America at Large: At bat, give it hell – Meat Loaf’s love of baseball ran deep

Coach Meat even trained a high school girls’ softball team in the early 90s

Meat Loaf plays in the LA Dodgers 51st Annual Hollywood Stars Celebrity Softball Game at Dodger Stadium in  2009. Photograph: Michael Kovac/FilmMagic

Meat Loaf plays in the LA Dodgers 51st Annual Hollywood Stars Celebrity Softball Game at Dodger Stadium in 2009. Photograph: Michael Kovac/FilmMagic

 

Three and a half minutes into Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto begins his spoken word contribution to the late Meat Loaf’s sprawling epic. In dulcet tones that initially seem kind of at odds with the rock opera they punctuate, he delivers the comforting language of a baseball play-by-play, familiar to anybody who ever eavesdropped him broadcasting a game.

“Okay, here we go,” he says, “we got a real pressure cooker going here. Two down, nobody on, no score, bottom of the ninth. There’s the wind up, and there it is. A line shot up the middle . . . ”

Except he’s not describing a batter at home plate trying to connect with a pitch. This particular scoring situation is of a much different timbre, the tune revolving around a pair of teen lovers fumbling hot and heavy in a car. One bent on consummating the other relationship. The other remaining to be convinced. Jim Steinman wrote the song but the idea to incorporate Rizzuto’s commentary came from Meat Loaf, a baseball fan so inveterate that he supposedly named one of his daughters after Amanda, Tatum O’Neal’s character in the The Bad News Bears.

A seven-times World Series winner with the New York Yankees alongside the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Rizzuto became the voice of the club’s games on television for four decades, such an integral part of America’s cultural furniture that a Seinfeld plot hinged on a key chain blaring “Holy Cow!”, one of his many signature phrases. In 1976, at the peak of his broadcasting powers, he received an invite from Meat Loaf to pop along to The Hit Factory on West 48th Street to lend his talents to a retelling of that renowned American rite of passage, the deserted car park make-out session.

Before agreeing to even turn up to the fabled studio where Stevie Wonder recorded some of Songs in the Key of Life and Bowie laid down Station to Station, the short-stop had only one concern. He wanted to know if people would have to get high to listen to the song. Once Meat Loaf vouchsafed the work could be enjoyed sober or otherwise, Rizzuto was in. It took him just two takes to record a standard description of a seldom-seen play known as a suicide squeeze, the rhetoric deployed in this instance as a metaphor for the teenage boy trying and failing to persuade his lover to go all the way.

“Here he comes, he’s out,” says Rizzuto. “No, wait, safe, safe at second base. This kid really makes things happen out there. Batter steps up to the plate. Here’s the pitch, he’s going. And what a jump he’s got. He’s trying for third. Here’s the throw. It’s in the dirt, safe at third.”

Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto appears on Meat Loaf’s song Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Photograph: Vincent Laforet/Getty Images
Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto appears on Meat Loaf’s song Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Photograph: Vincent Laforet/Getty Images

Once the song was released as a single off the Bat out of Hell album, Rizzuto, a conservative Italian Catholic, started to get letters from irate fans, many of them priests and nuns of his acquaintance, lambasting his involvement in such a bawdy number.

A folksy character from the old school, he denounced Meat Loaf as a “huckleberry”, denied any knowledge of the risque content of the composition and allowed the legend to grow that he had been bamboozled into reading a prepared script, unaware it would be used to dramatise a scene revolving around backseat carnal lust.

“Phil was no dummy – he knew exactly what was going on, and he told me such,” said Meat Loaf in an interview with Jeff Pearlman for ESPN in 2007. “He was just getting some heat from a priest and felt like he had to do something. I totally understood. But I believe Phil was proud of that song and his participation.”

Meat Loaf’s own life was so utterly intertwined with sport that on a tour of England one time, he decided to adopt a soccer club to support and happened upon Hartlepool United.

Born Marvin Lee Aday, his father called him “Meat” from a young age due to his immense bulk and “Loaf” was appended to the moniker in his early teens, after he trod on a football coach’s foot at Cary Middle School in Dallas, Texas. Among his unique boasts were scoring a home run in a celebrity game at Yankee Stadium, providing the pre-match entertainment at an Aussie Rules Grand Final (a bit of a disaster), and being the first coach in Connecticut Little League history to shatter the gender barrier by drafting a girl. Way back in 1981.

“If a player knows she’s made a mistake, then she doesn’t need to be yelled at,” said coach Meat, as he was known when he trained a high school girls’ softball team in the early 90s. “If she doesn’t know, it’s my job to make her understand she made a mistake without yelling at her.”

On a bus ride home from an away game, that squad was once treated to an acapella version of a tune he was working on for Bat out of Hell II called I’d Do Anything For Love. If singing was his job, his real passion may have been fantasy sports, once simultaneously participating in 60 different leagues across baseball, gridiron and, even, Nascar. When the New York Times interviewed him about his obsession, he claimed in his best season to have won nine of 33 competitions he played. Not quite two out of three. But not bad.

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