By Thomas Skernivitz
Having attended hundreds of Indians games in the 1970s and ’80s, I can still hear Scotti in my head, singing the anthem, his 2 1/2-octave voice filling the cavernous and typically empty Municipal Stadium. I just can’t remember the final time I saw him do it in person.
Jacobs Field came in 1994, and Rocco Scotti didn’t come with it for reasons that I have never understood. Just months earlier he hadn’t even been invited to perform at one of the Indians’ final three games at the old stadium. But the great people of Northeast Ohio — the same ones who civic leaders constantly criticize for being cynical; the same ones who rallied to bring the Rock Hall and “new Browns” to Cleveland — protested to the point in which the Indians asked Scotti after all to sing before the penultimate game at the stadium. Why don’t we better treat our own in this town?
Scotti apparently did sing the anthem at the exhibition game that opened Jacobs Field; if so, I would have been there for that. But he didn’t sing before an official game until the home opener in 2001. I don’t think I was in attendance; and if I was, I was probably late. The difference between being a kid fan in the ’70s and an adult fan in the aughts is wanting to get to the park for batting practice rather than the first inning.
The Indians of my youth weren’t much to look at, although our family loved them just the same. If Scotti happened to sing before a game — and you never really knew beforehand if he would — it was truly a bonus. Sports Illustrated named him the American League’s best in 1977. People Magazine placed him among the top five anthem singers. Congress even named him the “Star-Spangled Banner Singer of the Millennium” in 2000.
If you’re younger than 30, you probably have no idea who Rocco Scotti is. Do yourself a favor and visit MLB.com or YouTube to see a video of Scotti singing the anthem before the 1981 All-Star Game in Cleveland. It’s requisite Cleveland history at the very least.
Another video on YouTube shows veteran sports journalist Dan Coughlin explaining that Scotti never made a dime singing the national anthem. Kind of gives new meaning to “O’er the land of the freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee …”
There will never be another Rocco Scotti. But if the Indians ever want to play one of his recordings before a game, I promise to get there before batting practice.
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