06/09/2008 11:17 AM ET
Ramone no 'Stranger' to Bronx Bombers
Producer details lifelong passion for Yankee baseball
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
Phil Ramone is a legend in his field, a music producer who has worked with Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Paul Simon, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, Rod Stewart and many more huge names.
But if he had his choice, he'd rather ply his trade on a field called Yankee Stadium and alongside Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter.
Even though Ramone has won 14 Grammy Awards throughout his astonishing career, this longtime Yankees season ticket-holder probably would rather have one of those 26 World Series rings.
"Ever since I was a kid, I've been an insane Yankee fan," says Ramone, who recently wrote an autobiography, "Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music," with Chuck Granata that was published by Hyperion.
"Growing up I could name everybody coming up in the Minor Leagues. I've been going to games since I was 10 or 11 years old. It was either watch Jackie Gleason or Milton Berle or a game. And I think when DiMaggio and Ted Williams played, that's what made me stick to the game. I studied everything there was to be read. I've been totally infatuated ever since."
Ramone grew up in as a musical prodigy, with violin skills that led him to perform for Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 10 and later enroll in New York City's prestigious Juilliard School.
As an innovative rock and pop producer, his career shot to stardom in 1977 when he produced Joel's mega-hit and Grammy-winning album The Stranger. He bought his four season tickets at Yankee Stadium that year while the team was on the road to a Reggie Jackson-led World Series triumph over the Dodgers. He still has the seats and isn't considering giving them up anytime soon, even in the new stadium that's coming next year.
"I have great seats," Ramone says. "They're 12 rows up from the batting circle, in between home plate and the dugout. I can see all the way down to the corner of right field. I see everything. I can also be the umpire if I need to be."
Ramone served well as Joel's umpire in the studio. The monster success of The Stranger led to a string of multi-platinum Joel albums over the next decade: 52nd Street in 1978, Glass Houses in 1980, Songs in the Attic in 1981, The Nylon Curtain in 1982, An Innocent Man in 1983, Greatest Hits Vol. 1 and 2 in 1985 and The Bridge in 1986.
The astounding run led Ramone to work with most of the great names in the business, but he still seems just as comfortable talking about his baseball roots, which included stickball games on 82nd Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues.
"I thought I could throw a curveball, but I couldn't," Ramone says. "I couldn't hit the ball, because I played the violin and you can hurt your hands doing that. So I watched the games on TV and developed the devotion to the Yankees that's never wavered."
Ramone is such a fan of the Yankees that he's wearing the home pinstriped top in the photo on the back of The Stranger in which he's standing alongside Joel.
"He's looking like some rock star and I'm looking like a guy who needs medical attention," Ramone says. "It's one of the worst pictures of me ever taken. But at least I'm wearing a Yankee jersey."
Ramone probably won't be wearing that jersey on the night of June 19, when he's producing the annual Songwriters Hall of Fame gala. This year the proceedings will have a baseball theme, with the 100-year-old "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and its writers, composer Albert von Tilzer and lyricist Jack Norworth, receiving an honor.
He's also looking forward to the nights of July 16 and 18 in Flushing Meadows, Queens, when Joel will sit behind the piano for the much-anticipated "Last Play at Shea" concerts that will close the history books on the grand tradition of rock shows at Shea Stadium, which will be razed at the end of the baseball season.
"I'm hoping to be there," he says. "It should be a great event."
As a frequent visitor to Yankee Stadium over the years, Ramone has witnessed his share of great events.
He saw Dave Righetti's no-hitter and the George Brett pine-tar game in 1983, David Cone's perfect game in 1999. He says he'll never forget Jackson's three homers in one game in the '77 World Series, and the days before The Stranger soared to the top of the charts, when he could sit with Joel in the stands and not be noticed by overzealous fans.
Through it all, Ramone says he sees a lot of similarities between music and baseball.
"The ups and downs of the game are very much the way music goes," Ramone says. "Some music suddenly becomes stagnant the way games do. You know, a pitching duel is fantastic, but you hate to see three men up and down for three or four innings. You wonder, 'When's something coming?'
"But I compare it to music because we go through that turmoil making a record. Sometimes it's so easy and then some days you can't figure out what happened. It's like Mike Mussina. He can be great the week before and five days later he can't find home plate, and when he does, they're killing him.
"Musicians go up and down like that all the time. We all do."
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.