Ten tunes that pay tribute to America’s favorite pastime
I initially thought this would be a cinch, but it turned out to be no easy task. In the popular music canon, there are dozens, if not hundreds of songs devoted to the game.
Or I should say semi-devoted: Sometimes the hardball connection in the lyrics is more chin music than sweet spot. But in my scorebook, if the story and the sounds are good enough, it’s a laser-like double in the gap.
Since baseball has been a part of our culture for more than 150 years, you could dig a pretty deep hole trying to unearth all the music with baseball references. So to make the winnowing process easier, I decided to go just as far back as the dawn of the designated hitter, my own nostalgia wheelhouse. I left out some great stuff, but I think my list is still going to hit .300.
So below, in chronological order, are 10 innings of baseball tunes to get you in the mood for a trip to the ball yard, be it Harris Field or the neighborhood T-ball patch.
1. “Vida Blue,” Albert Jones, 1971 — Yes, I know the DH didn’t start until 1973. But Blue, the Oakland/San Francisco ace, was one of the most dominant hurlers of the 1970s and had to face many sluggers of this variety, so it qualifies. This little R&B-tinged novelty record has some sentimental value since I spent the entire summer of 1971 and a lot of my allowance trying to acquire Blue’s Topps baseball card for that year.
2. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” Meat Loaf, 1977 — You would be right to point out that the only baseball link here is Phil Rizzuto’s comical spoken interlude halfway through the song. But as far as I’m concerned, the Scooter’s double entendres are a bases-clearing triple for a song that never, ever gets old.
3. “Centerfield,” John Fogerty, 1985 — Almost from the day it was released, this song has held the title of quintessential hardball anthem. If you don’t like it, you don’t like baseball. Or America. It’s just that simple.
4. “Baseball Altamont,” The Nightmares, 1985 — This is a punk rock exploration of all the things that can — and anymore often do — go wrong at our big-league stadiums.
5. “The Baseball Song,” Matt the Electrician, 1998 — This haunting ballad is by a little-known Austin, Texas, singer/songwriter. There’s something about the game that fosters melancholy and hope, and both are in abundance here.
6. “Joe DiMaggio’s Done It Again,” Billy Bragg & Wilco, 2000 — The lyrics to this jaunty little stomp were written years earlier by the iconic troubadour Woody Guthrie; the music was tailored by a British folkie (Bragg) and American roots-rockers. But I can still see Guthrie croaking this song back in the ’40s.
7. “3rd Base, Dodger Stadium,” Ry Cooder, 2005 — This bittersweet reminiscence of places and times gone by in Chávez Ravine, Los Angeles, is written by one of our finest musical archivists.
8. “America’s Favorite Pastime,” Todd Snider, 2009 — In 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates hurler Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter while on LSD. Here, Snider sets it all to a funky blues riff that does the event justice.
9. “My Oh My,” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, 2010 — Another sentimental choice (sue me). The Seattle rappers spin a glorious tribute to the Mariners, the magical 1995 season and their late, great broadcaster Dave Niehaus.
10. “Willie Mays Is Up at Bat,” Chuck Prophet, 2012 — The Bay Area guitarist adroitly weaves a squalid little 1960s-era tale around the Giants legend, the Rev. Jim Jones, Looney Tunes and the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Now, that’s a helluva change-up.
Beesley is a production editor for 360 and longtime fan of both music and baseball.