Baseball and music have a basic affinity, as any fan knows. . . . [E]very pitch ends either with the satisfying pop of the catcher’s mitt or the tension-creating crack of the bat. . . . It should surprise no one that a game with such inherently strong elements of musicality should have attracted scores of people who wanted to set it to music.
—David Broder, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and loyal Cubs fan
The Library holds more than 400 published songs about baseball in its Music Division, many of them from the heyday of American sheet music, 1895 to 1920, when baseball’s popularity was also growing. The first modern World Series was played during these years, in 1903, matching the victorious Boston Americans against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In honor of the 2017 World Series, we’d like to call your attention to a selection of baseball sheet music on display at the Library of Congress through December 30. If you can’t make it to Washington, D.C., by then, you can view the exhibition, Baseball’s Greatest Hits: The Music of Our National Game, online.
Here are a few baseball songs (and a movie!) to get you started.
- “The White Sox March” commemorates one of the greatest upsets in World Series history. In 1906, the Chicago White Sox—known as the “hitless wonders” after finishing the season with the worst team batting average (.230) in the American League—defeated a powerful Chicago Cubs in six games.
- “The Red Sox Speed Boys” celebrated in song the triumph of the Red Sox over the New York Giants in the 1912 World Series. That year, which marked the inaugural season of Boston’s Fenway Park, was an exceptional one for the Red Sox. The team won 105 regular season games, including the first major-league game played at the park, in which they beat the New York Highlanders 7–6 in 11 innings.
- “That Baseball Rag,” by lyricist Dave Wolff and composer Clarence M. Jones, was published in 1913. That year, the New York Giants became the first National League team since the Chicago Cubs to win three consecutive pennants. The Giants then lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics. A recording of “The Baseball Rag” is available on the Library’s National Jukebox. Listen to it here:
- “Our Old Home Team” was composed in 1924 to celebrate the World Series victory that year of the Washington, D.C., Senators over the New York Giants. The song is dedicated to Senators pitching ace Walter “Big Train” Johnson (1887–1946), whose sizzling fast ball may have topped 100 mph. Johnson was one of the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Coincidentally, rare film footage of Senators’ 1924 win, including shots of Walter Johnson pitching, was discovered a few years ago among items included in an estate. The footage was sent to the Library’s Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, where technicians digitized and preserved it. Watch it here:
And from the same World Series, here is a photograph from our collections of Elsie Tydings, who in October 1924 had the honor of purchasing the first ticket for a World Series in the nation’s capital!
For more information, see the Library’s Bibliography of Published Baseball Music and Songs.