The following is a guest post by Senior Music Specialist (and Red Sox fan) Susan Clermont:
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 Featuring over 1,400 pieces of published and unpublished baseball sheet music held in the Music Division, this document chronicles 160 years of passion for the national pastime expressed in popular songs, quadrilles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.
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!
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.