The first time Larry Baer, chief executive of the San Francisco Giants, spoke to Steve Perry was in 2008, and he said Perry sounded distressed. Perry, the former lead singer of Journey, had grown up in central California and was a die-hard Giants fan. He complained to Baer that the rival Los Angeles Dodgers were playing his song “Don’t Stop Believin’” without his permission.
Of course, the Dodgers were not the only team that had turned the Journey song into their anthem, something not lost on Perry.
Over the last decade, at least four franchises that regularly played the song appeared in the World Series. Both teams in the World Series this year, the Giants and the Kansas City Royals, have used it. But the Giants proudly boast that the song is their own. They have played it regularly since 2010, when the team won its first championship in San Francisco, followed by another two years later. They are also the only team that has the 65-year-old Perry leading singalongs at their games.
“It’s become a local tradition, and he’s a local original,” Baer said recently. He added, “When that song comes on at public events in San Francisco, people think of the Giants. I’ll just leave it at that.”
White Sox fans might argue otherwise. In 2005, then-White Sox players A.J. Pierzynski, Aaron Rowand and Joe Crede heard “Don’t Stop Believin’” at a bar in Baltimore and adopted it as their anthem.
They played it in the clubhouse after wins. Toward the end of the season, the White Sox played it at the ballpark when they were trailing in games. After they clinched the American League pennant, Pierzynski grabbed a team executive during the champagne celebration and asked, “Can you find Steve Perry?”
Perry attended games one and two at U.S. Cellular Field and was so taken with the team that he traveled to Houston for the final two games. The White Sox swept the Astros, and he led a rendition of the song at the team’s championship parade.
Perry so wanted the song — which was released on Journey’s 1981 album Escape — tied to the White Sox that he repeatedly called an MLB Productions producer to lobby for the song to be included on the team’s commemorative DVD. But not all the bands’ members would give consent to use the song.
But that could not stop the song from spreading to other teams.
The Detroit Tigers started playing it in 2006 and used it regularly when they went to the 2012 World Series — where they were swept by the Giants. The Royals, too, started playing it this year after it won a fan vote. But they stopped using the song once they met the Giants in the World Series.
“We thought: They’ve got Steve Perry, let them do it,” said Toby Cook, the Royals’ vice president of community affairs and publicity.
In August 2008, Perry was at a Dodgers game in Los Angeles when the song was played in the ninth inning of a close game. The crowd sang every word, which was what the Dodgers’ Charles Steinberg had hoped.
Steinberg is perhaps the leading expert on in-game music. He has worked for nearly 40 years in baseball in various roles involving public relations and marketing.
Consider his résumé. He made sure “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” played for years at Orioles games. He made “Hells Bells” Trevor Hoffman’s warm-up music at Padres games. He made “Sweet Caroline” a fixture at Red Sox games.
When Steinberg joined the Dodgers in 2008, he wondered what his song would be there. He was still searching when, in early August, the team traded for Manny Ramirez. Steinberg felt an excitement that drove him to play “Don’t Stop Believin’” at that August game that Perry happened to be attending.
“When a song works well, it’s without provocation,” Steinberg said in a phone interview. “It’s without any conducting. It’s purely organic on the part of the fans.”
The Dodgers played the song regularly for the next few years. It eventually petered out, and Steinberg left the team after the 2009 season.
By then Perry had pleaded his case to Baer about the Dodgers using his song — saying he wanted to sue the Dodgers; something Baer dissuaded him from doing — and asked Baer to have the Giants play it at their games. Baer told him they would not use the song so long as the Dodgers were using it, but they would find the appropriate moment soon enough.
Perry had to wait until the end of the 2010 season, as the Giants were driving to the playoffs. But the tradition has continued. In the eighth inning, if the Giants are winning, they play the Journey song “Lights.” If they are tied or losing, they play “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The first time they played the song, the video board flashed to a shot of Perry and, as Baer put it, “the place went bonkers.”
From there, a routine developed. When Perry attended a game, he would lead the crowd in singing the songs, swaying and pointing. He became a fixture in the last row of Section 119.
“He was our charm,” Baer said.
Perry has seemed more enthusiastic about his eighth-inning show this year. On Saturday, as the top of the eighth ended with the Giants leading, 11-4, fans huddled outside Section 119 to get a glimpse of Perry.
The first few notes of “Lights” came on, and Perry stood and extended his arms and urged the crowd on, his hand cupped to his ear. As the song picked up, he ran down the aisle to the railing at the end of the section and put his arm around a fan.
Before the game, Perry was approached for an interview.
“I can’t do it,” he said, grinning. “I have my own superstitions about winning. Maybe after the World Series, after we win.”