Old Man Down the Road" and "Rock and Roll Girls."

But the title track of that 1985 album that reached No. 1 on the charts and went double platinum is "Centerfield," and the cover illustration is of an old, beat-up fielder's mitt.

The song's immediate success took Fogerty "totally by surprise. That it was accepted by both rock-and-roll people and baseball people was quite a thrill.

"I literally pondered what a big chance I was taking artistically," he added, "but it was about something that I really loved, and decided it was a chance worth taking."

Well, beat the drum and hold the phone -- the sun came out today!
We're born again, there's new grass on the field.
A-roundin' third, and headed for home, it's a brown-eyed handsome man
Anyone can understand the way I feel.

The song reflects Fogerty's formative influences, and not just from baseball. "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," for instance, is the title of a track by Chuck Berry, one of Fogerty's musical inspirations.

As such, the entire song holds up attitudes between the foul lines as mirrors to the greater life beyond them.

"It is about baseball, but it is also a metaphor about getting yourself motivated, about facing the challenge of one thing or another at least at the beginning of an endeavor," Fogerty said. "About getting yourself all ready, whatever is necessary for the job."

There has been an enduring belief that Fogerty was motivated to write the song after taking in an All-Star Game in San Francisco's Candlestick Park -- from the center-field bleachers, of course. That is a fallacy, however, most likely attributable to the timeline -- the Midsummer Classic in question took place in 1984.

Fogerty's true inspiration was more lyrical, more romantic.

"Because of all those childhood tales I heard about [San Francisco native Joe] DiMaggio, I grew to think that the most hallowed place in all of the universe was center field in Yankee Stadium," he said. "I knew there were other center fielders, but to go to the absolute perfect place, you had to get to Yankee Stadium. That was the coolest place in the world.

"The song was my way of putting an identity on all the tales I'd heard. It expressed my state of mind about me that was honest at the time.

"I don't know if anyone else even got that part of the song."

Fogerty well understands how his song stirs memories in all who hear, and interpret, it. He turns 65 on Friday, yet vividly recalls being 4 years old in El Cerrito, in Northern California, and listening to his father spin tales of faraway knights.

"I'd hear about Ruth and DiMaggio, and as my dad and older brothers talked about the Babe's exploits, their eyes would get so big," he said. "When I was a little kid, there were no teams on the West Coast, so the idea of a Major League team was really mythical to me. The players were heroes to me as long as I can remember."

There were car rides, the soundtrack emanating from the car radio, the tuning knob dissolving through static from Bo Diddley to baseball news, tuning in to a life on multiple frequencies.

"I remember being in the car once, and I don't even know who started the conversation, but 60 homers came up, and I remember asking my dad what the big deal was. And my dad explained that it was the most homers anyone had ever hit in a year but that nobody at the time thought of it as a record, just as the Babe's latest exploit.

"And that," Fogerty added, summing up the continuum of baseball of which he now is an eternal part, "is how things get transferred to children."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.