Some people might think the worlds of baseball and punk rock don't have an awful lot in common. But just try telling that to punk rock legend and baseball freak Johnny Ramone and Oakland A's general manager and punk rock freak Billy Beane! You'll have a mighty hard time finding a punk rock icon more devoted to our national pastime, and an even harder time finding a baseball executive who was buying Ramones and Sex Pistols 8-tracks and rushing out to catch the Clash way back in '78. And who else but we here at ChinMusic! would have the sense to bring this dynamic duo together for an enlightening little chit-chat on our two favorite subjects...good music, and good old-fashioned hardball. The two talked a month before the end of the season, with Rhino Records having just issued a fresh batch of remastered Ramones releases, with the A's in the midst of their record-breaking 20-game winning streak, and with the threat of a possible baseball strike looming just a day away. Thankfully, the games went on...and so did the first meeting of the Billy & Johnny mutual admiration society...

interview by W.C. Moriarity

The full interview appears in ChinMusic #5

CM: Johnny, meet Billy...Billy, meet Johnny...
BB: Johnny, they might have given you a heads up that I might turn into a crazy fan here and just gush for a few minutes. But I went out and got the "Rocket To Russia" 8-track when I was 16. And I got into the Ramones, the Dead Boys and everybody else for the same reason that you started playing it. I got so sick of hearing "Kashmir" and "Roundabout" by Yes and all these synthesizers on the radio. So when I first heard you I went, "Oh my God!" It was like I was enlightened! So I said, "Johnny's just gonna have to put up with me for a few minutes because I'm gonna turn into like some crazy Trekkie guy here."
JR: Hey, and I wanted to be a baseball player...I just fell into this!
BB: You know how I found out that you were a baseball fan, Johnny? I had read somewhere that you knew John Wetteland.
JR: I met Wetteland when Peter Gammons came over one day. He wanted to do a piece on baseball and rock & roll. He brought me over to Dodger Stadium and I got to meet Wetteland. And I was always a big fan.
BB: Yeah, I actually played with John in Detroit briefly when he got drafted over there in spring training. And at that point we were exchanging Roxy Music CDs.
JR: Boy, at this point he's into Christian rock. So I guess he must have gone through some problems in his life!
BB: Yeah, he had a tough upbringing. But he's a real nice and very enlightened guy. And that's how we started talking because I read somewhere that you two had hooked up. By the way, you know what I just did, Johnny? I went and saw Siouxsie & the Banshees.
JR: Oh God!
BB: Well, I had to go see them just because everyone's going on these old tours again. So I went...and they were terrible! I was so disappointed. Siouxsie's not in her salad days anymore!
JR: Have you seen Marilyn Manson?
BB: No, I haven't. I was reading up on them. I guess the biggest thing for me is I first really gotta love the music.
JR: I didn't even know their music at all. But I ended up going to see them three times last year because I'm friendly with them, and their show is terrific. And last year, I went to see Green Day too and they were terrific.
BB: Yeah, I really like Green Day.
JR: I went to see them at the Forum a few months ago and I couldn't believe how entertaining they were.
CM: They have a good drummer, and I think a good punk band needs a really good drummer.
BB: Well, we were just talking about Clem Burke, the great drummer from Blondie...
JR: He was actually in our band for about a week!
BB: Yeah, and I still think Debbie Harry was really cute back then!
JR: Debbie was beautiful back in the '70s and early '80s...she was beautiful!
BB: When we were in the playoffs two years ago in New York, Johnny, I made the cab driver take me to CBGB's in my suit and tie and take a picture out in front of the awning there.
JR: I went and did that when we went into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, this past March when we got inducted. I probably took my first picture there since about 1974. I went inside for the first time in about 20 years too. And Hilly, who runs the place, was actually nice to me. He was never nice to me before. He gave me a t-shirt...he wouldn't even give me a free soda before!
BB: Well I've read all the biographies. You were actually a construction worker at first, right?
JR: Yeah, I was a construction worker. I was a steam-fitter for five years. I bought a guitar when I was 26 years old.
BB: That's amazing!
CM: Did you read "Please Kill Me," the Legs McNeil book?
JR: I don't read any of them because...well, I just don't read them.
CM: Well, you were there!
JR: I read baseball books all the time. Baseball's my life...and watching old movies.
BB: I actually just gave "Please Kill Me" to Scott Hatteberg, our first baseman.
CM: I know when I talked to Barry (Zito), he did say that you had turned him on to the Strokes, Billy.
JR: So I guess Billy's the coolest guy in the organization!
CM: Exactly, it's up to you to pass this stuff on to the next generation of players, Billy!
BB: Well, I was passing out Ramones CDs to Spiezio. And now with Scott Hatteberg, who's a huge music fan, I actually gave him the DVD of "The Filth & The Fury," and I had to explain it to him. I gave him a whole history of how Malcom McLaren had come over to New York and had sort of managed the Dolls...
CM: Yeah, he was the last of the Dolls' bad managers.
BB: Kind of ruined them too, didn't he?
CM: Well, I know Sylvain and Arthur Kane, so I've heard plenty of Malcolm stories.
JR: Have you heard the one about when I hit him in the dressing room up at the Whiskey?
CM: No, I don't think I've heard that one...let's hear it, Johnny!
JR: Well he was in the dressing room, and I'm already offended that this guy was in my dressing room, and he says to some girl I was seeing at the time, "Hey, what's his problem?" And I go, "What's my problem?" And I punched him. Then I pick up Dee Dee's bass and I go to hit him over the head with it, and they drag him out.
CM: Just in the nick of time!
JR: I don't need this guy asking, "What's my problem?"
CM: Well, you know, after the Dolls broke up, Malcolm took Sylvain's guitar back to England with him. And in some of the early Sex Pistols stuff, you see Steve Jones playing this white guitar...
JR: The (Gretsch) White Falcon...
CM: Yeah, Syl's White Falcon, exactly!
JR: He had the Dolls dressing up in the red patent leather with the communist hammer & sickle backdrop behind them. And I'm going, "What is this?" You know?
BB: Well, when I gave Hatteberg "The Filth & the Fury," I explained to him the differences between the New York scene and the English scene. He actually went home and watched it and he was just blown away. He couldn't believe how great it was!
JR: Oh, he was liking it then?
BB: Oh, he loved it! A couple of years ago when the Pistols did their reunion tour, I figured I had to go, right? So I went out, and there was a whole group of young guys. And then there were guys like me wearing, you know, middle-aged man clothes, who had actually bought the first 8-track! Anyway, on the last song, a young guy behind me decides the best thing to do was to push the guy in front of him. So I'm sitting there with my brother and his friend and coming this close to getting into a fistfight at a concert. I was the assistant GM at the time, so my brother grabs me and goes, "You're the assistant GM with the A's, you don't need to be getting into fights at punk rock concerts!"
JR: That would have been terrific, yeah!
BB: The purists would say, "Oh, you can't go see the Pistols now, it's not the same thing." But I'll tell what, it was great!
JR: The best band I've seen since I got started in like '74 were the Clash at a certain around '77-'78.
BB: I saw them when they came over to the States on their first tour.
JR: Yeah, with the "Give 'Em Enough Rope," the second album tour. They were just tremendous on that tour.
BB: When I saw them, Johnny, they had just come over, and they had not yet come out with "London Calling." "London Calling" was due out in about six months.
JR: So it was still after "Give 'Em Enough Rope."
BB: Yeah, exactly.
JR: They were probably at a peak there, because I saw them a year or so later, and they weren't as good as they were the previous year. So they peaked. I guess this must have been in '78, right?
BB: Yeah, it was probably the Fall of '78.

JR: So what are they going to do about steroid use, Billy? How do we go 37 years with Roger Maris's record there, and then have it broken six times or something in this recent period? They've made a joke of these records that's not adding up.
BB: Well, obviously when things happen people are always going to start to wonder. But it sounds like they're working on something that I think, if anything, would lend itself to at least putting away some of the questions about some of the things that are going on.
JR: Well if I was hitting 50 homers and I was not on steroids, I would come forward and say, "I volunteer to be tested."
BB: Yeah, if I was hitting 50 homers...well if I was hitting 50 homers, I wouldn't be the GM of the A's right now! But you know, all through the '80s, weightlifting was totally taboo in baseball. And guys now lift weights in baseball like they do in football, so there's no question that the players are stronger because they are working harder. When I first got in the game, the only thing guys did was they hit and they threw. The conditioning they did was very minimal compared to now.
JR: Yeah, that part is all true. But no one's hitting home runs any farther than Mickey Mantle.
BB: Well there are certain guys, Mantle being one of them, that transcend time anyway. And I always believe that even in the game now, there's a group of players that is so much better. They're at such a level beyond everybody else that it's like Jordan in basketball. Bonds is one of those guys, and so was Mantle, and guys like McGwire. Put him in any era, 20 years from now, and he's just gonna be exactly what he was, a tremendous player!
JR: Right, the great players would be great in any era.
JR: Well, it looks like it's gonna be the A's and the Yankees again this year!
BB: Well, we'll cross our fingers. I hope we get a chance at them. We've got a tough division.
CM: Do you watch all the Yankee games on cable, Johnny?
JR: Oh yeah. You know, occasionally I'm cheated out of a couple though. They don't have them all on.
CM: Do you get out to many games since you've moved to southern California?
JR: No, not that many because my wife doesn't want to go. And I'm sort of at home with my wife now. But retirement's great though...I love it! This is what I've looked forward to all my life. It was a little weird the first year, sitting around and missing playing. But I knew that's how it was gonna be. That's why boxers don't get out; that's why ballplayers don't get out. But I tried to prepare myself for that mentally. Look, I did it for 22 years...time to move on with my life. You know, I've been married for 20 years and I'm just happy being home with my wife.
CM: Well, it's time to start spending more time focusing on baseball now, Johnny!
JR: Yeah, trust me, I do plenty of that!
BB: You're a collector too, right Johnny?
JR: Yeah, I'm a collector. I don't have it anymore, but I had probably the largest autographed 8x10 collection in the country. I had about 5,500 different players' autographed 8x10s...pretty much from 1950 on, probably 75% of the players. But I'm also a movie poster collector. So I decided to liquidate that collection a few months ago and put the money towards movie posters. I just wanted to make it easier on my wife in case anything ever happened to me. So I just took the money and put it into some 1930s horror movie posters that I collect. My friend Kirk Hammett from Metallica, he's a huge collector too. He lives in San Francisco...but unfortunately, he's not a baseball fan!
BB: Well if there's any baseball stuff I could get you...
JR: Well I do collect team-autographed balls!
BB: Well I'll get you one of those!
JR: I have mostly '50s stuff...'55 Senators, '55 White Sox, '55 Cardinals. But guys now don't write as neat as they used to...every signature was so perfect! But I'd love to be able to add something...
BB: Well why don't we be optimistic and say that you'll be getting the 2002 World Champion team ball?!
JR: Well if I had an Oakland A's team ball, I might have to start rooting for them!
BB: That's what I'm banking on! Well like I said, I tried to stop from gushing, but I'm like a Star Trek fan when it comes to the Ramones. Thanks for taking the time out, Johnny. I really appreciate it. I'm a huge fan, as big as they come!
JR: Yeah, it was great talking to you too!

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