As a teenager, two of my biggest passions were baseball and music. There was a time when I set music aside to focus on baseball, then vice versa. The mixture of these two pastimes is very common for some reason. Even back in the 1800s, there were songs connected with baseball such as “The Base Ball Polka” and “Slide, Kelly, Slide.”
Then in 1908, Albert von Tilzer and Jack Norworth wrote “Take Me Out to The Ballgame,” which was a hit on vaudeville. It wasn’t played at a game until 1934 during the fourth game of the World Series. Over time, it became a tradition at major league games to be played in the middle of the 7th inning. The most notable performance may have been Harry Carey’s version at all the Cubs games he announced.
“Take Me Out to The Ballgame” has been recorded by numerous artists with my favorite by Sam Bush. Former New York Yankee Bernie Williams also recorded an acoustic guitar version, which I highly recommend anyone to look up on YouTube. Versions of the song by Dr. John and Carly Simon were prominently used in Ken Burn’s documentary “Baseball.”
When the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee, they also took a Hammond organ and perched it in a loft behind the box seats. It may have been around this time that the seventh-inning stretch song became a tradition.
The music business even had an impact on Babe Ruth. Harry Frazee, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to help finance a musical production on Broadway, his first love. Eventually, Harry would be blamed for creating the “curse of the Bambino.”
Even the Baseball Hall of Fame has honored music, as they did in 2010 with John Fogerty’s 1985 hit “Centerfield.” Fogerty was the only musician to be honored there. “Centerfield” has probably passed “Take Me Out” for the most popular song in Major League Baseball, with Springsteen’s “Glory Days” not far behind. Fogerty was clever in including phrases in his song such as “Mudville nine,” “Say Hey,” and “Mighty Casey.” The 1950s saw a hit by The Treniers called “Say Hey” about the great Willie Mays.
In the 1970s, Lou Brock asked the Busch Stadium organist to play the “Theme From Shaft” when he came to bat at home games. This started a new tradition that is seen at all MLB games today where the home team batters and pitchers have “walkup” music. Mighty Casey has now become Mighty Casey Kasem! Every modern player is now a DJ. The 1980s movie “Major League” enhanced this practice when Charlie Sheen would enter the field to the tune of “Wild Thing.” One of my favorites was watching Ian Kinsler come to bat for the Texas Rangers to “Black Betty.” The Seattle Mariners were the first team to create a ritual for every hitter in the lineup in 1993.
Then there are the MLB players who long to be musicians such as the previously mentioned Bernie Williams (arguably the most successful) and Jack McDowell. I still have my 1973 baseball card of Johnny Bench with a notation on the back that he wanted to be a country music singer.
On the other side, there are many professional musicians who may have been able to be MLB players. MC Hammer earned his name as a ball boy for the Oakland A's due to his resemblance to Hank Aaron. Country stars Conway Twitty, Roy Clark, and Charlie Pride had aspirations of playing professional baseball. All three eventually became involved as owners of minor league teams. Conway was a founding partner of the Nashville Sounds with Roy involved with the Tulsa Drillers. Garth took an opportunity to participate in spring training with the Padres, Mets, and Royals, raising money for various charities in the process.
I happened upon my favorite baseball song in a recording studio in Tahlequah a few years ago. I was engaged to play some mandolin on tracks written and recorded by Randy Pease. I had heard Tom Skinner sing his song, “I Love This Game” and took a strong liking to it immediately. I’ve performed this song many times over the years, many times approached by muscular men in tears telling me that they had lived that song. Randy did an excellent job writing this ballad, and my goal is to be able to give the fourth best performance of this tune. (Randy and Tom will always be tied for first with Greg Jacobs not far behind!)