Editor’s Note: Please welcome back friend of The Store Harris King. He is a legend who is as well-versed in the works of Hunter S. Thompson as he is in those of Bob Dylan. He previously wrote for The Store here, and you can find his musings, on line, at Beergraphs and on twitter @Ohkiv.
I love baseball, I love music. Both have accompanied me through most of my four plus decades on the planet. Among my friends, I am the one who watches baseball every day, has visited Skip Caray’s grave and refuses to let my friends get away with saying stuff like ‘he’s really clutch.’ I know many of you reading this are also “that friend.”
I am also “that friend” with music. I generally always have music on at all times whenever possible. I am currently sitting here at my desk with a basketball game on mute, and listening to Belle & Sebastian. I often watch sports this way. While yall complain about Chip and Joe, I am listening to music and tapping my toes as the game plays out. It keeps me happier that way. Or maybe “I’m A Cuckoo,” which is playing now.
A few songs ago, Piazza, New York Catcher came on. That inspired me to finally start writing this. I collected the songs a while back and have been meaning to write this up for ages. With the baseball season upon us, the time is now. The songs I have chosen are songs. That is, they are real songs by real bands and musicians, who, for whatever reason, were inspired to write a song about the game we love. And these are deep cuts. You’ve all heard “Centerfield” by John Fogerty, but I suspect you haven’t heard many of the ones to follow. My point for writing this is for people who love baseball and music to have fun. I am not here to be hip or to lecture (I am and often do), and I am going to keep the descriptions short. I want you to listen to music. Enjoy!
- F. Seals – Dock Ellis
The first song is a great one from the 1990s San Francisco band, the S.F. Seals, led by singer Barbara Manning. The band took their name from San Francisco’s minor league baseball team, The Seals, which played in the Pacific Coast League from 1903 to 1957. Their most notable player was Joe DiMaggio, who had a 61-game hitting streak for them in 1932-33. The song is Dock Ellis and the psychedelic sound Manning and her bandmates create is perfect for the notorious pitcher. I once saw Barbara Manning open up for the Silos in Germany, and some of my friends and I showed her around Freiburg after the show. That was cool and so is this song.
- Wild Carnation – Dodger Blue
Forgive me for the title, and believe me as a longtime follower of the old NL West, I do not have much love for Dodger blue. But I do dig this song from the New Jersey band, Wild Carnation, led by singer Brenda Sauter, who got her start in the legendary Hoboken band The Feelies. Dodger Blue is just a perfect pop song and if you can find the album Tricycle from 1992 you should get it.
- Jonathan Richman – Walter Johnson
Jonathan Richman is a hero of mine. From his first band, The Modern Lovers, to the 20 solo albums he has put out since, there haven’t been many missteps. He and the Modern Lovers got their start in Boston in 1970. This song pays homage to one of baseball’s all-time-great pitchers, Walter Johnson, and it does so in the most Jonathan of ways, a couple chords backing up a mostly spoken song. And if I am not mistaken, I am pretty sure Jonathan sings that Johnson pitched to the score, or something like that. The song appears on the 1985 album Rockin’ and Romance, which also has the song The Fenway on it if there are any Red Sox fans out there.
- Bob Dylan – Catfish
Dylan has done it all, and I suspect mostly to amuse himself. Here is his tribute to Catfish Hunter, baseball’s “million dollar man.” The songs evokes a sultry summer night watching a slow-moving (that’s a good thing) baseball game when a pitcher is on the top of his game. Because “nobody can throw the ball like Catfish can.” Digging a bit deeper, though, I am pretty sure it is a pro-labor song celebrating Catfish getting off of “Mr. Finley’s farm …[because] the old man wouldn’t pay.”
- Todd Snider – American’s Favorite Pastime
Dock Ellis is always good for a music/baseball crossover and here is Todd Snider’s take on Dock’s infamous LSD-fueled no-hitter for the Pirates in 1970. Snider has been putting out whiskey-soaked, outlawish country since the early 90s, and America’s Favorite Pastime definitely fits in with his brand of Americana.
- The Baseball Project – Harvey Haddix
I considered leaving The Baseball Project off this list because they only write songs about baseball, which is great but doesn’t quite fit to my standard set above. However, they write great songs even if that Twinkie song gets the 1991 in me all riled up. This is probably my favorite track by them, except for the one below. I love the Haddix story, and I love this updated version with the pitchers who have pitched perfect games since they first wrote it.
- Walter Salas Humara – The Pitchers Gave Up
Walter is the lead singer of the amazing band The Silos, who got their start in the mid 1980s and are still making great music today. In this song, Walter describes a world where the pitchers create a “pitchers’ preserve, where they get what they want and think they deserve, where hits are illegal and the batters all get shot, home runs are unheard of, every runner is caught and innings eternal and the mound is fifty feet high.” Yikes! After listening to this, go buy Cuba by The Silos from 1987.
- Belle & Sebastian – Piazza, New York Catcher
This song appeared on Belle & Sebastian’s 2003 album Dear Catastrophe Waitress. I am not sure exactly what is going on here–perhaps the Scottish band is responding to news reports and rumors of the day–but it’s a great song and there is no mention of back acne or the Hall of Fame. He did receive 69.9% of the vote this year. That is nice.
- Jerry Jeff Walker – Nolan Ryan
Jerry Jeff Walker has written and recorded some great Texas outlaw country songs, and Nolan Ryan fits right into the give no quarter, take no prisoners aesthetic he created in his music. Many people still consider Ryan to the be the “fastest in the West,” and they probably aren’t wrong.
- Chuck Brodsky – The Ballad of Eddie Klep
A year before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Eddie Klep became the first white person to play in the Negro Leagues. As Brodsky sings, “when you mention the name of Eddie Klep most everyone says, ‘who?’” It was the same with me, but it is another illustration of how many remarkable stories there are in the game of baseball. According to to Wikipedia, Klepp would later play baseball in the Rockview State Prison before dying of alcoholism in 1981.
- Peter Cooper – 715
This song about Hank Aaron was written and sung by my friend Peter Cooper. We were roommates for a year in the mid 90s. He is a great journalist, songwriter and singer, but I keep a much neater household. I remember the signed, framed picture of Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken he had on the wall. I once walked into the apartment and immediately saw Gary Sheffield wiggling his bat at the plate. I said he ‘he’s going to hit a home run.’ The ball was launched on the next pitch. Peter was blown away, but I guess I just got lucky. After many years writing for The Tennessean, he now works for the Country Music Hall of Fame. He’s a good guy and this is a good song.
- The Isotopes – The Ballad of Rey Ordonez
Now this is fun. A song about Rey Ordonez by the pop punk outfit The Isotopes from Rochester, NY. In the video, look for the relief drummer to start warming up after the starting drummer gets in trouble. Looking around the internet, it appears The Isotopes are a Punk Rock Baseball Band. I approve.
- Howlies – Aluminum Baseball Bat
How better to dream about revenge on a dude who stole your girl than by using an aluminum baseball bat upside his head. Of course, if he were able to do that, he might just still have his girl. This video is wonderful, and a costume dance party in the end turns violent. I am not sure what is going on here, but I want to hang out with the guy wearing the robot outfit. By the way, the Howlies are from Atlanta. Do any of the BGS readers recognize the street from the video or even know the band for that matter (Ed. Note: I have not ventured out to the corner of Lucy and Jackson)?
- The Lemmings – Wille McGee
Somebody is not happy about the outcome of the 1982 World Series. For the folks out there who don’t have much love for the Cardinals, you will also like this song. The Lemmings also have a song called Jim Rice Didn’t Slide, which takes a bit of heat off of Bill Buckner.
Jim Rice Didn’t Slide:
- Dave Frishberg – Van Lingle Mungo
There are so many great golden era baseball songs that I have not included here. This song from 1969 is not one of them, but somebody who wrote a bunch of lyrics to a bosa nova style jazz song based on cool names he found in the Baseball Encyclopedia is all right in my book. Plus, there’s a Johnny Vander Meer mention.
- The Baseball Project – Pascual on the Perimeter
There are so many things coming together in this song. I absolutely loved Pascual in 1982 as an 11-year old. There is a Fulton County Stadium AND a Skip Caray mention. The story of him getting lost on the perimeter is one for the ages. And I know Twitter/Beer/Music buddy @lonndoggie remembers the great Braves-Padres brawl of 1984 that Pascual incited. This song sounds like a college rock song, perhaps written in Athens or Raleigh, that I would’ve grown up with in the 80s. To top it all off, it is sung by longtime Steve Wynn drummer (and wife) Linda Pitmon. Yes, I have a huge crush on her.