Holiday hits: Players dish out favorite winter tunes
"We listened to it my whole life," Zito said, "and it is the most warm and nostalgic version of any song for me because he was my dad's best friend."
That would be a fairly standard reply if you asked the question of many people. That American jazz legend is like anybody's "best friend" at this time of year: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire .... But for Zito, it is not a colloquialism. This list of MLB players begins with a story from the winning pitcher in the last World Series, because Zito's father, Joe, really was Cole's best friend, and No. 75 definitely would not have been pitching opposite the Tigers' Justin Verlander on Oct. 24 had it not been for Cole.
Joe was a composer/conductor with Cole back in the day. Zito's mother, Roberta, who passed away in 2008, was a singer in Cole's backup group, "Merry Young Souls." That is how the couple met, and they had Barry in 1978. Through the years, "The Christmas Song" has been a given over the holidays, reinforcing a treasured heritage with a meaning and that famously soft and smooth baritone that makes it the pitcher's clear choice still today:
Jack Frost nipping at your nose / Yuletide carols being sung by a choir / And folks dressed up like Eskimos ...
There were two other holiday songs on Zito's list. His second favorite is Kenny G's Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. "It was always my mom's favorite album and a standard at the Zito Christmas," he said. "We usually listen to the record two to three times per Christmas." The third favorite, he said, is Sleigh Ride -- "Early version. My sisters and I always whistle the three-part harmony to the point of annoyance."
In cases where the individual player did not respond with the actual recording artist who performed it, we'll take the liberty of picking out our own iTunes renditions. For example, that Sleigh Ride link goes to the version performed by The Ronettes. Here are other players' favorites, so feel free to download any of them and build your own holiday playlist, baseball-style:
White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy's three favorites are Santa Claus Is Coming To Town by Bruce Springsteen (also the choice of new Orioles reliever Adam Russell); Christmas in Dixie by Alabama; and Merry Christmas from the Family by Robert Earl Keen.
A couple of respondents went with "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Mets first baseman Ike Davis gets the Margaret Whiting & Johnny Mercer version, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gets the Louis Jordan and Ella Fitzgerald track.
Cardinals right fielder Allen Craig: The Little Drummer Boy. Artist unspecified, so let's celebrate the 35th anniversary of that entirely unexpected and entirely memorable music video featuring Bing Crosby and David Bowie. "Are you the butler?"
Former player Matt Stairs: O Holy Night by Martina McBride. No matter how often you listen to it, you get chills at the end.
What does a 6-foot-7, 245-pound pitcher listen to during the holidays? (A) Anything he wants. (B) Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms. That's what Jared Hughes told us when we asked him at the record-drawing PirateFest last weekend.
Astros pitcher Bud Norris texted this: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. After downloading Burl Ives' version, we shouted out with glee.
And also carrying the Rankin-Bass theme song banner is Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell, who suggests Frosty the Snowman by Jimmy Durante.
Padres reliever Brad Bach: Where Are You Christmas? by Faith Hill.
Like Zito, Rockies infielder Eric Young Jr. goes with Nat King Cole's version of The Christmas Song.
Explaining his choice of White Christmas, Reds reliever Sam LeCure said: "The person I like singing it is Elvis Presley and the Jordanaires. It's like a gospel group singing. I like how they do 'White Christmas.' I got that CD the other day."
And in the "Jingle Bells" department, we have two versions to pass along. Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said his daughter loves that traditional song (at least she did last year when he said that). Meanwhile, his reliever, Vinnie Pestano, said he grew up with a particular fondness for Batman Smells, Jingle Bells.
Finally, we have this exchange between Indians rookie reliever Cody Allen and MLB.com Indians beat reporter Jordan Bastian:
Do you have a favorite Christmas song?
"That's a tough one, because I honestly don't like Christmas music. I mean, I like Christmas, but I don't like Christmas music. Probably the only one I can bear is the Alvin & The Chipmunks Christmas tape. Remember that one?"
You don't like Christmas music, but you like The Chipmunks' songs?
(Laughing) "I was young, man. I was little. That was funny to me! All the other ones, I didn't like. Actually, Jeff Foxworthy's song, Redneck 12 Days of Christmas. That one is pretty good."
If you like players' musical selections, then you also will love the MLB.com At the Ballpark app's music pages that just launched Wednesday as a desktop version. If you want to know what entrance music your favorite player goes with, look for the updated list there and just click through to the iTunes page to download it.