… then listen to the music play.
Here’s a list of my nine favorite baseball songs of all time. This could be amended, of course, at any time. The great Steve Poltz, for example, tells me he’s written one about Bill “Spaceman” Lee. I might eventually write one about Brendan Donnelly. Brendan Donnelly might write one about me. Youneverknow. Anyway, here goes:
1. “Catfish” by Bob Dylan: Written in 1975 but released on a bootleg compilation in 1991, this is a perfect tale of a unique baseball man — Jim “Catfish” Hunter — told in typical Dylan style and co-written by Jacques Levy. Highlight lyrics: “Come up where the Yankees are/Dress up in a pinstripe suit/Smoke a custom-made cigar/Wear an alligator boot” and “Catfish, million-dollar-man/Nobody can throw the ball like Catfish can.” Dylan also was prescient, correctly predicting that Hunter would make the Hall of Fame. Here’s a decent cover version of it, since I couldn’t find one of Bobby Zimmerman himself doing it:
2. “Night Game” by Paul Simon: This deep-track gem comes right after Stevie Gadd’s drums fade out on “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” on the 1975 classic album “Still Crazy After All These Years.” It’s a tragic story of the death of a pitcher during a tied game but still has that classic Simon quirkiness and evocative imagery to it. “And they laid his spikes/On the pitcher’s mound/And his uniform was torn/And his number was left on the ground.”
3. “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” by Steve Goodman: The song, written by the late genius who gave Arlo Guthrie “City of New Orleans,” reads just like the title, and it’s a brilliant ode to a fan base alone in its struggle of 100 years without a World Series title. “Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Slugger baseball bats/And toss my coffin in/Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow/From the prevailing 30 mile an hour southwest wind/When my last remains go flying over the left-field wall/We’ll bid the bleacher bums adieu/And I will come to my final resting place, out on Waveland Avenue.” Sadly, Goodman died of leukemia in 1984 at the age of 36. But at least that means he never knew the name Steve Bartman.
4. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meat Loaf: A song all about coming of age and the angst that comes with it veers into baseball-as-metaphor territory in classic fashion, with the adolescent meanderings of a boy and a girl set to the soothing tones of a Phil Rizzuto play-by-play. It doesn’t get any better than the Scooter’s, “Holy Cow, I think he’s gonna make it!” immediately followed by vocalist Ellen Foley’s “Stop right there!”
5. “Zanzibar” by Billy Joel: This jazzy cut off the underrated “52nd Street” album isn’t really about baseball, but it has one line that puts it in this group, yet another metaphor for perseverance that isn’t hard to figure out or relate to: “Me, I’m trying just to get to second base/And I’d steal it if she only gave the sign/She’s gonna give the go-ahead/The inning isn’t over yet for me.”
6. “Talkin’ Softball” by Terry Cashman: Cashman broke into the baseball-song-writing game with the ubiquitous “Talkin’ Baseball,” featuring Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. However, his self-parody version for the 1992 “Homer at the Bat” episode of “The Simpsons” is more of a classic because of its brilliant mention of every nuclear power plant-related malady that struck the Major League All-Star “ringers” on the company softball team. Best line: “Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness made us smile/While Wade Boggs lay unconscious on the barroom tile.”
7. “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen: Sure, it’s overplayed, and sure, the video for the song shows that The Boss is a lot better at writing songs and singing than throwing a baseball, but it’s got a great opening riff and a message we can all relate to. The “speed ball” line still can make a baseball fan cringe, though. Would it have killed him to write “fastball” or even “heater?”
8. “Centerfield” by John Fogerty: It’s been played at every stadium, maybe every night, since its release on the album of the same name in 1985. He loses a few points for saying, “Put me in, coach.” That might work in Little League, but “Skip” is probably preferred at the big-league level, and we’re not sure how many players would get away with telling their manager to play them. Nevertheless, the man who brought us Creedence Clearwater Revival scores points for the Louisville Slugger bat/guitar he plays this number on when he performs it live. You can see the custom axe in this video, along with session drum monster Kenny Aronoff, formerly of the John Mellencamp band:
9. “Your Love” by the Outfield: This rocking staple of “Best of the Eighties” compilations has nothing to do with baseball other than the fact that the band is called the Outfield and the album the song appeared on is called “Play Deep.” But for some reason, it seems like it is about baseball. Maybe it’s the fact that it gets played at stadiums all the time, or that guys like former big leaguer Eric Byrnes have used it as a walk-up song or Tacoma News-Tribune Mariners beat writer Ryan Divish and possibly other members of the media use it as their ringtone. Also, the London-based band started out with the name, “The Baseball Boys.” That’s impressive in the land of cricket.
If any of you out there ever come across this list, add your suggestions. There are probably hundreds of ’em out there that a lot of us have never come across.
It’s been a busy time since I got back from Bonnaroo 2009, the music festival in Tennessee, but I finally have the time to report on the proceedings.
The ‘Roo always has a baseball influence, from the MLB Road Show batting cages and video games to the big-time fans among the huge, eclectic mix of acts that Bonnaroo attracts every year.
It’s always fun to watch some of the musicians get in the backstage cage and take their hacks. Some of them actually have pretty good swings, and for some of them it’s tough to get that rock-star hair in a batting helmet.
I had a fun and interesting conversation with Ben Bridwell, the lead singer of Band of Horses, one of the great American rock groups of the last 10 years. After seeing BoH a few years ago in Seattle and hearing him publicly wonder on stage why then-manager Mike Hargrove had just up and quit a few days earlier, I knew he was a fan.
At Bonnaroo, Ben was kind enough to meet me in the media area mere minutes before his band played a sterling Sunday sunset set to close out the weekend on the “Which Stage,” which is the second-largest stage on the grounds. I found this decent-quality clip of them playing a sped-up, more countrified version of “Window Blues,” the final track off their last album, “Cease to Begin.”
So Ben told me he’s been a baseball fan since he played Little League and American Legion ball while growing up in South Carolina and that he became a Mariners fan when he moved to Seattle in the late 1990s. He still follows the M’s on MLB.com as much as he can and said he would absolutely love to someday sing the National Anthem at Safeco Field, his favorite ballpark. I told him I’d see if I can pull some strings.
Anyway, watching from the side of the stage as Bridwell and his Horses executed 90 flawless minutes of rock was none other than The Boss, Mr. Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen had headlined the whole festival the previous night, singing his signature baseball-inspired song, “Glory Days,” before closing out a nearly three-hour set with “Dancing In The Dark,” and he and Bridwell exchanged pleasantries, according to this photo, taken from the blog on BoH’s site.
Then, long after Bridwell and the boys had bid adieu to the Which Stage, Bruce resurfaced during Phish’s festival-closing performance and jammed out another version of “Glory Days.” In the immortal words of Robert Hunter, “Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain’t no place I’d rather be/Baby won’t you carry me … back to Tennessee.”
In 2010, of course.