Nippertown’s All-Star Baseball Songs Lineup
The love for baseball has been captured in plenty of songs over the years. While some have paid tribute to specific ballplayers, others attempt to capture the emotional bond between fans and the game itself. Last night, Nippertown publisher Jim Gilbert challenged me to curate a list of songs in honor of Opening Day. Where I immediately could identify only two, I collected this list before retiring for the night. It’s not a Top 10 list, but they are the best songs in my opinion — including an honorable mention towards the end. This lineup runs chronologically, starting with an ode to a local boy.
“Slide, Kelly, Slide!” (1889)
Charismatic and handsome, Michael “King” Kelly was baseball’s first superstar. The Troy native’s popularity transcended the ballfield and onto the stage, where he moonlighted as an actor. His aggressive baserunning drew the inspiration for the hit song, “Slide, Kelly, Slide!” In 1927, more than 30 years after his death, MGM would produce a film with the same name. The main character, Jim Kelly, was loosely based on him.
Les Brown and his Orchestra
“Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio” (1941)
America was enthralled in a passionate love affair with baseball leading up to World War II. Joe DiMaggio, the Yankees’ young center fielder, fueled headlines in 1941 as he pursued what would ultimately become a record-hitting streak. This big band tune remains a catchy earworm, too.
Jack Norworth, Albert Von Tilzer
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1908)
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this ubiquitous Tin Pan Alley song. Neither of the two men credited with writing it attended a baseball game prior to its release. It’s now performed as a singalong following the top half of every seventh inning in whatever ballpark you may be in.
“Talkin’ Baseball” (1981)
It didn’t break Billboard’s Top 40, but Terry Cashman’s love note to Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider gained incredible popularity with baseball fans. It tugged a nostalgic chord with Baby Boomers who grew up through the events of the time. He’d follow nine years later with “Play by Play,” incorporating sound bites from beloved radio announcers of the past such as Red Barber — a nod to every young fan who snuck a transistor radio under their pillow to hear a game.
“Wrigley Field” from The Natural (1984)
Randy Newman is an Academy Award-winning composer yet surprisingly not for this work. For “The Natural,” he draws inspiration from the time period, earning comparisons to Aaron Copland. While doing so, he creates a beautiful masterpiece that captures the mythological exploits of one fictional ballplayer, Roy Hobbs. This piece garnered one of Newman’s 22 Academy Award nominations for his career. He went up against — not one, but two — works from legendary John Williams in 1985. Both men lost to Maurice Jarre that year.
Following a 10-year hiatus, John Fogerty dropped a solo album in 1985, and “Centerfield” quickly became a hit. The former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman had long been a fan of the game. The rocker said he drew from memories of his father and older brothers talking about Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. It wasn’t long after that his tape cassette was playing at every Little League park.
“Cheap Seats” (1993)
While name-dropping is the norm for every baseball song, Alabama goes for the small-town vibe, recalling that feeling of being at the game. Local baseball fans can hear this song and recall summers spent at Hawkins Stadium, Heritage Park, and now, Joe Bruno Stadium. After attending a game, you seldom remember the details. You do, however, recall the good times spent with friends. That’s what this song does.
“The Greatest” (1999)
Kenny Rogers’ endearing style for storytelling is perhaps none better than here. It’s a simple story of a boy fumbling at his attempt to hit the ball after he tosses it in the air. Childhood innocence and unwavering optimism play front in center, and it guarantees to bring a smile to your face at the end.
Boston’s Dropkick Murphys adopted this Vaudeville era show tune and created a modern-day anthem that charged the Red Sox to a World Series ring. The song tells the true story of ‘Nuff Said McGreevey, a Boston pub owner whose patrons included baseball hooligans affectionately called the Royal Rooters. Historians recall how McGreevey and the Royal Rooters rattled the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates during the 1903 World Series by singing rousing renditions of popular show tunes, including “Tessie” from “The Silver Slipper.”
“Ichiro’s Theme” (2012)
Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard produces a surf rock tribute to future Hall of Famer, Ichiro Suzuki. A noted favorite of the former Seattle Mariner, Gibbard waxes poetic as he sings of the ballplayer’s prowess on the field. It’s a welcomed escape from the campy big band tributes of the past.
“Home Run on the Keys” (1937)
The baseball legend was two years removed from his playing days when he appeared in this Warner Brothers short film. No one will mistake him for Benny Goodman, but watching him as he sings before a radio studio orchestra lends proper perspective on his immense popularity.
“I Love Mickey” (1956)
Teresa Brewer was one of the most popular singers of her day when she recorded this novelty track featuring Mickey Mantle. Like DiMaggio before him, Mantle was the face of the winning New York Yankees. His muscles and dimples would make him the absolute star of the game as more Americans bought televisions.
“Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (1977)
Certainly not about baseball, but Phil Rizzuto’s cameo in Meat Loaf’s ode to backseat loving continues to entertain. When broached about the song during Yankee broadcasts, the beloved announcer would often plead ignorance. He said he was unaware of what “that huckleberry” was singing about while he contributed his color commentary on the hit track.
“We Are Family” (1979)
The Pittsburgh Pirates bonded together as a championship team while they continuously played this Sister Sledge hit in the clubhouse. The Pirates would beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series and forever be known as the “We Are Family” Pirates.
“Theme from New York, New York” (1980)
Liza Minnelli sang the original theme to the Martin Scorsese film, but soon after Ol’ Blue Eyes covered it, it became a staple in Yankee Stadium. The song has played after each Yankee home victory since 1980.