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Play Ball - Songs About the 'Great American Pastime'

  • Katherine Cole

Texas Rangers' Cliff Lee throws during the second inning of Game 1 of baseball's 2010 World Series against the San Francisco Giants.

Texas Rangers' Cliff Lee throws during the second inning of Game 1 of baseball's 2010 World Series against the San Francisco Giants.

The 2012 North American baseball season is under way. But, many people may not realize there is a history of music that celebrates the Great American Pastime.

It’s not uncommon for musicians to play a concert in the outfield of a baseball stadium-but how about scheduling tour dates around baseball? After all, why visit Boston when the Red Sox are out of town, if it’s possible to arrange a gig during a home stand?

That’s what Mandolinist Sam Bush has been known to do. Sam’s team is the St. Louis Cardinals, and he’s such a fan that he wrote a song about the Cards great Ozzie Smith on his "King of My World" CD. Sam’s tribute to the now retired back-flipping shortstop is called "The Wizard of Oz."

Baseball has been celebrated in song almost since the first pitch was tossed. "The Baseball Polka" was written in the late 1850s. Since then, baseball songwriters have included Irving Berlin and Bruce Springsteen, with Frank Sinatra and Meat Loaf among the singers praising the game.

Bob Dylan wrote a baseball song, too. It was about the late pitcher "Catfish" Hunter, not only one of the best pitchers ever, but one of the most important to those enjoying multi-million-dollar playing contracts today.

Catfish Hunter was one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers during a 15-year career that brought him five World Series rings with the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees. He also strung together five straight 20-victory seasons, pitched a perfect game, and also won a Cy Young Award, given annually to the outstanding pitcher in each of the two major leagues.

But Catfish Hunter is also remembered for what Bob Dylan sang about: signing a five-year, $3.75 million contract with the Yankees in 1975, making him the games first multi-millionaire player. Catfish retired after the 1978 season, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. If you ever pay a visit to those hallowed halls, you might see Bob Dylan’s autographed album featuring the song "Catfish"”

Singer-songwriter Chuck Brodsky is known for including a baseball tune or two on his albums, and even released a collection of just baseball ballads. "Moe Berg: The Song" is the story of a real life Dodgers player in their pre-Los Angeles days, when they called Brooklyn, New York home. Moe Berg lived a double life: baseball slugger and American spy.

The most famous baseball song ever written sprang from a most unlikely source. When Jack Norworth wrote "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" in 1908, he had never even been to a major league game. But inspiration struck on a subway train as he stared at an advertisement for a game. And the rest, as they say, is history.

A few years ago, Sam Bush had the opportunity to play his version of the classic baseball tune during the seventh inning stretch (a break) at a St. Louis Cardinals game. Bush says he’ll never forget standing on top of the dugout and hearing thousands of fans singing the words as he played the tune on his mandolin.