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2008-09-25 07:20
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Baseball and rock 'n' roll are such elemental and ubiquitous American inventions that it's a bit perplexing that they don't really fit together. Baseball just doesn't rock, no matter how hard stadium public address systems try to force the issue. Baseball is a game of calm, precision, suspense and strategy. For that reason, there are precious few worthwhile rock songs about the game.

That's not to say there aren't some great baseball songs in other genres. "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio," the 1941 novelty hit from Les Brown and his Orchestra, is a stone cold classic, and "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?," written by Buddy Johnson and recorded by both Johnson and the Count Basie Orchestra in 1949, is a jump-band variation on that theme that's nearly as good a song and a superior cultural signifier (Johnson name checks African American major leaguers Satchel Page, Roy Campanella, Don Newcome, and Larry Doby). Bob Dylan's "Catfish" from 1975 is great as well, but it's not rock, it's acoustic blues.

Being more of a fan of jazz than of baseball, my dad goes for David Frishberg's "Van Lingle Mungo", though I consider it more of a tone poem than a song. Still, I'll take Frishberg's list of names over any version of Terry Cashman's trite "Talkin' Baseball" (originally "Willie, Mickey, & the Duke"). "Joe DiMaggio Done It Again" is a fun alt-country tune, but it's removed from it's place and time as part of the Mermaid Avenue sessions in which Billy Brag and Wilco set long lost Woody Guthrie lyrics to music.

There are rock tunes that reference baseball, but aren't really about the game. Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson", speaking of DiMaggio, is the most famous. Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire" contains a variety of baseball references (including Joe D yet again), but Joel uses the game to greater effect in 1978's "Zanzibar" ("Rose he knows he's such a credit to the game, but the Yankees grab the headlines every time") and also drops a Yankee reference into "Miami 2017". "Zanzibar" also uses a bit of the "bases" metaphor best employed by Phil Rizzuto in Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light". More recently, Belle and Sebastian's "Piazza, New York Catcher" is something of a cryptic love song in which Piazza (and Sandy Koufax, who isn't actually named) are either incidental or symbolic, and the only baseball reference in Kanye West's "Barry Bonds" is the title. Of course, extending the conversation to hip hop brings in hundreds of references, from the Beastie Boys having more hits than Sadaharu Oh or Rod Carew to Jay-Z having "A-Rod numbers."

For a long time, John Fogerty's "Centerfield" seemed like the only proper rock song that was actually about baseball. As a result, it quickly became overplayed to the point that it is now one of the few 1980s hits I can't stand (and I can stands a lot), though if it weren't so trite it would have held up better. Fortunately, "Centerfield" finally has some company this year. A quartet of alt-rockers, the most famous of whom is R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, came together earlier this year as the Baseball Project and released a 13-song album devoted entirely to songs about the game and players including Ted Williams (via a rewrite of Wings' "Helen Wheels" called "Ted Fucking Williams"), Curt Flood, Satchel Page, Fernando Valenzuela, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Ed Delahanty, Harvey Haddix, and Jack McDowell ("The Yankee Flipper").

More recently, Eddie Vedder, who is name-checked in "The Yankee Flipper," released a Cubs anthem called "All The Way" (as in "someday we'll go all the way"), and E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren released "Yankee Stadium," a tribute to the doomed ballpark which he cowrote with his wife, Amy. Unfortunately, neither really fits on the list of rock songs about baseball. Vedder's song deserves to be listed among the classics above, but it's more of a prostest/drinking song than a rock song (and veers dangerously close the list of team fight songs below). Lofgren's tune, though well-intentioned ("For every soul who entered here/we raise a glass we shed a tear"), just isn't very good. Lofgren's vocal delivery is off-putting and, not surprisingly, the best part of his song is the guitar solo.

Of course, Lofgren already has his baseball song bonafides from Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" (that's him in the beret with the white guitar), but that's another one of those songs that mentions baseball, but isn't really about it.

So what's your favorite song about the game? What did I miss?

Note: Even though Yo La Tengo once covered "Meet the Mets" and "Here Come the Yankees" by the Sid Bass Orchestra and Chorus, a 1967 Columbia Records release that was the best thing to come out of CBS's ownership of the team, is a personal favorite, team fight songs don't count. That includes "Tessie" by Boston's Dropkick Murphys, and the Sammy Hagar-meets-Kenny Loggins "Let's Go Mets Go" from 1986. Having said that, be sure to check out Larry Romano's trapped-in-time "Rock In The Bronx" from 1993. Also worth a look are the abominable "Super Bowl Suffle" rip off "Get Metsmerized," also from 1986 (cripes, how many songs did the Mets need?), and the horrendous 1987 update of The Twins' 1961 anthem "We're Gonna Win Twins." Actually, pregnant women and people with heart conditions should probably skip those last two.

Comments
2008-09-25 07:37:40
1.   JL25and3
This one is definitely not a rock song, and more social commentary than actual baseball, but still deserves a mention: "Just a Friendly Game of Baseball," by Main Source.
2008-09-25 07:45:22
2.   Andre
Check it out - tribute to Yankee Stadium, in LEGO:

http://tinyurl.com/3hysxo

Even though I detest the Red Sox, I love Tessie by the Murphys. I went to college in Mass. (after growing up in NJ), and whenever I hear that song it makes me nostalgic for my college days.

2008-09-25 07:46:05
3.   Just fair
My wife bought me "Baseball's Greatest Hits" cd a few winters ago. It has most of the songs you mentioned, Cliff, along with some other good stuff. Who's on First? Casey at the Bat, etc. I start listening to it a few weeks before opening day. It's great. It has one folksy tune call "The Cubs Fan Lament" I think. And I have to add The Simpson's "Talkin Softball" Hi-larious.
http://tinurl.us/d2e18a
2008-09-25 08:00:57
4.   Alex Belth
I'll put up a post about the lego thing...It's amazing.
2008-09-25 08:06:44
5.   Jen
The Baseball Project is great stuff.

One of my favorite baseball related songs is "Life is a Ballgame" (or sometimes just "The Ball Game") by Sister Wynona Carr. I'm not a religious person by any means, but I just think it's a great song. I believe Ken Burns used it in his documentary.

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/LifeIsABallgame.shtml

2008-09-25 08:13:19
6.   Cliff Corcoran
3 That's yet another iteration of Terry Cashman's tune, though it is admittedly the best ("Ken Griffey's grotesquely swollen jaw, Steve Sax and his run in with the law.") That's Cashman himself singing.

I did leave one out, but only because I've never actually heard it and can't find it online. That's 1980's Cleveland-area smash "Go Joe Charboneau."

2008-09-25 08:17:15
7.   williamnyy23
What's your definition of trite? Talkin' Baseball and Centerfield are two classic baseball songs that I don't think can be played enough.
2008-09-25 08:23:49
8.   pistolpete
3 Damn, beat me to the Simpsons link.

"Mike Scioscia's illness made us smile..."

2008-09-25 08:23:51
9.   williamnyy23
I also really like Cashman's Play-By-Play (I Saw it on the Radio) and Joe Raposo's There Used to Be a Ballpark.
2008-09-25 08:24:35
10.   Jen
Oh, and "There Used to Be a Ballpark" by Sinatra.
2008-09-25 08:27:01
11.   Cliff Corcoran
7 trite (adj.) hackneyed or boring from much use : not fresh or original . . . trite applies to a once effective phrase or idea spoiled from long familiarity .

Source: Merriam-Webster

I suppose you could argue I used the word incorrectly with regards to "Centerfield." So here's my correction: "If it were a better song it wouldn't have become so trite."

2008-09-25 08:29:04
12.   Cliff Corcoran
9 , 10 Of course, how could I have left out "There Used To Be A Ballpark"? I linked to it earlier in the week! Sappy but effective. I like the fact that Sinatra's accent comes through ("their yoosed to be a bawlpaaak"), as he stopped caring out such things by 1973 when he recorded it.
2008-09-25 08:40:14
13.   williamnyy23
11 I guess I just think both songs are so good I could listen to them endlessly without them becoming trite. In fact, growing up I remember recording the Talkin Baseball 45 single onto a cassette that looped constantly.

I also always enjoyed the Yankee version, but can't seem to find the original one (Louisiana Lighting...Winfield's Power's frightening). You Tube only seems to have an updated version from the 1990s.

2008-09-25 08:40:33
14.   Shaun P
8 "while Wade Boggs lay unconscious on the barroom tile."

"And I say, England's greatest Prime Minister was Lord Palmerston!"
"Pitt the Elder."
"LORD Palmerston!"
"Pitt the ELDER!"

Looking back, it amazes me how many of the players in that episode ended up playing for the Yanks at one time or another.

Its not about baseball, but because it was the theme song for "A League of Their Own", I associate it with baseball: Madonna's "This Used To Be My Playground." Its actually been running through my head since Sunday night.

2008-09-25 08:47:02
15.   BobbyBaseBall
Great post Cliff! Before making the 3 hour drive to Cooperstown this past winter/spring, I made a mix CD of all the "baseball songs" I could think of. Albeit I was skewing the list to include more Yankee-centric stuff (Cashman's Yankee version of "Talking Baseball", BOTH versions of "New York, New York" etc.) And we did listen to that 1 CD the entire trip. Needless to say my girlfriend was happy when we got home.
2008-09-25 09:19:14
16.   unmoderated
i don't think you can ever have a good and proper rock song about baseball.
2008-09-25 09:20:09
17.   FreddySez
Oh, gosh, just listened to Nils's song. For the only time, I think.

I'm probably more emotional about Yankee Stadium than I am about anything else in my life that isn't a person. And as a writer, and a pretty long-winded one at that, I understand the desire to say something, to express and share it. But it doesn't always work that way.

Some things, you just have to feel, and trust that the people around you don't need words to know and share it. And was that ever truer than with the Stadium? We were there. We know. Some people weren't. They never will. We could all spend the rest of our lives writing songs and never come close to bridging that divide. Building my career around communication has taught me that some things just can't be communicated.

2008-09-25 09:20:12
18.   Alex Belth
Rasco, a Bay Area rapper, did a song called "Major League," with verses by Defari and Evidence about ten years ago. On the remix, he last line was...

"(something something something) break through like Jackie Rob/

You Mark Portugal, I'm swinging like Ty Cobb"

LOL

2008-09-25 09:21:35
19.   unmoderated
and this isn't really on the subject, but does anyone remember a SNL skit from the 1990s where Chris Kataan plays a little boy who dreams of playing baseball, and then all these MLB guys show up, drinking beer and swearing, and Will Ferrell plays a washed-up minor league pitcher or something... i think El Duque was in it as well, smoking cigars...
2008-09-25 09:22:11
20.   Schteeve
Tribe Called Quest had a few great baseball rhymes:

"If knowledge is the key then just show me the lock, got the scrawny legs but I move just like Lou Brock."

"Comin with more hits than the Braves and the Yankees."

"Beepers goin off like Don Trump gets checks. I keep my bases loaded like the New York Mets."

2008-09-25 09:58:19
21.   Just fair
19 I remember that. They wind up creeping out Kataan and leaving his room with the mother, I think. : )
6 I read that too quick and thought, "No way Brian Cahsman had anythind to do with that." Ha.
2008-09-25 10:01:16
22.   dianagramr
Soundgarden had a song entitled "Ty Cobb", which didn't mention Cobb at all.

http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/soundgarden/ty+cobb_20128179.html

2008-09-25 10:07:09
23.   dianagramr
Many moons ago, when I had Rob Picciolo on my Strat team (don't ask why), I rewrote David Lee Roth's remake of a certain hit to ...

I'm just Rob Picciolo
and everywhere I go
People wonder why I'm playing
Bobble every ball
Running into walls
Oooh what they're saying ...

(etc)

2008-09-25 10:15:54
24.   FreddySez
Oh, and:

Two-three the count, with nobody on
He hit a high fly into the stands
Roundin' third, he was headin' for home
He was a Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.
That won the game he was a Brown-Eyed Handsome Man.

Not a meaningless lyric in 1956.

2008-09-25 10:17:14
25.   Shaun P
23 That's hilarious, diana! Did you change the chorus - if so, please share that too!
2008-09-25 10:17:14
26.   Cliff Corcoran
22 I dunno, "I got the love to hate/All I need is your head on a stake" kinda sounds like Cobb to me. ;)
2008-09-25 10:19:08
27.   Cliff Corcoran
24 Not at all and shame on me for missing that one.
2008-09-25 10:26:27
28.   JL25and3
Are there any really good rock songs about any other sports?
2008-09-25 10:47:35
29.   Sliced Bread
28 if you consider screwing a sport I can think of plenty.
2008-09-25 11:00:15
30.   dianagramr
29

I am SO glad I wasn't drinking something when I read that! :-)

2008-09-25 11:01:23
31.   dianagramr
28

Cheech and Chong's "Basketball Jones" isn't a rock song, but its still awesome.

2008-09-25 11:09:00
32.   Cliff Corcoran
31 Ditto Kurtis Blow's "Basketball."
2008-09-25 11:24:39
33.   Sliced Bread
"The cross is in the ballpark,
Why deny the obvious child?"

Paul Simon's referring to a greater burden than than baseball here -- but I can't help but imagine the literal image when I hear the song. Another one of my favorites.

2008-09-25 11:28:21
34.   Sliced Bread
30 I couldn't resist! but please don't encourage my stupdity.
2008-09-25 11:54:17
35.   dianagramr
25

I'm just Rob Picciolo
and everywhere I go
People wonder why I'm playing
Bobble every ball
Running into walls
Oooh what they're saying

There will come a day
I will pass away
What will they say about me

When the end comes I know
they'll say he was just Rob Picciolo
Games go on without him

'Cause I aint got no talent
nobody nobody cheers for me
I'm so sad and lonely
sad and lonely sad and lonely
Won't some good ballclub
come and take a chance with me
cause I aint so bad

Never confused with the Babe,
no booming line drives
All of the time
Mostly 0 for 3, lousy 0 for 3

(etc).

2008-09-25 11:59:55
36.   thelarmis
great post, cliff! of course, i'm probably too late and the thread is done...

bob dylan, a big baseball fan, had an xm radio show, or something. he dedicated an entire night to baseball songs. i have the cd of it somewhere. but, yeah, none of 'em were rock tunes. mostly old music and jazzy. his song "catfish," was probably written at the behest of his co-writer at that time, jacques levy.

22 great soundgarden tune! i forget the exact story behind the title. it was originally supposed to be called "hot rod death toll," from the lyrics. with the refrain of, "hard headed, fuck you all," someone suggested "Ty Cobb," and it stuck. i live about an hour, hour.5 from the ty cobb museum, but have never gone...

Joe Jackson has a line "you like the yankees or the mets this year" from "Right and Wrong" off the amazing album, Big World. it's more of a political and NYC song, not baseball, so it's just a reference. but JJ is a baseball fan.

i composed a song for one of my old bands called "The Flip." it's got 3 different meanings in the title, but one of 'em is Jeter's play! i have another baseball related title sitting around for a yet to be composed instrumental piece. may or may not come to life...

in 1957, the terrific tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, had an instrumental jazz tune called "Base on Balls."

oh, and that lego thing is amazing!

2008-09-25 12:06:50
37.   Sliced Bread
35 Iiiii ain't got no tal-ent...

excellent!

36 ah, great call on "Right and Wrong"!.. of course with a name like Shoeless Joe Jackson he'd have to have a baseball shout out in his catalog, and what a way to work the Yanks and Mets into the same tune!

2008-09-25 12:08:05
38.   dianagramr
Geddy Lee, Peter Gammons and John Kruk (among others)

http://www.myspace.com/irondiamondrocks

2008-09-25 12:10:48
39.   thelarmis
37 oh yeah, how could i forget!!! Col. Bruce Hampton has a song called "Shoeless Joe" with Aquarium Rescue Unit. bruce is a BIG baseball fan and the song is certainly at least a lot about baseball. it's definitely more jazzy though...
2008-09-25 12:11:52
40.   thelarmis
38 i just checked geddy lee's solo album to see if there were any baseball related titles or anything. nope. since neil peart writes just about 100% of the Rush lyrics, none there, either...
2008-09-25 12:14:41
41.   thelarmis
36 JJ's birth name is David Ian Jackson. when he was about 18/19, he was playing in a band. at the time, there was a famous british cartoon and JJ apparently looked like one of the characters. of course, the character was named Joe and everyone started calling him that. it stuck fast and he legally changed it. i don't think he became a baseball fan til years later when he moved to NYC. late 90/early 91, he did a solo tv performance and was wearing a Reds hat, after they won the Serious. i'm pretty sure Joe is a Yankees fan though : )
2008-09-25 12:16:34
42.   dianagramr
41

didn't he have that huge hit "Striking Out" :-)

2008-09-25 12:23:33
43.   thelarmis
42 yeah!

you babe - Striking Out
into the mitt
the fans have a fit

2008-09-25 12:36:55
44.   Cliff Corcoran
35 I'll never hear the original again without thinking "only 0 for 3, lousy 0 for 3"
2008-09-25 12:49:01
45.   dianagramr
44

then my job is done ... :-)

2008-09-25 13:08:47
46.   Jen
Almost forgot "Saga of Dandy, The Devil and Day" by Ultramagnetic MC's.

Lyrics:
http://tinyurl.com/4q7bdc

Audio Link: (scroll down to 2:18:51)
http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/shows/26662

2008-09-25 13:33:05
47.   Matt B
Jerry Jeff Walker has a tune, "Nolan Ryan (He's A Hero To Us All." It's not bad, if you like Jerry Jeff.
2008-09-25 13:55:19
48.   moismycopilot
Jonathan Coulton did a song called "Kenesaw Mountain Landis" which is an...interesting take on the Black Sox scandal. The lyrics are here: http://tinyurl.com/4lvj8m
2008-09-25 16:02:37
49.   bornyank1
Not a baseball song, exactly, but how about Neil Young's "For the Turnstiles?" I've always loved the ending:

All the bush-league batters
Are left to die
on the diamond.
In the stands
the home crowd scatters
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles,
For the turnstiles.

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