Macca's at Fenway: Revisit Beatles' top baseball moments

2 years ago

During their first extensive tour of the United States in late summer 1964, while hosting a press conference before playing at Municipal Stadium – the home of the Kansas City A’s — the Beatles were asked if they liked baseball.

“Not particularly,” answered John Lennon before sarcastically adding, “only on TV.” Ringo Starr seemingly addressed his own pace of play, saying, “You throw the ball, and then another 10 minutes you have a cigarette and throw another ball.”

Eventually the Beatles came around.

With Paul McCartney’s 50-plus-year solo act returning to the stage this summer and including dates at the iconic Fenway Park and Camden Yards, it’s the right time to look back at the Fab Four and their ties they eventually forged with baseball, in mostly chronological order.

Charlie O’s unrefusable offer — Sept. 17, 1964
It took one of baseball’s biggest personalities – and a staggering amount of money — to convince the Beatles to abandon a rare day off during their ’64 U.S. tour. But when A’s owner Charlie O. Finley repeatedly increased his bid to $150,000 for a concert at Municipal Stadium — tripling his original offer that was already higher than the band’s regular rate — the Beatles couldn’t refuse. Finley took a loss as the Beatles first performance at a ballpark drew only 20,207 fans, far short of capacity.

Maybe Finley just wanted to consider the show an investment. After all, as he had imprinted on the back of the ticket, “Today’s Beatles fans are tomorrow’s baseball fans.”

Echoes of the visit reverberate after every Royals win at Kauffman Stadium, where the Beatles’ cover of “Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey” is played in celebration.

Beatle-ball — May 10 or 11, 1965
It’s hard to say if Ringo really took 10 minutes between pitches, but photographic evidence exists of the Beatles playing baseball — perhaps for the only time – on one of these two days outside London in a break during filming their second film, Help! It’s around this time they discussed their forthcoming appearance at Shea Stadium with a New York radio station.

“We’ll be doing a couple of rounds of baseball before we go on, just to limber-up, you know,” Paul said. “Is that what you call it? ‘Rounds’ of baseball? Maybe not.”

Shea — Aug. 15, 1965
“Shea Stadium was an enormous place,” George Harrison said decades later in Anthology. “In those days, people were still playing the Astoria Cinema at Finsbury Park.”

This wasn’t the first time the Beatles played a baseball stadium, but their appearance at the Mets’ first home was an absolutely seismic event in the history of popular music. With more than 55,000 fans stuffing the year-old Shea, the Beatles literally invented the rock stadium tour even if they were forced to use the ballpark’s PA system to be heard — barely.

“I don’t think we were heard much by the audience,” Paul said. “The normal baseball-stadium PA was intended for: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the next player is …’ But that was handy in that if we were a bit out of tune or didn’t play the right note, nobody noticed.”

The Beatles at Shea were frenetic, dynamic and record-breaking in a watershed moment in popular music.

Candlestick — Aug. 29, 1966
And yet, only a year later, the Beatles would retire as a live act, tying another baseball stadium to their story. Aware — but unannounced — they would stop touring, the Beatles took personal photos on the Candlestick Park stage and Paul had the show recorded for his own archives.

To get a good idea how insane touring had become by this point, listen to Vin Scully recalling the Beatles “stranded in Dodger Stadium” trying to escape 10,000 fans in Los Angeles the night before the Candlestick Show.

In 2014 Paul returned to Candlestick, performing a concert that was the final event in the ballpark’s history before it was torn down the next year.

Catching a guest host — May 14, 1968
Appearing on the iconic Tonight Show to promote their new endeavor Apple Corps, John and Paul were not met by Johnny Carson but instead former backstop Joe Garagiola, who was a frequent guest host and a future Frick Award winner for broadcasting. It turned out to be an unfortunately lightweight interview, and original film of the show was lost, with the surviving footage and audio taken by fans off the TV.

TWIB notes — 1965/1974/1977
When John Scott played flute on “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” in 1965, he became the first outside musician invited by the Beatles onto one of their records. But that’s not necessarily what makes him beloved by baseball fans. Nearly a decade after that session, the celebrated composer wrote the soaring “Gathering Crowds” for a stock music library — and in 1977, it was later selected as the iconic closing theme to “This Week in Baseball.”

The Best pitch — Aug. 20, 2005
The Beatles played old Comiskey Park, but by the time the group made it big Stateside, Pete Best — the group’s first drummer — had already been given the boot. But Best finally made it to Comiskey — at least new Comiskey — during the White Sox championship 2005 season, becoming the only Beatle to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

Last Play at Shea — July 18, 2008
Native New Yorker Billy Joel got the call to perform the final set of concerts at Shea Stadium before the Mets moved to Citi Field, but not without having a special guest join him on stage — barely. Thanks to the help of air traffic control and then a police escort, Paul made it from out of the country to Queens in remarkable time.

“We had just about enough time to find me a guitar strap as I walked on to the stage,” Paul said. “I heard the band count the song in, and bang, there I was, in front of thousands of people playing away. I just about managed to get to the microphone for the opening line of [‘I Saw Her Standing There.’]”

Shea had made its mark on Paul, who later said, “This stadium is such a special place to us. We’ll never forget it and its memory will live on.”

Paul was back in Queens just a year later as the first musical act at Citi Field.

California grass — July 13, 2019
The global pandemic forced Paul to cancel his 2020 tour, leaving his 2019 finale — held at Dodger Stadium — as an unplanned final live performance before his return to stage in ‘22. Ringo joined Paul on stage at Chavez Ravine.

Grow Old With Me — 1978/2020
John credited a baseball movie as inspiration for the first lines of “Grow Old With Me,” one of his last songs. More than 40 years later, Beatles biographer Kenneth Womack pinned it down to the made-for-TV movie “A Love Affair: The Eleanor And Lou Gehrig Story,” in which the Iron Horse’s girlfriend sent the ballplayer a similarly worded Robert Browning poem.

When John said he only liked baseball on TV, he wasn’t being cheeky after all.