"Top Five" Baseball songs


It’s that time of year again. With Spring Training starting and exhibition games being played in Florida and Arizona, baseball is back and embroiled in its annual controversy. Yes, Bud Selig is Satan – except more inept and trapped in the body of an animatronic wax figure. But this list does not exist to critique the mismanagement or disintegration of our former national pastime. Rather it celebrates the good things about the game – the feeling of rebirth and nostalgia of everything that was once great, as players take the field and signify the unofficial start of spring. Here you won’t find “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” or “Centerfield” – they’re both hokey and overplayed. Also, “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen is disqualified because he uses the term “speedball” in the song to refer to a power pitch. Get it right, Bruce, unless you’re referring to a mix of cocaine and heroin, the term is “fastball.” And with that overt drug reference, here are the best baseball songs ever released.

“Cubs in Five” – The Mountain Goats
In 1995, poet laureate of lo-fidelity folk music John Darnielle penned this tale of redeemed love covered in a thin veil of near impossibilities, most notably the Cubs winning the World Series. Like Cubs fans, Darnielle is eternally and fatally optimistic, referencing situations that are beyond unlikely to happen: “They’re gonna find intelligent life up there on the moon/ And ‘Canterbury Tales’ will shoot up to the top of the best seller list/ And stay there for 27 weeks/ And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league/ And the Tampa Bay Bucs will make it all the way to January/ And I will love you again.” Darnielle knows these things won’t happen, which makes this a perfect kiss-off song, except when the Bucs ruined it by winning the Super Bowl in 2003. Nevertheless, this is one of a million reminders of the century of futility the Cubs have experienced.

“Look, It’s Baseball” – Guided By Voices
Robert Pollard, the brains behind Guided By Voices, once again proves you can make a really beautiful and meaningful song in less than two minutes. Critics often complain that Pollard’s songs are not just esoteric, but make no sense at all, however this one has a lasting beauty to it as a brief poetic treatise of the power of the game and its beauty and meaning in America. The entire song consists of the lyrics: “Took a journey backwards to a revelation I cannot describe/ And I must admit it was worthwhile/ And it made you smile – it’s that extra mile/ When we drove home you slept all the way/ Right through the explosion display/ We woke up with sparks and a night sky of Candlestick Parks/ Another fine outing, pointing and shouting/ ‘Look, it’s baseball.’” This should be sung instead of the national anthem before all baseball games.

“Catfish” – Bob Dylan
On this former bootlegger’s dream track, later released on a three-disc compilation of rare and unreleased songs in 1991, Dylan masterfully paints a lyrical picture of Baseball Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter. Hunter was baseball’s first true free-agent of the modern era and the first to sign a multi-million dollar contract, setting a precedent for today’s labor structure in Major League Baseball. This song chronicles Hunter’s move from the thrifty and tyrannical ownership on the part of Oakland’s Charles O. Finley to the equally tyrannical ownership of the anything-but-thrifty George Steinbrenner of the Yankees while telling of Hunter’s rural background. When Dylan sings over the stripped down twang of his guitar, it’s pure Americana.

“Joe Dimaggio Done it Again” – Billy Bragg and Wilco
Originally written by folk hero Woody Guthrie, this song was resurrected in 2000 on the album “Mermaid Avenue Vol. II,” a collection of previously unheard Guthrie lyrics backed by music written and performed by Billy Bragg and Wilco. This is a great period piece, chronicling the prowess of Joe Dimaggio, baseball’s most referenced player in pop culture in the ‘50s and ‘60s (“Mrs. Robinson,” anyone?). With a bluegrassy-twang and southern, folky drawl, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco tells a tall-tale-ish account of Joltin’ Joe. Crank it up and get all fuzzy with nostalgia for a bygone era when this country dropped everything for baseball.

“Piazza, New York Catcher” – Belle & Sebastian
Hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, it might be considered a small feat that this band has any interest in or understanding of baseball, but this song is a beautiful interweaving of baseball references and an invitation to a burgeoning love affair. Utilizing its typical lyrical style of cramming together long, beautifully descriptive lines of verse like “San Francisco’s calling us, the Giants and Mets will play/ Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?/ We hung about the stadium, we’ve got no place to stay/ We hung about the Tenderloin and tenderly you tell/ About the saddest book you ever read, it always makes you cry/ The statue’s crying too and well he may,” Belle and Sebastian capitalized on the Mike Piazza rumors of a few years ago to pen a beautiful love song – and more importantly, a beautifully orchestrated baseball song.

Compiled by Jason Yurgartis.