Revisit: TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME: POPULAR MUSIC AND THE NATIONAL PASTIME
ABOUT THE EXHIBIT
Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Popular Music and the National Pastime is a celebration of the deep connection between music and baseball. Featuring a variety of artifacts, memorabilia and personal interviews, the exhibit centers around the prevalence of music in baseball. Whether it’s the national anthem played before every game, the music ballplayers select to accent their “walk up” to home plate, or the seventh inning stretch during which fans sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” music is an integral part of the baseball experience. From the start of the game in the mid-18th century to today, all forms of music, from pop and jazz, to country and rhythm & blues, and rock & roll, have embraced America’s baseball passion.
The exhibit debuted in the Mike Curb Gallery on the GRAMMY Museum’s fourth floor on March 4, 2019, and is currently installed at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK.
FROM THE EXHIBIT
Much like the baseball bat, which suggests power and is a defining symbol of the national pastime, the electric guitar performs the same duties in American popular music – particularly rock & roll. Fender electric guitars have been a fixture in popular music since the early 1950s, played by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Jimi Hendrix. Over the years, the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, based out of Corona, CA, has also built custom-made electric guitars to celebrate baseball anniversaries, special events, and popular ballplayers. These guitars have become prized collector’s items. Shown here from left to right: Angels Stratocaster signed by Scott Spiezio (former Angles infielder), Boston Red Sox 100th Anniversary Stratocaster, Stratocaster signed by the 2007 Red Sox team, Pirates “Opening Day Rocks” Stratocaster, Stratocaster signed by Ernie Banks, Ash guitar made with reclaimed wood from Cooperstown.
Joe DiMaggio/Mickey Mantle
Joe DiMaggio captured the imagination of a number of pop songwriters over the years. In 1941, DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games, a record that still stands, and helped the Yankees win nine World Series championships. While writer Ernest Hemingway made “the great DiMaggio” part of his Nobel Prize-winning novella, The Old Man in the Sea, in 1952, folksinger Woody Guthrie and bandleader Les Brown wrote about “Joltin’ Joe.” In the late 1960s, Simon & Garfunkel asked, “where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,” re-kindling the fascination with him. Later, DiMaggio would reappear in John Fogerty’s baseball masterpiece, “Centerfield.” Mickey Mantle was one of the most popular Major League ballplayers of all time. A number of novelty and pop recordings were released that either mentioned Mantle, were about him, or actually featured him singing (sort of). The most popular was “I Love Mickey,” a 1956 duet with pop singer, Teresa Brewer. In the song, Brewer sings repeatedly, “I love Mickey.” Mantle responds rather blandly, “Mickey who?”
Harry Caray Microphone
In 1976, Chicago White Sox announcer Harry Caray began singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch at White Sox home games. In 1982, when Caray moved to the Chicago Cubs broadcast booth, he continued singing the song. It eventually became a much-anticipated tradition at Wrigley Field and one of Caray’s most famous antics in front of the microphone.
Caray passed away in 1998. Since then, guest singers of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at Wrigley Field honor Caray’s legacy. The list includes many Cubs legends, as well as Jay Leno, Chuck Berry, Eddie Vedder, Ozzy Osbourne, John Fogerty, Lou Rawls, Muhammad Ali, Cyndi Lauper, and Mike Ditka.
Nancy Faust provided a soundtrack to baseball games for the Chicago White Sox. In 1970, a young Nancy Faust began playing the organ at the old Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox. Early on, Faust and White Sox owner Bill Veeck noticed that fans responded to her catchy musical vignettes. When Jenkins began playing songs that matched the personality, ethnicity, or baseball situation for each Sox player before he batted, the idea of “walk-up” music was born. When an opposing pitcher was pulled from the game, Jenkins played Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Sox fans loved it and stadiums across the country still keep that tradition alive.
Sheet Music and Babe Ruth
America’s first great baseball hero, Babe Ruth, was the inspiration for many baseball songs – most of them paying homage to Ruth’s home run-hitting prowess. Among the more memorable Babe Ruth baseball songs are Irving Berlin’s “Along Came Ruth,” “Our Bambino,” “Babe Ruth—He Is a Home Run Guy,” and “Babe Ruth! Babe Ruth! (We Know What He Can Do).” Leading up to the time of Babe Ruth’s heyday, music business in America was largely based on the sale of sheet music, namely the lyrics and musical notation of a song, embellished by attractive cover art. Today, sheet music for baseball songs, especially those published in the 19th century, are prized collector’s items. They shed important light on early baseball culture and music.
Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, making the Brooklyn Dodgers the first Major League Baseball team to conquer segregation. In popular music, more songs have been written and recorded about Jackie Robinson, or reference him, than any other ballplayer. Many of them were created between 1947 and 1949, but as evidenced by Everclear’s “Jackie Robinson” and The Baseball Project’s “Jackie’s Lament,” the fascination with Robinson continues today.
Barry Zito spent 15 years in the major leagues, pitching for both the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants. At age 24, he won the American League’s coveted Cy Young Award, given annually to the best pitcher. In 2012, he helped the Giants win the World Series. Retiring in 2015, Zito eventually moved to Nashville where he began a career in popular music. A singer-songwriter, Zito released No Secrets, a six song EP of original music in 2017. In the exhibit, Zito also discusses how he interpreted the Kenny Rogers baseball classic, “The Greatest.” Visitors can listen to the recording session which took place in January 2019 at Village Recorders in Santa Monica, CA. It was produced by Darrell Brown and engineered by Ed Cherney.
“Centerfield,” the title track from John Fogerty’s 1985 solo album of the same name, is one of the most familiar of all modern baseball songs. Fogerty, a longtime baseball fan, referenced Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays, and Ty Cobb in the song’s lyrics and later explained that the line about a “brown-eyed handsome man” was a nod to Jackie Robinson (and rock & roller Chuck Berry, who penned a song called “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.”) Baseball fans quickly took to “Centerfield” and its lyric, “put me in, coach.” In 2010, the National Baseball Hall of Fame honored “Centerfield” and Fogerty at their annual induction ceremony, where Fogerty performed the song – commemorating its 25th anniversary. Fogerty commissioned a special guitar, “Slugger,” made from a Louisville Slugger and used only when playing “Centerfield.”
Guitarist Johnny Ramone of the legendary punk band, The Ramones, was not only a devout New York Yankees fan, but also an avid collector of baseball memorabilia. Though he and members of the band grew up in Forest Hills, Queens, near Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, Johnny saw Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle play as a youth and adopted the Yankees as his favorite team.
Baseball and Music
There have been hundreds of songs written about baseball, done in virtually every medium of American music. There are children’s baseball songs and baseball satires. There are tributes to the game and to its heroes. There are baseball laments, mostly about games lost and seasons gone by. And there are team theme songs that rally fans, and in the off-season, make them long for summer days at the ballpark.
In addition to games, baseball stadiums have also become concert venues. In the 1960s, The Beatles made music history by becoming the first pop group to play a concert in a baseball stadium. The band performed their first show at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York – the then new home of the New York Mets – in 1965. Since then, many pop, rock, country, R&B, and hip-hop acts have performed at major and minor league baseball stadiums. Wrigley Field in Chicago, Yankee Stadium in New York, Fenway Park in Boston, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, among many other ballparks, have hosted everyone from Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam, to Paul McCartney, James Taylor, and Elton John. Minor league parks became a concert stop for touring artists after Bob Dylan popularized the idea.
The Tulsa Drillers
The Tulsa Drillers, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, play in the Texas League. The team’s home ballpark, ONEOK Field, is located just three blocks from the Woody Guthrie Center in the Greenwood District of the city. Major League ballplayers who wore the Drillers’ uniform include Corey Seager of the Dodgers, and Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies. During the baseball season, the Drillers often celebrate Tulsa’s music tradition with special marketing promotions and events. In 2018, Jack White headlined the first rock concert ever held at ONEOK Field.
Jack White grew up in Detroit, MI, rooting for the Tigers and remains one of the most passionate baseball fans in all of popular music. “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes is regularly played at Tigers games in Comerica Park. In 2017, White and friends recorded a limited edition song, “Strike Out,” on his record label, Third Man Records. White also became a co-investor and co-founder of a baseball bat company, Warstic, with former Tigers second baseman, Ian Kinsler. A Warstic bat is part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame permanent collection. White also sponsors the Warstic Woodmen, an amateur baseball team whose games raise money for various charities.