Why do baseball games spark an urge to sing?

April 03, 2006|By TOM DUNKEL | TOM DUNKEL,SUN REPORTER

No one is going to write a Broadway musical titled "Damn Ravens!"

Something about the sport of baseball lends itself to song. Strains of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" were regularly echoing in parks as early as 1910. The up-down ritual of the seventh-inning stretch, an interlude seemingly tailor-made for sing-alongs, was cemented in fans' psyches by the Roaring Twenties.

Today, in this era of Jumbotron and MTV, ballparks rock from batting practice till final out. Spectators abhor a vacuum - and silence.

The Library of Congress has an online bibliography of baseball music that stretches - on and on and on, like a batter legging out an inside-the-park home run - to 420 entries.

The list abruptly ends in 1991. It does, however, include that 1858 rocker "The Baseball Polka," as well as the presumed marathon-title champion: "I'd Rather Dig the Score of Nine Innings of a Ballgame Than the Score of Lud Beethoven's Big Nine."

Some say the leisurely pace of the game invites musical accompaniment. It nicely fills the dead air between plays.

Some note baseball's roots extend back to the Civil War, a time of drummer boy-soldiers and music as the medium of oral history.

"The early teams used to march out on the field in song," says Jeff Campbell, a Washington producer who has compiled a series of baseball-music CDs called Diamond Cuts. "Those baseball games were social events and what makes for a social event other than music?"

Orioles broadcaster Joe Angel, who has logged 27 years in a radio-booth perch, favors the theory of synchronicity. Music makes people feel relaxed and happy. So does baseball.

"Baseball's kind of a comforting game," says Angel, "unlike football, where there's a lot of motion and physicality to it, or basketball."

Above and beyond those hundreds of on-topic songs, are scores of others that baseball has incorporated through the magic of stadium dynamics, that mystery of the communal moment. Think Pittsburgh Pirates in their 1970s heyday and the Sister Sledge anthem "We Are Family." Or today's Boston Red Sox and Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline"; hardly a stirring battle cry, but it works for the Sox.

Don't bother trying to arrange a marriage of fans and music. Don't expect logic, either. It's alchemy. It's destiny. It reminds you of Carl Sandburg's description of love as an inexplicable smoke-fog of emotion: "the winding of it gets into your walk, your hands, your face and eyes."

Safe to say John Denver never imagined he had a seventh-inning-stretch hit on his hands when he recorded "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."

Where they hiding all those cows in Baltimore? Anybody tilled a cornfield lately? Makes no matter. We can be country boys and girls if we want. At least inside Oriole Park.

How do you explain that no team has glommed onto John Fogerty's bouncy "Centerfield," possibly the all-star among modern baseball tunes, as its signature song? Yes, "Centerfield" gets a lot of stadium play - but no more than "Y.M.C.A." Who would have thought that piece of bubble gum, performed by men in costume, would one day be catapulting thousands of fans out of their seats, eager to contort themselves into alphabet letters?

Maybe stadium songs are stress reducers. Maybe they speak to some primordial tribal impulse. Maybe it's simply the power of ... beer sales.

Somehow lips that murmur their way through "Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light ... " have no trouble gearing up and yowling, "BUY ME SOME PEANUTS AND CRACKERJACKS. I DON'T CARE IF I NEVER GET BACK!"

That annual rite of transformation begins today, Opening Day. It will cast its spell on fans until the wicked winds of autumn send everyone, winners and losers alike, home; home to deal with the long, icy, baseball-less silence of winter.

Terry Cashman, a native New Yorker, had a youthful fling with the Detroit Tigers farm system before becoming a professional singer-songwriter. During the 1981 Major League strike, he wrote "Talkin' Baseball," a nostalgic nod to his boyhood heroes Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider and the simpler days of the sport.

Two summers ago, Cashman was in Yankee Stadium, watchin' baseball. A father and his young son were seated in front of him. Suddenly, "Talkin' Baseball" came booming over the Yankee Stadium loudspeakers between innings.

"We're talkin' baseball. Kluszewski, Campanella. Talkin' baseball. `The Man' and Bobby Feller. The `Scooter, the `Barber' and the `Newk' ... "

"They started singing the song," Cashman says of the father and son. "That was very, very touching. I just sat there and kind of had chills up and down my spine."

The natural reaction to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would be to tap the guy on the shoulder and say, "Hey, I wrote that song!" You'd expect Cashman to have a beer with the guy and maybe autograph his kid's glove.

But Cashman never opened his mouth. Never said a peep.

Why not?

"I was crying."

tom.dunkel@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Rob Hiaasen contributed to this article.

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