Though snow is still on the ground in some places from a brutal winter, this Monday will mark the traditional "Opening Day" for baseball. Opening Day has a deep meaning for many (myself included), to the point that Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith is championing a (beer-company-backed, facetious) petition to make it a national holiday. The petition on whitehouse.gov notes that Opening Day is "a symbol of rebirth" and the "coming of spring," and seeks to "make sure every American can exercise their inalienable right to celebrate the day those two magical words are uttered for the first time: "PLAY BALL!"
So in honor of Opening Day - where even the hapless Cubs are tied for first place - this post highlights three of my favorite baseball songs, with some short trivia to go with each.
(1) John Fogerty - "Centerfield" - The "roundin' third, and headed for home, it's a brown eyed handsome man" lyrics from "Centerfield" are lifted from the Chuck Berry song "Brown Eyed Handsome Man." In that song, Berry refers to a "2-3 count, with nobody on," which makes no sense.
(2) Terry Cashman - "Willie, Mickey, and the Duke (Talkin' Baseball)" - the original version of this song was written and recorded in 1981 by Terry Cashman, and was inspired by a picture of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider standing together at an old timers' game in 1980. Per the interview at the link, it was actually a picture of Mays, Mantle, Snider, and Joe DiMaggio together, but Cashman couldn't find a way to fit DiMaggio into the song in a graceful way. As a result, on the cover of the single, DiMaggio has been "photoshopped" out. "Joltin' Joe has left and gone away," indeed.
Since the modest success of the original version, Cashman has made custom versions of the song tailored to just about every team in the major leagues; a quick YouTube search turns up versions for the Cardinals, the Baltimore Orioles, the San Francisco Giants, the New York Mets, the California Angels, the Chicago White Sox, the Cincinnati Reds, the late Montreal Expos, the Kansas City Royals, the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Diego Padres, the New York Yankees, the Minnesota Twins (and a short version for a Target Field commercial), the Chicago Cubs, the Toronto Blue Jays, the LA Dodgers, the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers, and the Philadelphia Phillies. There are on Amazon's mp3 service additional versions for the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Boston Red Sox, the Atlanta Braves, the Colorado Rockies, the Seattle Mariners, and the Oakland A's. In some cases, there are multiple versions for the same team, updated only to include more modern roster members (and to wring out a few more dollars from the tune.) In fact, to protect the cash cow, Cashman has, for nearly 20 years, held a federal trademark on the term "Talkin' Baseball".
(3) Chuck Brodsky - "Dock Ellis' No-No" - Brodsky is a folk singer and baseball fanatic. My wife will tell you that he is an acquired taste, but I love him. Brodsky has two albums dedicated to only baseball songs, and many of them are just terrific. Try "Bonehead Merkle" or "Letters in the Dirt" for good baseball stories, or seek out "Whitey and Harry" for a great tribute to Richie Ashburn and the days of lifelong team radio voices. But "Dock Ellis' No-No" has the added bonus of telling the story of one of the strangest no-hitters in history. Ellis started his day in Los Angeles, thinking that his Pittsburgh Pirates had the day off. He dropped some acid, and learned shortly thereafter that not only were the Pirates playing that day, but they were in San Diego and he was the slated starting pitcher. He caught a quick flight, rushed to the ballpark, and pitched 9 no-hit innings while high on LSD. (He walked 8 and hit a guy in the process, but a no-hitter is a no-hitter.) Here is a wonderful animation telling the story in Dock's own words.
(4) Steve Goodman - "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request" - Goodman's song is just about the perfect encapsulation of Cubs fandom, with lyrics like "the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant / was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan." 30 years later, it still holds up! Goodman died of cancer in 1984 at age 36, and some of his ashes were scattered at the "ivy-covered burial ground" he references so lovingly in his song.
There are dozens of other great baseball songs, but for time constraints let's end it here. Maybe I can save some for TMFW 81, right in time for Opening Day 2015.
BONUS FACT: For fans of a certain age, the most famous "Talkin' Baseball" version is most likely "Homer, Ozzie, and the Straw (Talkin' Softball)," from the all-time great episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns puts together an all-star softball team.