If you think about it, the lives of a major leaguer and a musician really aren’t all that different. In either gig, you’re strutting your stuff in a different city each night, and both jobs require an insane amount of time and energy to master. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that a fair amount of famous musicians have not only dabbled in baseball, but excelled at it. From country crooners who were college baseball breakouts, to rappers who are as adept at hitting home runs as they are at spitting verses, here’s look at a few stars who could’ve gone pro – if it weren’t for that pesky career in music.
Long before he hammered “U Can’t Touch This” into our collective noggins, MC Hammer (real name Stanley Burrell) earned major league experience when he was just a kid. Growing up in the Bay Area, lil’ Hammer served as a batboy and clubhouse assistant for the Oakland A’s during the Seventies. (As legend goes, A’s owner Charles O. Finley saw the future rapper doing splits and selling stray balls in the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum and hired him when he was just 11.) Hammer – a nickname given to him by A’s players because of his resemblance to “Hammerin'” Hank Aaron – went on to play high school ball and even earned a tryout with the San Francisco Giants. Unfortunately S.F. passed him over, Hammer joined the Navy and later transitioned into the two-hit wonder we know him as today. But as anyone who thrilled to his exploits in Rock N’ Jock Softball will attest, his skills on the diamond never diminished.
Unfortunately, today’s generation may only know him as a recurring joke on Family Guy, but before he became a cartoon punch line, Twitty was a country powerhouse. And before that, the legendary crooner almost played for the Philadelphia Phillies. A standout in high school and on semi-pro teams, the club offered Twitty – who then went by his real name of Harold Lloyd Jenkins – a contract. But with the Korean War in full swing, he was drafted into the Army instead and was forced to leave his baseball dreams behind. But Twitty never lost his passion for the sport, and in the Seventies he and some fellow country stars helped found the Nashville Sounds, a minor league team that’s still in operation today. Take that, Seth MacFarlane!
St. Louis’ very own rapper/actor/celebrity fitness guru was a breakout talent on the baseball diamond, finding solace and stability in the game after his parents divorced and he was forced to stay with a string of relatives. In high school, he was named the MVP of the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association All-Star Game, and was scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. But around the same time, he started his first rap group – the St. Lunatics – and scored a regional hit with the single “Gimme What U Got,” which led him to pursue a career in music instead. Within a few years, he had the whole word wearing Band-Aids beneath their eyes and spelling things with double-r’s, helping to put the Midwest on the hip-hop map.
Billy Ray Cyrus
Today, he’s mostly known as Miley’s dad. But long before his famous daughter was born – and before Billy Ray became a mulleted heartthrob thanks to “Achy Breaky Heart” – he was on the fast track to baseball stardom. A high school player in his native Kentucky, Cyrus snapped up a scholarship to play ball for the Bluegrass State’s Georgetown College. But then, life threw him a curveball. While Cyrus was still at Georgetown, he attended a concert by Neil Diamond and was so inspired that he promptly dropped out of college, swapped his bat for a guitar and started a band. Who knew “Sweet Caroline” had that much power?
Country superstar Jason Aldean has 14 number one country songs under his belt. But before he hit the charts, Aldean’s future seemed to be in baseball. Growing up in Macon, Georgia, the future star was a standout player at Windsor Academy, a distinguished private school. However, while Aldean routinely hit it out of the park on the field, he was striking out in class and struggled to graduate. When it came time to leave high school behind – despite having a few scholarship offers on the table – Aldean ditched his baseball dreams and skipped out on college, forgoing the torture of attending classes for another four years. Luckily, things seem to have worked out just fine…just last night, he won Entertainer of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Known for his extensive collection of baseball caps just as much as his super-successful career in country music, Chesney grew up in Tennessee, yet somehow managed to become a diehard Boston Red Sox fan (“We didn’t have cable,” he explained to ESPN, “[and] the only games they had on [network TV] always seemed to be the Red Sox or Cincinnati Reds.”) Eventually, he’d channel that interest into baseball at Corryton, Tennessee’s Gibbs High School, where he’d excel on the diamond and the football field. He’d leave sports behind and begin his long climb to stardom – but he still likes to hang with the Red Sox whenever he gets the chance.
Another country star who grew up obsessed with sports, Church played baseball, basketball, football and golf, until a knee injury his sophomore year in high school derailed his dreams of going pro. Instead, he headed to Nashville, where he found his footing – and, eventually, much success – as a proud outsider. He’s a big college football fan, but his trademark ball cap (and Kent Tekulve shades) show where his loyalties really lie.
As center of the Guided by Voices universe, Bob Pollard has recorded decades of music (literally) and earned legions of loyal fans, but never scored a mainstream hit. Interestingly, that aversion to hits extends back to his days as a pitcher, as he supposedly threw a dozen no-hitters between the ages of 10 and 20, including the first no-no in Wright State University baseball history (must’ve had something to do with his leg kick). Pollard never pursued the sport post-college, instead turning his attention to creating the kind of music career Jack McDowell could only dream of.
Ronnie Van Zant
When the late, great Lynyrd Skynyrd frontman was growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, he held a variety of interests, at times wanting to pursue boxing (Muhammad Ali was a hero of his) and baseball. It was his pursuit of the latter where Van Zant excelled, going so far as to play for a team in the American Legion league. “The next stop would have been Double-A [league],” he recalled. “I had the highest batting average in the league one year and a good arm – you’ve got to have a good arm to play outfield.” Van Zant played center field, for the record. And speaking of…
Honorable Mention: John Fogerty
OK, so the Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman was never scouted by a major league team. Instead, Fogerty is the man responsible for the single greatest baseball song of all time. His 1985 hit “Centerfield” has become a staple in ballparks everywhere and perfectly captures the spirit of the game – so much so that, in 2010, it earned Fogerty the distinction of being the only musician ever honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame. Beat that, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”