The song isn’t even about baseball, but from Little League to the Majors, Bruce Springsteen’s hit "Glory Days" has long been a staple at ballparks across the country. The ‘80s rock song features one of Springsteen’s old baseball teammates – a melancholy, former high school pitcher who can’t help but talk about his prime, long after it’s passed. The largely autobiographical song has left baseball and Springsteen fans alike wondering if that pitcher was a real guy. Now, it appears, they have an answer.
As VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports, the "Glory Days" pitcher is living right here in Stowe.
(Carapezza) Joe DePugh says there was never any question about it.
(DePugh) "I knew the song was about me the first time I heard it."
(Carapezza) That was back in 1984, the summer Springsteen released his best selling album "Born In The U.S.A." DePugh was raised in Freehold, New Jersey, Springsteen’s hometown. He went to school and played Little League with the rock star.
(DePugh) "He was always terrible in sports. My nickname for him was Saddie because we rated the kids in the classroom according to ability. So the really good kids were bad. And the really bad kids were sad. So he was always Saddie."
(Carapezza) After high school, DePugh says the two friends lost touch. While Saddie was becoming The Boss, DePugh was a college pitcher in central Pennsylvania. Eventually he would get a tryout with the Dodgers. But he says his chances of making the majors were always slim to none. And by the time "Glory Days" hit the airwaves in the summer of ‘84, DePugh’s playing career was over. He was married and working in Vermont as a contractor. And DePugh says one of his business partners named Scotty Wright was a huge Springsteen fan.
(DePugh) "So, whenever something by Springsteen came on he’d crank it up, you know. So at lunch one day I told him, I said, ‘You know, him and I grew up together.’ You know, we got plunked together in Sister Theresa Mary’s class. Ended up playing Little League together and then Babe Ruth League. And I just kept telling him stories."
(Carapezza) Later that summer, The two contractors were out with a bunch of friends.
(DePugh) "And during dinner Scott says to me, ‘Springsteen’s got a new album out.’ And he says, ‘There’s a song on there about you. And I said ‘Yeah, right’"
(Carapezza) So after dinner his friend called WNCS, the rock station in Montpelier, and requested "Glory Days."
(DePugh) "Half hour later the guy comes on the radio and he says, ‘This is the new Springsteen song, "Glory Days" and apparently it’s about a friend of Scott’s. So here you go Scott. And it comes on, you know, ‘I had a friend back in high school. He could throw that ball by you. Make you look like a fool. Saw him the other night, at this roadside bar. I was walking in, he was walking out. And we went back inside and all we kept talking about….’ So right then I knew. You know, my wife starts bawling. So that’s when we found out for sure that it was, you know, me."
(Carapezza) For many Springsteen fans, these songs are like mini-documentaries. The first verse of Glory Days paints a picture of two long lost friends. Springsteen sings, "I was walking in, he was walking out." That’s exactly how Joe DePugh remembers it.
After graduating college, he was back on the Jersey Shore looking for work. He was living with a woman who had three kids from another marriage. And one night he stopped in to a bar for a few beers.
(DePugh) "I had to get going about 9:30. So I headed out the door, I’m walking down the pathway there to my car and here comes Springsteen. At this point, I hadn’t seen him since we graduated, so this is 5 or 6 years had gone by. And he’s just starting to become a name. We went back in and ended up closing the place until like 1:30 in the morning, just talking about old times, you know – the nuns, you know, games and stuff, everything."
(Kevin Coyne) "We can see echoes of ourselves in all of his songs."
(Carapezza) This is Kevin Coyne, the borough historian in Freehold, New Jersey. He’s a shameless Springsteen fan, and has also wondered who is the pitcher in "Glory Days."
(Coyne) "I always thought it was this one guy in particular, this guy Jimmy Mavroli. A lot of people in town thought it was Jimmy Mavroli, who was a year ahead of Bruce in school. He was a star pitcher and he played in the minor leagues.
(Carapezza) Coyne coaches Little League in Freehold, where he also played as a kid. At a reunion this season, one of his teammates, Don Norkus, said he knew who the Glory Days pitcher is.
(Coyne) "So I said, ‘All right Don, who is it?’ And he said it was Joe DePugh! And I said, ‘Joe DePugh? That’s not who we thought it was!’ To me this was like big news because as the Freehold borough historian my two primary duties are going to the fourth grade each year and telling them about the Battle of Monmouth, which was the largest single land battle of the American Revolution which was fought here on the soil of Freehold, New Jersey. And my second duty is to shepherd visiting Scandinavian journalists through the Bruce sites. Because Bruce is very big in Scandinavia."
(Peter Carlin) "I was a little surprised."
(Carapezza) Peter Carlin isn’t from Scandinavia, but he is a journalist and Springsteen biographer. Carlin also thought the "Glory Days" pitcher was one of Springsteen’s other Little League teammates.
(Carlin) "Because the smart money on who the "Glory Days" guy might have been always seemed to settle on Lance Row, who was the son of the coach of Bruce’s team."
(Carapezza) Carlin thinks Joe DePugh has a convincing story. And he says the key is that Springsteen has always had empathy for day to day people.
(Carlin) "No matter whose voice he’s singing in, he can channel his own visceral experience into someone else’s life and tell their story with the same amount of passion and sensitivity as they would tell it themselves."
(Carapezza) These days, Joe DePugh is still working as a contractor in Stowe. And he still likes to talk about his glory days.
(DePugh) "I had a fast ball that tailed away from a right-hand hitter. I had a fast ball that rose, depending on how you grip it – four seams, two seam. And then, the curve ball, in Little League I used to thro it side arm."
(Carapezza) At 61-years-old, DePugh says for a long time he had wondered whether he could have made it all the way to the Majors. But at some point, he stopped thinking about it. He’s just humble and grateful for being revealed as the hero of this song.
For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.