In honor of the new Major League Baseball season having begun I thought I’d take my first shot at making a listicle. It melds two of my great passions in life, music and baseball. The Ten Best Songs About Baseball according to Shapiro his ownself. The song referenced above is not eligible as it stands in a category by itself. It oughta be the national anthem.
10) The D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song
A perfect meeting of song, style, and performer. Danny Kaye specialized in the “patter” song and here he turns a Giants-Dodgers game into what has to be one of the wildest finishes in baseball history. I also love this song for the fact that even though he’s a fan of the team he can make fun of the players, the manager, and even the owner. Oh and he has respect for their heated rivals. I on the other hand do not which is why this is no higher than number ten.
9) Willie, Mickey, And The Duke (Talking Baseball)
I hated this song when it first came out, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to understand and admire it’s subtle way of connecting childhood hero worship with nostalgia for a simpler time — like when the only thing you had to debate was who was the best centerfielder (Willie, obviously). Points to Terry Cashman also for being willing to parody himself on The Simpsons.
8) Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?
We head into a stretch of songs about individual players, Homeric odes to heroic larger than life legends. And there is no legend larger than that of the first African American to play in the majors. You can hear the pride in the singer’s voice. And if you will notice, all the other players mentioned in the song are African-Americans. On the one hand a subtle nod to them, on the other a reminder that back then you couldn’t mention white and black players together, even in a song.
7) Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio
Paul Simon would later on ask where he’d gone, but here Joe DiMaggio is front and center, letting everyone know it’s time for him to go to work. He’s celebrated in swing fashion, full brass, girl singer, somewhat strange envious chorus from the band. Yeah, I’d want him on our side, what’s your problem?
6) Say Hey
One of the only baseball songs that celebrates someone for his ability to play defense. Excite with offense, but win with defense said some sports figure once upon a time. That dialogue opening sounds just like arguments I’ve had with friends in the stands. If only Adrastos and I had had the ability to call over Rennie Stennett and tell him not to sign with the Giants. Also listen to the music; it’s at that moment when big band is giving way to R&B and this song shows it (even on the 45 sleeve — look for it in the video). By the way when they say never meet your heroes I’d say yeah unless it’s Willie Mays cause he’s everything you would have thought he’d be.
5) The Ballad Of Bill Lee
Bill Lee was a pitcher, famously for the Boston Red Sox. He’ll never be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he’s number one with a bullet in the Sports Characters Hall of Fame. He would say things like “I think about the cosmic snowball theory. A few million years from now the sun will burn out and lose its gravitational pull. The earth will turn into a giant snowball and be hurled through space. When that happens it won’t matter if I got this guy out”. Who else but Warren Zevon could pay proper tribute to the Spaceman, as Lee was known. “And sometimes I say things I shouldn’t”. It’ll be emblazoned on Lee’s tombstone. Maybe it should be on Warren’s as well.
4) Hola America!
Musicians often have a lot of time to kill and some of them kill that time at the old ballyard. I could fill this list just with songs from The Baseball Project, an Indie rock supergroup. Consisting of Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Scott McCaughey, Steve Wynn and Linda Pitmon the band has produced three albums (Frozen Ropes and Dyin’ Quails, High and Tight, and 3rd) and songs that look at the current game from a unique rock fan/baseball fan angle. I mean you have to be an indie rocker to write songs about Lenny Dykstra (“From Nails to Thumbtacks”), Bernie Williams (“Monument Park”), or the second most famous game Dock Ellis ever pitched (“The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads”). This song, about Cuban defector Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and his amazing story of fleeing from Cuba on a rickety raft to pitching in the World Series less than a year later, shows them at their best.
3) A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request
Wanna know what it means to be a fan? Just listen to this song by one of America’s criminally lesser known great songwriters. When I go, just scatter my ashes at the Big Ballyard at 3rd and Townsend when the prevailing 30mph wind is blowing the right way so I end up in McCovey Cove, one last splash hit.
2) Glory Days
Those who know me are probably saying “what, he didn’t make this number one? He’s such a Springsteen fan”. Well I plead guilty to that but there is another song that’s just a smidgen better. This song is about the other side of fame. It even answers his own question “Is a dream a lie that don’t come true or is it something worse?”. It takes guts to keep going. It also takes guts to have your current wife appear in a video your soon to be next wife is also in. Now THAT’S being the Boss.
From the stadium style clapping at the opening to the use of a stadium organ, through the admonishment to be born again because there’s new grass on the field to the plea to just be allowed to play the game John Fogerty took all those hours listening to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons doing Giant games (“You can tell it good-bye”) and turned it into an anthem to not only the game, but to the love of the game. Player, fan, doesn’t matter, there is no line between the two. We’re all just looking for a moment in the sun.
It’s not really about baseball. It’s about sex. Which is just like baseball. Incremental small advances leading to a huge climax. In the course of a game, a season, a career. Often ending with the suicide squeeze. And if you’re lucky the Scooter does the play by play for the whole shebang.