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Songs About Baseball
Baseball In the 1870s
Baseball Songs: Music's Link to America's National Pastime
You may be aware of the old cliché involving something being referred to as "American as apple pie and baseball". As much as I enjoy apple pie, right now I am going to focus on baseball. America's love affair is well documented throughout various forms of popular culture. This includes music.
The first song written about baseball is believed to be the "Baseball Polka" which was written by J.R. Bloodgett in 1858. The unofficial national anthem of baseball "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer in 1908. Since that time music's link with the national pastime has continued to grow.
Baseball vs. Apple Pie Poll
Which of these distinctly American things do you prefer?
A List of 12 Songs About Baseball
Right now we are going to focus on 12 songs about baseball. I included a variety of different genres, decades, etc... I also tried to include a mix of the well known and obscure. With that in mind I did end up excluding a couple of well known tunes. One of those was "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" which was for the simple fact that I have already previously written about 15 of the more memorable versions of the classic standard. I also excluded "Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen and "Centerfield" by John Fogerty. I have nothing against these songs. It should also be noted that in 2010 "Centerfield" became the first song to be honored during the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony. But for the sake of not wanting things to be too predictable, I choose not to include them.
I also excluded well known songs which references baseball, but isn't really about the sport. These include tunes such as Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" and Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light". Some of the songs deal with a specific Major League Baseball (MLB) player or team while others deal with other aspects of the national pastime. The list is presented chronologically not numerically.
Joltin' Joe DiMaggio -- Les Brown and His Band of Renown
There is no shortage of songs that are either about or that reference the "Yankee Clipper". This particular swing classic was recorded by Les Brown and His Band of Renown in 1941. The female vocals were courtesy of Betty Bonney. The song was in reference to DiMaggio's legendary 56 game hitting streak. The streak is considered to be one of the greatest hitting achievements in the history of MLB.
Joltin' Joe DiMaggio by Les Brown and His Band of Renown (Video)
Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball -- Count Basie and his Orchestra
This classic baseball standard was written and originally recorded by Woodrow Buddy Johnson in 1949. That same year the song was rerecorded by Count Basie. Basie's version featured vocals from Taps Miller.
The song celebrates Jackie Robinson who was the first player to break Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947. In 1997 Jackie Robinson had his number 42 retired by every MLB team. This was a first for any athlete of any major team sport.
Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? by Count Basie and his Orchestra (Video)
Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song) -- Willie Mays and The Treniers
This 1954 jump blues classic includes vocal contributions from Willie Mays. This infectious little ditty makes reference to the Baseball Hall of Famer's nickname "The Say Hey Kid". This is one of a number of Willie May's songs, including at least two others that were released in 1954 (the other two: "Amazing Willie Mays" by the King Odom Quartette and "Say Hey Willie Mays" by The Singing Wanderers). The song also has the distinction of being one of the first production credits of the legendary music producer Quincy Jones.
Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song) by Willie Mays and The Treniers (Video)
Van Lingle Mungo -- Dave Frishberg
This 1969 novelty lounge tune was named after a MLB pitcher with an unusual name. Even though Mungo's biggest claim to fame was this song, he did manage to make the all star game on four different occasions during his career which spanned 1931-1945. He also led the National League in strikeouts in 1936. The song is made up of almost entirely of names of ball players. A total of 37 players are mentioned in this quirky little ditty.
Van Lingle Mungo by Dave Frishberg (Video)
Catfish -- Joe Cocker
This Bob Dylan penned tune is about Hall of Fame pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter. Joe Cocker's version appeared on his 1976 released album Stingray. Bob Dylan originally recorded it during sessions for his 1976 album Desire. Dylan's version remained unreleased until it appeared on the 1991 box set, The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3. I opted for Cocker's rendition primarily because I couldn't find Dylan's version on YouTube.
Catfish Hunter is considered by many to be MLB's first big money free agent. The song makes reference to this with the lyric: "Catfish, million dollar man/Nobody can throw the ball like Catfish can".
Catfish by Joe Cocker (Video)
Willie, Mickey, and the Duke (Talkin' Baseball) -- Terry Cashman
In 2011 this 1981 penned tune became the second song to be honored during the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. The title refers to Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. It also makes numerous other references to players, managers and teams.
Cashman has also written a number of modified versions that focus on individual MLB teams. He also recorded a version entitled "Talkin' Softball" for the February 20, 1992 The Simpsons episode, "Homer at the Bat".
Willie, Mickey, and the Duke (Talkin' Baseball) by Terry Cashman (Video)
Baseball Altamont -- The Nightmares
This somewhat obscure garage rock tune depicts a riot breaking out during a New York Mets game. 50,000 angry fans tear apart Shea Stadium.
Back in 1985 The Nightmares' indie label Coyote Records hosted a "Baseball Altamont" release party for the 7'' at a luxury box at Shea Stadium. There were major label reps at this party, but nothing ever amounted from the attention. That 7'' remains the band's only release and it is now out of print and hard to find. Yo La Tengo also covered the song for their 2006 album; Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics (I ended up including this version, because the original version was sadly removed from YouTube).
Baseball Altamont by Yo La Tengo (Video)
Dock Ellis -- S.F. Seals
This trippy little ditty is from the 1993 EP, Baseball Trilogy. The song is based on Dock Ellis' account of how he pitched a no hitter while high on LSD back on June 12, 1970. This is one of at least two tunes that directly deals with this incident. The other (which I was also seriously considering for this list) was "America's Favorite Pastime" by Todd Snider. Dock pitching a no hitter while tripping on acid was also referred to by The Baseball Project in their 2014 ditty "The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads" (even though the song primarily deals with a different Dock Ellis incident).
The band is named after the San Francisco Seals, a defunct minor league baseball team which folded in 1957.
Dock Ellis by S.F. Seals (Video)
The Greatest - Kenny Rogers
I am not going to lie I am not really a big fan of Kenny Rogers or country music. That being said I ended up opting for this song because it is the only one on this list that doesn't have some connection to the MLB.
This tune from Rogers 1999 released album She Rides Wild Horses deals with a little boy who fantasizes about being the greatest baseball player. He self pitches to himself and after three missed attempts he concludes that he must be a great pitcher to strike himself out.
The Greatest by Kenny Rogers (Video)
1903 Boston Americans Team Photo
Tessie - Dropkick Murphys
"Tessie" was originally written for the 1902 Broadway musical The Silver Slipper. The popular show tune was adopted as a rally tune for the Royal Rooters, which was a collective of loyal Boston Americans (who changed their names to the Red Sox in 1908) fans. The Royal Rooters would travel with the team, and their passionate singing is considered a contributing factor to Boston winning the first MLB World Series. Since that time "Tessie" continues to be an anthem of the Fenway faithful.
The Dropkick Murphy's modified version contains lyrics about how the traditional song helped the Americans win the first World Series. According to the band their objective was to "bring back the spirit of the Rooters and to put the Red Sox back on top." Their intentions were realized when in 2004 the team won their first World Series in 86 years.
The song features background vocals from BoSox players Bronson Arroyo, Johny Damon and Lenny DiNardo.
Tessie by Dropkick Murphys (Video)
Songs About Baseball Teams
Are there any songs that you associate with your favorite baseball team? (Feel free to mention them in the comments)
My Oh My -- Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
This December 22, 2010 released song is a touching tribute to longtime Seattle Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus who died on November 10, 2010. "My Oh My" was Niehaus popular catchphrase and the tune fittingly features him making the winning call of game 5 of the 1995 American League Division Series against the New York Yankees.
In 2008 Niehaus was awarded with the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame recognizing excellence in broadcasting. There is also a bronze statue in memorial of him in Safeco Field.
My Oh My by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (Video)
Why, Melky, Why? -- The Baseball Project
The Baseball Project (which includes Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M.) is a super group which only writes and sings songs about baseball. So it was a no brainer that one of their songs would be included on this list.
"Why Melky, Why?" was posted online on August 17th, 2012, two days after Melky Cabrera received a 50 game suspension for taking a banned substance. The song also ended up on their 2014 album 3rd.
Even though the tune deals with a specific player, the sentiments definitely express how the MLB's doping scandal has had a negative impact on the game. America's pastime has recovered from many scandals and controversies in the past, so it will be interesting to see how events will continue to develop. Whatever happens, no doubt someone will be writing and singing songs about it.
Why, Melky, Why? by The Baseball Project
© 2014 CJ Baker