The first baseball song was written by Abner Doubleday and called "I Just Invented Something Called Base Ball."
"Invented" was never recorded or committed to sheet music, but the members of the Mills Commission hummed it quite often when they were assigning credit to Doubleday for creating our national pastime. Since then, hundreds of baseball-themed ditties have been written and recorded, many of which are seared into the American psyche through endless repetition.
We will not be covering those popular tunes today. Instead, we're going to explore songs that have escaped the ears of modern baseball fans. Some of these deserve a larger audience, while some should probably have been left where they were lying ... but we are not saying which are which. That's for you to decide, as each of the songs below comes with a link for your listening pleasure.
"Love is Bigger than Baseball" - Jackie Avery
Maybe in your life, Jackie, but some of us do without the former so we can concentrate on the latter. Or perhaps we concentrate on the latter because of the lack of the former. (Listen)
"The Yanks are the Champs" - The Fowls
Thanks to Family Guy, the 1963 song "Surfin' Bird" was rediscovered by a new generation of music aficionados. Any love (or tolerance) you have for the piece will probably evaporate when you hear this variation of it celebrating the Yankees' 1976 American League pennant. It features more echo than the Grand Canyon. Sample of lyrical brilliance:
The New York Yankees, they're the champs (4x)
Don't you know about the Yanks?
Everybody knows the Yanks are the champs
Yanks, Yanks, Yanks are the champs
"Fais ton Youpping"
When it was recently announced that Montreal -- a city where the names Bud Selig and Jeffrey Loria are spoken in hushed and reverent tones -- will be hosting a two-game Mets-Blue Jays exhibition series in 2014, the first thing all real baseball fans wanted to know was, will Youppi! be there? And furthermore, will he be making his grande entree to this song? (Listen)
"Negro League Baseball" - Jean Grae, featuring Natural Resource
You'd have to listen to a lot of rap records to hear a line as good as They got one-armed fugitives throwing with prosthetic limbs ... (Listen)
"Playing the Field" - Tony Conigliaro
By the time Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro released this record in 1965, he had established himself as one of the rising stars of baseball. He certainly sings it well enough, but it sounds dated even within the context of its own time. It sounds more like something that would have been a hit in 1962, but not in the post-Beatles/British-invaded charts of 1965. Sample lyric:
Now I'm no rookie at love, I know what girls are made of
And some hearts I'm gonna steal while I'm going out, gonna play the field
I'm getting tired of striking out, looking for the only one
I'm gonna try a brand new pitch and have some fun
"The First Baseball Game" - Nat King Cole
With its Biblical references, this is the baseball equivalent of the hit record "Deck of Cards," although it's more listenable because it's sung by the incomparable Cole and it's got cuter lyrics than the maudlin "Cards" -- which isn't really a song, after all. (Listen)
"Baseball" - Michael Franks
Damn, this is smooth. It's also kind of dirty, in a radio-friendly kind of way. But that was the ‘70s, wasn't it? A dirty, dirty decade with lots of couples rubbing their polyester together. Sample lyric:
How'd you get your uniform on so perfectly tight?
You strike me out twice; I singled but died
Then you made me pop up by sneakin' inside
"Baseball Cards" - The Karl Hendricks Trio
In the wake of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", it became standard operating procedure for bands to follow the soft-verses-explosive-choruses blueprint. The Karl Hendricks Trio does just this, albeit in a lower-fi fashion. (Listen)
"Baseball Baby" - Johnny Darling
This is a catchy number that moves along at a dynamic clip. It includes the phrase "make a home run" which used to be common parlance. (Listen)
"Baseball" - General Caine
I've never done the electric slide, because I fear improper grounding and possible spontaneous combustion therefrom. If I were to attempt it, however, I would like this song to be playing. It's got baseball-themed double entendre as well as the requisite funkiness that was demanded of music in the post-Purple Rain universe. (Listen)