While Take Me Out to the Ball Game is the classic, there is a strong lineup of other baseball songs out there in the world. This made me think, and ask, are there any noteworthy songs about other sports, hockey, basketball, football, tennis? Golf?
I think not. Perhaps there are hockey songs in Canada? or Curling?
Admittedly, the hey-day of baseball songs seems long past. The most recent numbers that I can recall are John Fogarty’s Centerfield, and The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request, by Steve Goodman, both of which came out quite awhile ago. I have a “tape,” — an old-fashioned analog memory device for storing audio files — called Baseball’s Greatest Hits, and it’s got a number of classic baseball songs on it. I take it out every spring, though I haven’t dug it out yet this year, but any day now it will go into the “tape-player”. (Opening Day is only a week away!!) Some of the songs are well-known classics, such as Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, by Les Brown & his Orchestra, and Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit that Ball? by Count Basie and his Orchestra. Well, well-known to some people. No, they don’t write them like that any more. Some are a bit more current, including Goodman’s Dying Cubs Fan. Some I hadn’t heard before, like Baseball Blues, by Claire Hamill. Take Me Out to the Ball Game is there, of course, played by Doc Watson
You can purchase this collection from sellers on Amazon, but it seems to be out of print, as they’re only selling used copies. Also, since I got my copy, they’ve added a few songs, and split the collection into two separate CDs. They would both, of course, be well worth purchasing. But you may want to check your local library first.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game was not the first baseball song. It was written quite awhile later, in 1908 by vaudeville entertainer Jack Norworth (lyrics) and his friend Albert Von Tilzer (music). Norworth reportedly wrote the song in about 15 minutes while on a subway in New York, and Norworth’s wife, Nora Bayes, was the first to sing the song on vaudeville. The song quickly became a hit and was performed widely. Edward Meeker was the first to make a recorded version, with Thomas Edison.
It wasn’t until the 1970’s, according to Time magazine, that the song found its way into the 7th inning stretch — White Sox announcer Harry Caray started singing the song with nearby fans at Comisky Park, and one day then-owner Bill Veeck noticed and wired the booth with a microphone, and the rest is history. Caray brought the song with him when he moved over to the Cubs and Wrigley field, and the tradition gradually spread to all the other ballparks. And a nice little tradition it is. You don’t find much community singing anymore.
My thoughts on baseball and music were spurred by a recent notice I saw online about the Library of Congress’s Baseball Sheet Music Collection. (Grist! I exulted.) The LOC has quite a nice collection of old sheet music about baseball, dating back to the mid 19th century. These are beautiful old publications, many with great illustrations and beautiful fonts. Since I don’t play an instrument, I can only wonder what these sound like. If I was able to play an instrument, I would knock these out, and post the sound files for you, so be thankful that I do not, as there would probably be singing involved.
The earliest baseball song in the Library of Congress collection is from 1858, The Baseball Polka.
Another nice one is The Atlantic Polka, dedicated to the Atlantic Baseball club, pictured earlier in this very blog.
A third I liked was the song The Umpire is a Most Unhappy Man.
I ran a quick little scientific study on the Library of Congress Performing Arts Encyclopedia database. A search for “baseball music” came back with 154 hits. Football music? One result, which is not sheet music, but an audio recording of an emcee referring to Nebraska as “football state”. Let’s call that a false hit. Hockey music? Three results, songs written by a man named Hockey. (Should check a Canadian library on this.) Three false hits. Basketball music? No results.
Obviously, there exists for some reason a strong connection between baseball and music. I would guess that this might be because baseball has such a long history, and thus happened to be around when vaudeville and tin-pan alley were generating huge amounts of popular music. Or it might be just such a large shared national common experience, all the kids played baseball growing up, and it was the only sport that really had a national following, a major league that everybody knew about. For a long time it was the only game in town. Or, perhaps, it’s simply that baseball is the most musical of all sports.
As with any worthwhile cause, there is today an organization “dedicated to fostering greater awareness of the cultural lineage and historical significance of music written about baseball.” This is the aptly named Baseball Music Project, and it’s from their website that I borrowed the picture of the Bambino tinkling the ivories.
I’ll close this post with a link to a clip of the Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio song, by Les Brown and his Orchestra. This seems like the most complete version of the DiMaggio song on YouTube, but the person posting the song ran out of pictures of Joltin’ Joe about 45 seconds into the song, and so he just started posting pictures of any available Yankee. Okay. Whatever works. It’s the song that’s important here.
I’ll be posting other music later on during the Year of Baseball.