Monday, May 16, 2011

The Music of Baseball

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here before, but I write four regular blogs. Two are related to the baseball card hobby, but the others are music blogs devoted to songs from the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, I'm quite interested in music as well. Today, I'd like to juxtapose those two passions by bringing out three songs from the past related to baseball.

The first one might be the most famous song connected to the game:

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game"

Listen (and download) the 1908 recording by Edward Meeker here

1908 was a momentous year for baseball. Thanks to a contentious Chicago/New York pennant race and a controversial play by Fred Merkle that essentially handed the National League title to the Cubs, the newspapers gave more attention to baseball than they had before. As the demographics of the United States were shifting from an agrarian society to a more industrial one, the larger population living in the cities began to pay more attention to the game. It was no coincidence that the next wave of baseball card issues appeared beginning in 1909.

One other event that happened that year was that a songwriter named Jack Norworth was riding on a subway and saw a posted sign advertising a Giants game at the Polo Grounds. Seizing on to that, he came up with the inspiration for a story where a young lady named Katie Casey agreed to go on a date with her gentleman caller on the condition that he take her to the ballpark. Many have forgotten that part of the song. Albert Von Tilzer wrote the melody to go with the words.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was a huge hit in 1908. Back then, Billboard magazine tracked sales of sheet music rather than the records themselves. As a result, there were several issued records of the day's singers and vocal groups doing versions of the song. The first recording was done by Edward Meeker, whose version is the one accompanying this post (and is available for download there as well, since the song is now in the public domain). I have four versions of this song on MP3; all have been recorded from cylinders and Meeker's is the one that has the fewest audible scratches on it.

Interestingly, neither Norworth nor Van Tilzer ever attended a baseball game in person until many years after writing their song.

The original sheet music, 1908

A generation and change later, one of the biggest players in the game was the son of Italian immigrants from San Francisco and wore a Yankee uniform. He was so big, he eventually got his own song:

"Joltin' Joe DiMaggio"

The Les Brown Orchestra - "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio" (1941)

The 78 RPM record of "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, 1941

In 1941, Joe DiMaggio set the record for hitting safely in 56 consecutive games. As of today, it is still a record and has been considered to be "untouchable" even though several players have neared it over the years. Again, the media buzz surrounding his streak led to a popular song. "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio" specifically mentions the date he tied the previous record (set in 1898 by Willie Keeler) and the fact that it ended in Cleveland.

The words were composed by Alan Courtney and the music by Ben Homer. As far as I know, the rights are still in force so the song is not available for download.

A generation later, Joe D. had retired and handed his centerfield spot to a new Yankee legend, and history repeated itself when he also had a song written for him:

"I Love Mickey"

Teresa Brewer with Mickey Mantle - "I Love Mickey" (1956)

Mickey Mantle called 1956 his "favorite summer." He won the Triple Crown (leading the majors in all three categories), got another World Series ring at the expense of the Brooklyn Dodgers and even found his voice on the Hit Parade.

Teresa Brewer had been a pop singer who notched two #1 singles before Rock & Roll rushed the stage. In 1956, she was watching a game in Yankee Stadium with a friend and commented that somebody needed to write a song about the star. Soon, she had worked out some lyrics and set them to music (arranged by Bill Katz). Mantle was brought in to add his voice, asking "Mickey who?" as a response to the title. The lyrics read like a love letter from a high school girl, but that was what sold records then.

The original sheet music, 1956

Having read about how Mantle was, I could add something to the picture above...but this blog has always stayed on the high road, so I'll just keep the comments to myself.

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