The Ballad of a Mad Fan

In late 2004, with friends and coworkers telling him how much they loved "Man, I Really Love This Team," Steele says, he sent letters and e-mails to Red Sox management asking them to consider playing the song at home games. He also says he pitched it to Major League Baseball, touting it as being wholesome enough for any market. Though he no longer has a copy of the letter he sent, he says it urged MLB to use the song at ballparks nationwide by replacing the Sox-specific lyrics with references to Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and so on.
Steele was all-in now. He scaled back his sputtering real estate work, grew thick, messy sideburns, and enrolled in a two-year certificate program in production at Berklee College of Music, financing it by tending bar. In a music business class, he learned it would be wise to register the copyright for "Man, I Really Love This Team&qu
ot; with the Library of Congress; on June 30, 2006, he filed the paperwork. At that time, he also submitted the song to the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), a membership association that registers performing rights. Finally, he says, he sent another round of letters to Major League Baseball and the Red Sox.

Steele graduated from Berklee in December 2006. The next fall his new band, the Chelsea City Council—named for its frontman’s near-maniacal commitment to his adopted hometown—released its debut CD, Everything at Once. In advance of it, on August 14, the Boston Globe‘s Living/Arts section ran a front-page piece on Steele, quoting him saying, "I just love this town," beneath a Springsteen-esque portrait showing him sporting rolled-up sleeves and a tattoo. As the group caught further publicity, it began booking enough paying gigs to cover Steele’s basic expenses.

The man had almost made it.

October 4, 2007, Steele’s friend Chadbyrne Dickens, who lived in New York, was watching the Yankees on TBS when he saw an MLB advertisement featuring Bon Jovi. "I was like, ‘Holy fuck. It’s Bart’s song,’" says Dickens, a former executive at Paramount and Miramax. "Not like, ‘They stole it,’ but like, ‘Bart’s song is on TV. They must have bought it.’" Dickens found a clip of the Bon Jovi spot on YouTube and forwarded it to Steele. Two hours later Steele called him back, almost crying. Major League Baseball had licensed nothing, and to Steele the lyrical likeness seemed too blatant for coincidence. "I felt raped," Steele says.

His song goes "Have you heard the news that’s goin’ round?/Our hometown team is series-bound," while the Bon Jovi track goes "Let the world keep spinning ’round and ’round/This is where it all goes down/That’s why I love this town." It didn’t matter to Steele that Bon Jovi’s track was country-pop glossy and his was hoedown gritty; it didn’t matter that few of the lyrics were the same. "If somebody kidnapped my daughter and gave her a nose job and dyed her hair yellow and I saw her 20 years down the line, I’d know that was my baby," he says. "I knew this was my song."

It got worse. TBS, in a move that paralleled Steele’s marketing concept, aired team-specific versions of the commercial in different cities. Furthermore, it appeared to Steele that the spot was edited not to fit Bon Jovi’s song, but rather to line up with "Man, I Really Love This Team." At two minutes and 30 seconds, the original Bon Jovi promotion was nearly the exact length of Steele’s recording. And despite the spot’s putative purpose of advertising postseason coverage of National League and American League teams, Steele believes there was a disproportionate amount of Red Sox footage in the montage. He had a Berklee friend lay down "Man, I Really Love This Team" over Bon Jovi’s video.

When Steele sings, "Word is out on Yawkey Way," the TBS video cuts to the intersection of Brookline Avenue and Yawkey Way. When he belts, "The Tigers, Rangers, and the Jays," it cuts to shots of Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez running and an unidentifiable Ranger crossing home plate. This thing was the advertising equivalent of Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz.

Steele says he sent letters to Major League Baseball, the Red Sox, TBS, and Bon Jovi, but to no avail. (The Red Sox and Bon Jovi did not respond to requests for comment for this article. MLB’s publicists deny any involvement with the production of the "I Love This Town" campaign. Turner Sports, which produced the ad, denies all malfeasance.)

In January, Steele became further enraged when Bon Jovi Tours announced the "Bon Jovi Loves My Town" contest, in which fans were given opportunities to have their homemade "I Love This Town" videos played at concerts. Later that month, after earning $95 in bartending tips but getting a $75 parking ticket in the same night, Steele returned home and slipped on a patch of ice. Lying there, staring at the moon, he contemplated walking to the Tobin Bridge and jumping off. In the days that followed, he saw conspiracies everywhere. When Bon Jovi backed out of planned July 2008 Fenway shows, Steele figured it was out of shame.