… 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.