Please Stanley, Don’t Hurt ‘Em

Say the word “Stop” in in the presence of a group of middle aged people and you will likely get a word hurled back at you in response: “Hammertime.”    Anyone who listened to popular music in the early 1990’s still vividly remembers  the exuberant dance party songs and videos of M.C. Hammer.  What many don’t recall is the interesting story of the Hammer, who was born on March 30, 1962.  On that day, his name was simply Stanley Burrell.

When Stanley Burrell was growing up, he lived in a small apartment in east Oakland with eight brothers and sisters.  At age eleven, he would perform his dance moves in the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum before it hosted Oakland A’s games.  His family was poor, and young Stanley was simply trying to do what he could to help put food on the table.  The A’s were in the midst of being one of the greatest baseball dynasties  of all time, winning the World Series in 1972, 1973, and 1974.  They were owned by the irreverent and controversial owner Charles Finley.

One day when Finley was entering the ballpark, a dancing young man caught his eye.  Legend has it that Stanley was in the middle of doing some Rick James style splits when Finley approached him.  Stanley explained his story, and Finley offered him the job as bat boy on the spot.  He told him, “Tell me how much you usually make out here, and I’ll give it to you to work inside the stadium.”

The A’s clean up hitter named Reggie Jackson, hall of famer and one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history, took a liking to Stanley.  Jackson thought Stanley bore a striking resemblance to another one of baseball’s all time greats, Hank Aaron.  Aaron’s nickname was “The Hammer”… Jackson started calling him “Lil Hammer”.  The rest of the team soon followed.

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Photo Credit: Eric Alper

As the 70’s wore on Stanley continued to work for the A’s, but the team’s fortunes went considerably downhill.  Most of their great players left, and they began losing.  In 1978, Finley fired most of the staff, but not Stanley.  In 1980 Finley hired the volatile Billy Martin to manage the team, but Finley spent most of his time away from the stadium on other business dealings.  So, he hired Stanley as “Vice President” to report on the games and Martin.  He paid him $7.50 per game to sit in the owners box and report to Finley by telephone.  Stanley even got a hat with the letters “V.P.” embroidered on it.

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When Stanley graduated from high school, he tried out as a player for the San Francisco Giants, but that didn’t work out.  He considered selling drugs in his old neighborhood, but chose to join the Navy instead.  He spent three years as an aviation Storekeeper first class.

When he left the navy, his mind was made up to pursue a career in entertainment.  He had maintained a friendship with two outfielders for the A’s: Dwayne Murphy and Mike Davis.  He went to them to ask for $20,000 from each to start up a music production company to be called “Bust It Productions.”  He followed Davis to spring training and asked for a dinner meeting to make his pitch.  During the dinner Stanley pushed back the table and began dancing.  Davis pulled out his checkbook right then and there.

Stanley began calling himself “M.C. Hammer” started his production company, hired over 100 employees, and released his first two albums, which he would often be found selling from the trunk of his car.  It was his third album, “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” released in 1990 with the single “U Can’t Touch This” that thrusted him into mega stardom.  It was the first ever rap album to reach number one on the billboard charts, where it stayed for an incredible 21 weeks.  The follow up in 1991, “Too Legit to Quit” was also a success, reaching number five on the charts.

The success didn’t last forever though.  He dropped the M.C. from his name and began just going by “Hammer”.  Although he was at one point worth over $30 million, he kept 200 family members and old friends on his payroll, which he would later explain cost a million dollars a month.  By 1996, Hammer was 13 million dollars in debt, and had to file for bankruptcy.

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He went broke not because of drugs, fancy cars or partying.  Hammer was just too nice for his own good.

To this day he can still be seen supporting his bay area sports teams, especially the one that gave him his start.

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