In an interview, Fogerty talked about the origins of his signature solo hit.
Fogerty was born in Berkeley, Calif., in 1945, and his older brother, Jim, was a bat boy for the minor league Oakland Oaks. The Giants moved to San Francisco for the 1958 season, and though Fogerty watched Willie Mays, by then he had been smitten with a different set of center fielders. He grew up on stories of the Yankees greats Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. The latter two, of course, played center field.
“Eventually, I sort of adopted the Yankees, and I came to feel that the center fielder seemed to be the king, the head of the tribe, the most special one,” Fogerty said. “I realized center field must be a very special place, especially center field in Yankee Stadium, which seemed to be the center of the universe.”
Fogerty played some grade-school baseball in the Catholic Youth Organization. After his years in Creedence Clearwater Revival and two solo albums, he took about 10 years off from recording. He chose “Centerfield” as the name of his comeback album before he wrote the song.
“Basically, I was reconnecting with that very special feeling I had about center field as a kid,” said Fogerty. “People didn’t know what it meant, but it was important to me. It took me a while to remember about center field and how I felt about it, but once it came into my mind, I thought: ‘Oh, that’s perfect. That’s exactly what I want to say.’”
Writing the title track was easy for Fogerty, who would say, “Put me in, Coach” as part of his everyday conversation. He loved the poem “Casey at the Bat” – he read it to his children – and imagined himself as a member of the “Mudville Nine, watchin’ it from the bench,” a reference to his absence from music.
Mays, DiMaggio and Ty Cobb are mentioned in the song, and Fogerty borrowed from Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” in describing a hitter on a home run trot.
“The brown-eyed, handsome man is probably Jackie Robinson,” Fogerty said. “Even if Chuck didn’t say so, it was in my mind.”