Written by Ben Kaplan
In 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays officially became the ninth expansion team to join Major League Baseball. The team didn’t thrive. Needing a hit, in 1982, Paul Beeston, general manager of the Jays, thought his brand needed a theme song. Beeston called songwriter and ad guy Jack Lenz to work his magic — which would later become "OK Blue Jays."
The starting lineup:
- Jack Lenz, songwriter
- Tony Kosinec, songwriter
- Keith Hampshire, singer
- Mike Francis, guitar
- Barry Keane, drums
- Bernie Finkelstein, label owner, True North
Jack Lenz: Paul had a very big cigar. It seemed like he’d be better suited for the New York Yankees than the Toronto Blue Jays, except he had reasonable expectations. He said, "Look, we’re an expansion team, we can’t promise too much — if you want to say, ‘We’re OK,’ that’s good."
Keith Hampshire: The Blue Jays were floundering. They weren’t generating too much attention — we knew what we were there for: they were trying to generate some interest.
Tony Kosinec: “OK Blue Jays” was an advertising line that they gave us, so we took it and turned it into a call-and-recall kind of chant. When we heard it, it sounded really stupid and goofy — it was perfect — just like sitting there and watching a ball game on a summer afternoon.
Lenz: We thought it was great because "OK" rhymes with Blue Jays.
Kosinec: It has sort of that heavy "2/4 feel," which was a '80s thing. But it’s a tongue-and-cheek genre. Randy Newman did it more than anybody, and it feels like a throwback to the '30s and '40s.
Hampshire: I live and breathe baseball. My wife is ready to divorce me. I mean, she’s tolerant, but I tend to get very focused when it’s baseball time. I was very excited about this gig.
Kosinec: "Be stupid." I think that was my main instruction to Keith.
Hampshire: Be stupid? I’m not sure I remember that, but I remember they wanted something along the lines of Randy Newman, which was perfect. Hell, I’m no Frank Sinatra if you know what I mean.
Lenz: It’s really not our most sophisticated work.
Lenz and Kosinec brought together a nine-piece band to Toronto’s Eastern Studio, which was then on Yorkville Avenue, to record the track. The band would include Mike Francis on guitar and Barry Keane on drums, who was a member of Gordon Lightfoot’s band.
Mike Francis: I can’t tell you how the magic was made exactly. How did Robbie Alomar catch the ball at second base and turn around and get it to first base so fast?
Barry Keane: I got my drum part and Jack was very open to input from musicians and I remember the whole thing being a lot of fun. I was excited to meet Ralph Fraser.
Lenz: Getting Fraser meant a lot to all of the guys. Ralph was the one who played the organ at the Maple Leaf games and even though these guys were all professionals, they were huge sports guys. People couldn’t wait to meet Ralph.
Hampshire: The feel of the song, for me, was like what it was to go to Maple Leaf stadium and watch the Leafs play. What it’s like to sit in the stadium and spend the afternoon with a buddy, painting that kind of picture: goofy and relaxed. We all thought getting Ralph there was cool.
Lenz: I remember laughing all the way through it. When you’ve got lines like “Is that a fly ball or is it a seagull?” The whole thing is a riot.
Francis: It has innocence and that’s what appeals: everyone loves their home team.
Kosinec: The session wasn’t too tense; free and easy and in and out. I don’t think it took more than three or four takes.
"OK Blue Jays" was popular when it was released and available for sale at the concession stand at Exhibition Stadium. However, in 1985, when the Jays made the playoffs, it found a second life thanks to a famous Canadian music man. The tune's popularity increased in 1992 and 1993, during the Jays' unprecedented back-to-back World Series championship run.
Bernie Finkelstein: I was sitting with Jack and Tony and they had this huge box of records on the floor and I noticed "OK Blue Jays." I loved that song! In ’85, the Jays were having a great season. I told them, "We oughta get that record out!"
Lenz: Bernie said we should make a big deal out of it and I was excited; the team was about to make the post-season! Of course I wanted our song to be part of the action.
Finkelstein: I owned True North, but had a great relationship with A&M Records, whose president had season tickets to the Jays not far from me. Together, we got the record into all the stores across Canada and lo and behold, the Blue Jays got into the playoffs against Kansas City!
Kosinec: Nothing like having a winning song for a winning team — it was almost like that was the game plan from the beginning, although that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Keane: I don’t know if Gord [Lightfoot] knew I played drums on that track, but I know he’s heard it. Everyone’s heard it! The song was everywhere, for a bit.
Finkelstein: We sold close to 100,000 singles in 1985.
Kosinec: I don’t think for all the records that we sold that we ever got a cheque. We were in prosperous times, same with the World Series, but we never received any money from this record.
Finkelstein: The Jays get into the series against the Royals and it’s selling like crazy, 500 to 1,000 copies a day. Then all of the sudden, they lose and the next day, the record stops selling — from 1,000 copies a day to three. Breaks your heart but that’s sports and, unfortunately, the music biz.
Lenz: The numbers we saw, even after the two World Series wins, are so small that you can barely see them. Thank goodness we’re all Jays fans.
The Toronto Blue Jays made it past the Texas Rangers last week in the American League Division Series, and tonight they take the field against Cleveland in hopes of advancing to the 112th edition of the Fall Classic — a place they haven’t been since 1993.
Finkelstein: It’s my favourite hit single I was ever involved in. It would sell like crazy if it were out again.
Keane: I was at a game a month ago with my family and they played it and it’s still such a thrill. I play very competitive softball and still am excited to have worked with the Jays.
Hampshire: Of course I get excited about seeing it’s reemergence. I love the song. Are you kidding me? I hope everyone gets a chance, throughout October, to hear it again and again and again.
Lenz: George Carlin has this great line about baseball: Everyone shows up at the stadium and then basically can’t wait to go home. I find the whole thing romantic. It’s great to have contributed our little part to the culture.
Kosinec: After hundreds of tunes, it’s the only gold record I have. With all of my art songs, this dumbass little song is the one with the gold record? It used to bug me, but people really love baseball and here we are in October. "OK Blue Jays" — what can I say?