The 15 Best Baseball Songs Ever Written
The World Series is underway and while pundits across the globe examine Tony LaRussa’s bullpen management or Nelson Cruz’s ability to hit a fastball from Arlington to El Paso, I’m going to focus on baseball’s more artful expressions.
Music is perhaps the strongest branch in baseball’s pop culture family tree. It is as much a part of the game as pine tar and batting gloves. In a sport built on tradition and lore, music is the game’s eternal voice.
Today, this ballpark junkie will rank the top 15 baseball songs ever written. The rules are simple: there aren’t any. These are simply the best tunes that were inspired in some way by America’s National Pastime and the people who play it for a living. If you don’t agree, don’t worry. We aren’t talking balls and strikes – you can voice your opinion in the comments section below. Just don’t kick any dirt.
The list begins with Jerry Jeff Walker’s tribute to one of the hardest throwing right handers to ever toe the rubber. A native Texan, Ryan serves as the team President (and managing general partner) of a Texas Ranger franchise currently chasing its first ever World Series championship. If they pull it out, Jerry Jeff might need to write another verse.
When Billy Bragg and Wilco took on the project of putting music to unheard Woody Guthrie lyrics, they came up with this traditional tune that makes you feel like you’re smack dab in the middle of the Yankee Clipper’s 56 game hitting streak.
Released during Mickey Mantle’s triple crown season of 1956, “I Love Mickey” was one of the first baseball songs ever to hit the Billboard top 100. And since today would have been the Mick’s 80th birthday, we had to find room for this one on the list. Happy Birthday #7.
An up and coming singer-songwriter who grew up in Titletown USA (Green Bay, WI), VandenAvond fell in love with baseball while listening to the great Bob Uecker call Brewers games on the radio. Hard to believe it wasn’t until 2009 that someone finally wrote a song about Mister Baseball, but it was worth the wait. Stripped down and pure as the game itself, VandenAvond sings “From a screened in porch, I hear Uecker give the count. Get up get up, get out of here, gone for Yount.”
11. “Cheap Seats” by Alabama This minor league baseball anthem focuses on the game at its very core. One listen and you’re ready to throw a blanket down on the outfield grass in a town like Aberdeen, Maryland or Boise, Idaho while you polish down hot dogs and dance with the Famous Chicken. Mustard, relish, flat beer, and a whole lot of fun make up this country music classic.
10. “All the Way” by Eddie Vedder Add the Pearl Jam frontman to the list of famous rock and roll stars who moonlight as full time baseball fans. Unfortunately for Vedder, his Chicago roots prepped him for a lifetime of disappoinyment waiting for his hometown Cubbies to break the Billy Goat Curse. His passion for the north siders and the game of baseball shine through brilliantly in “All the Way”.
9. “Catfish” by Bob Dylan
Despite being written by the most influential American songwriter of all time, this is a fairly obscure track about the career of Hall of Fame pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter. Dylan signs not only of Catfish’s prowess on the diamond but the historical significance of his departure from Charlie O. Finley’s farm for George Steinbrenner’s Bronx Zoo. “Used to work on Mr. Finley’s farm But the old man wouldn’t pay, so he packed his glove and took his arm and one day he just ran away”
8.Baseball on the Block by John McCutcheon
McCutcheon’s Grammy award winning album of original baseball flavored tracks is one of the most creative and original works of the last decade. With several songs that could have made this list, the album’s featured track calls,
“Third base is Eddie’s old shirt, Second is Schmidt’s Chevrolet, I had a sure double I was just rounding first, when Schmidt’s Mom drove second away.”
You won’t find many collections that contain songs by both Bob Dylan and Kenny Rogers, but that’s the power of baseball. It brings together people from all walks of life, and all backgrounds. This heartwarming tale of a young man’s quest for baseball stardom was an easy choice for this list.
This mainsteam classic depicts an evening of reminiscing by two former teammates at roadside bar in Small Town, USA. “Glory Days” is a prime example of the timelessness of both music and baseball. You’d be hard pressed to find a ballpark in the country that hasn’t belted out this tune throughout the past 25 seasons.
5. Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey & the Duke) by Terry Cashman
Cashman released this song at the heart of the 1981 baseball players’ strike as a way to remind fans that they game they love was bigger than any temporary work stoppage. Labor disputes, steroid epidemics and other scandals will come and go but the game of baseball, and its music, will go on forever.
One of the best kept secrets in today’s Americana music circuit, Willy Tea Taylor rarely makes it through one of his harrowing live sets without picking a baseball lick on his tenor guitar. Music is his craft, but collecting and restoring vintage baseball gloves is one of his hobbies. In this, perhaps the most humbling of all songs on the list, Willy Tea writes a self retrospective on how baseball was a metaphor used to connect three generations of fathers and sons. Have a listen, and you’ll be ready to have a catch.
You take one of America’s greatest all-time rock and roll musicians and a song about baseball that he plays with a guitar shaped like a Louisville Slugger and what do you get? The only song ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Years before Harry Caray ever set down a cold Budweiser to stick a microphone out the press box window, Jack Norworth wrote the lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”on a piece of scrap paper on a train ride to Manhattan. Norworth gave the sheet to Albert Von Tilzer who composed the music which in turn was published by the York Music Company in 1858.
It was only fitting that this year’s Fall Classic began on the birth date of the our National Anthem. Baseball is indeed America’s National Pastime and its bond with patriotism is is bigger than any player, team or executive. For my money, Huey Lewis & the News do the best rendition around. And it’s only fitting that the best words in baseball usually follow the Star Spangled Banner. “Play ball!”
I know I left out some good ones, like the Baseball Project’s “Fair Weather Fans” and Steve Goodman’s Wrigley Field victory dance “Go Cubs Go” but hey, Dale Murphy, Tommy John and Jack Morris aren’t in Cooperstown yet and they probably should be. Feel free to sound off in the comments section below.