Baseball’s Greatest Hits: Over 1000 Songs about Our National Game

The following is a guest post by Senior Music Specialist (and Red Sox fan) Susan Clermont: 

One of the thirty separate issues of the 1908 sensation “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” by Albert von Tilzer and Jack Norworth, featuring Trixie Friganza’s cameo photo on the cover. (New York: The York Music Co., 1908).

If you were asked to name a popular song about baseball, most likely you’d begin singing the chorus to the 1908 hit Take Me Out to the Ball Game, the third most recognized tune in the United States.  What the average person doesn’t know, however, is that besides this baseball classic, there are at least 1,400 additional baseball songs to choose from!

As we approach opening day of the 2019 baseball season – a season that will celebrate the 150th anniversary of professional baseball– the Music Division is excited to announce a new online presentation titled, Baseball’s Greatest Hits: An Annotated Bibliography of Baseball Music and Songs at the Library of Congress.  Featuring over 1,400 pieces of published and unpublished baseball sheet music held in the Music Division, this document chronicles 160 years of passion for the national pastime expressed in popular songs, quadrilles and quicksteps, mambos and marches, blues and boogies, waltzes, foxtrots, polkas, rags, cantatas and even operas. Many of these selections have also been digitized and are available online in the Baseball Sheet Music collection.

Much like the sport itself, the contributors to this vast body of work cut across both class and musical divides: there are songs composed by jazz greats Eubie Blake and Buddy Johnson; pop tunes by famous Tin Pan Alley composers such as George M. Cohan, and the von Tilzer brothers; classical compositions by Charles Ives and Richard Danielpour; songs penned by baseball players and even their wives. Hundreds of contributions, however, are from amateur musicians who, as die-hard fans, simply wanted to pay tribute to their team.  Overall, this massive assemblage, the largest worldwide, reveals the remarkable congruence between the evolution of the sport – from before the Civil War to the present – and the musical counterparts that have chronicled in song baseball’s greatest moments.

Mrs. Lou Gehrig is identified as co-writer of “I Can’t Get to First Base with You.” (New York: Fred Fisher Music Co., 1935.) 

 

Despite the magnificent cover art and an avalanche of advertising, Cohan’s “copycat” song, composed a few days after Albert von Tilzer’s greatest hit, was a flop. George M. Cohan, William Jerome and Jean Schwartz, “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.” (New York: Cohan & Harris Pub. Co., 1908).

 

The final weeks of the 1908 baseball season became so contentious with three NL teams (the Chicago Cubs, New York Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates) within one game of each other on the final day of play. Three AL teams were in close contention as well: the Chicago White Sox,  Cleveland Naps, and league champion Detroit Tigers. This song, composed in September 1908, depicts on the cover the current standings for both leagues. The 1908 World Series, won by the Cubs, was considered anti-climactic after these heated and controversial pennant races!  Anna Caldwell and James O’Dea. Stars of the National Game.” (New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co., 1908). Music Division, Library of Congress. 

The fourth verse and chorus from another von Tilzer creation titled Did He Run?. Composed in January 1909, von Tilzer recounts the final playoff game of the 1908 season between the Giants and the Cubs, an event when nineteen year-old Fred Merkel’s controversial base-running mistake resulted in a forfeiture of the win that day and the NL pennant for the Giants. Albert von Tilzer and Junie McCree, “Did He Run?” (New York: The York Music Co., 1909). 

The chronological index (Appendix A) affords a unique view into baseball history (as well as the evolution of popular musical form in the U.S.). The titles of songs celebrating tournaments, leagues, teams, players, a particular world series, etc., reveal a timeline of baseball’s major events as they unfolded. There are songs about the Temple Cup tournaments of the 1890s, the establishment of the Federal League in 1914-15, the Washington Nationals’ great western tour of 1867, and even the untimely death of Naps pitcher Addie Joss in 1911, to name a few.

For zealous fans who want to know how many songs mention their team, Appendix B (Songs about Teams, Leagues and Players) can answer your questions. The Dodgers, by the way (Los Angeles and Brooklyn combined), claim first place with forty-three songs followed by the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, Giants, White Sox, Athletics, Tigers, Pirates, Mets, etc.  And although Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson easily top the charts for the highest number of players’ songs, there are many gems to be discovered among the lesser-known or forgotten celebrities such as Home Run” Baker, (Larry) Doby’s Boogie, even one song recapping Fred Merkel’s controversial base-running mistake (Did He Run?) that resulted in a forfeiture of the win and the NL pennant!

This photograph features members of the 1922 House of David baseball team from Benton Harbor, MI; part of a religious sect that prohibited alcohol, sex and shaving, this famous barnstorming team played to enraptured crowds and reportedly won up to seventy percent of their games. The original photograph is held at the Israelite House of David website.

Tucked away among the entries you’ll also find various unusual and idiosyncratic pieces. Check out the stories surrounding the “blues” related to the barnstorming House of David team; a song from Chicago’s White Rats of America labor union that mentions Cubs catcher Johnny Kling; an 1895 show tune titled Who Would Doubt that I’m a Man?, dedicated to America’s “New Woman;” or Earth Opera’s 1968 “war” song that expresses the country’s malaise during the Vietnam conflict and concludes with the phrase “… and the Red Sox are winning.”

Whether you are a musician looking for baseball repertoire, an educator looking for primary sources for your students, a baseball fan wanting to read about the history of your team or a researcher studying American popular culture, music, or sport history, this bibliography is worth a look: Baseball’s Greatest Hits: An Annotated Bibliography of Baseball Music and Songs at the Library of Congress. For images of our pre-1923 baseball hits, visit our digital baseball sheet music collection. A 2017 exhibit, Baseball’s Greatest Hits: The Music of Our National Game, provides further information.

6 Comments

  1. lentigogirl
    March 15, 2019 at 10:09 am

    Great post. Go Sox!

  2. Nigel A Sellars
    March 15, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Wonderful stuff. Would it be possible to provide links to recordings of these songs, if available?

  3. Fran Morris-Rosman
    March 15, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    This is great! And if any music and baseball lovers are in L.A., stop by the Grammy Museum where a new exhibit on Music and Baseball has just opened.
    Go Dodgers!

  4. Paul Sommerfeld
    March 15, 2019 at 1:35 pm

    Unfortunately, adding a discography to this lengthy document was just too much to negotiate – and, frankly, out of my league! I did include a few links for recordings available on the Library’s National Jukebox (The House of David Blues, The Umpire’s a most Unhappy Man, and Can’t You Take It Back and Change It for a Boy?). I believe that the Jukebox also includes recordings of That Baseball Rag and the Fascinating Base-ball Slide. The link to the National Jukebox is: //www.loc.gov/jukebox/search

    There was also a great baseball music discography that I consulted when putting this Bibliography together:
    Corenthal, Michael G. Baseball on Record: America’s National pastime in Song and Story from the Cylinder to the Compact Disc. Milwaukee, WI: MGC Publications, 1998.
    LC Call number: GV867.3.C68 1998

  5. natsfan
    March 15, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Informative post! I look forward to exploring the bibliography.

  6. natsfan
    March 15, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Informative post. I look forward to exploring the bibliography.

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