The American troubadour turned 70 yesterday.
So what does Dylan have to do with baseball? (Is that a rhetorical question? Obviously, or I wouldn’t have asked it.)
In 2006, Dylan featured baseball music and poetry in his “Theme Time Radio Hour” on XM Satellite Radio.
The one-hour program, available on CD, consisted of several of the classics like “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball,” “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song,” and “Heart” from the Broadway musical Damn Yankees.
But Dylan being Dylan, you know he’s going to throw in a few curves. His sung/spoken “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (the “Nellie Kelly” version, rather than “Katie Casey” ) was so over-the-top nasally that it had me wondering if this was the real singer or an imitator. And I’m curious why he used “hurrah” rather than “hooray,” which naturally rhymes with “day” and “play.”
Next up was The Skeltons and their signature “one-word-off” version of “TMOTTBG”, followed by the double-entendre-filled “Baseball Boogie.” Actually, it’s amazing how dirty you can get when talking about the national pastime — which I won’t get into here, being a family blog) — but suffice it to say the combination of baseball and the hyper-sexual jazz style makes for some interesting listening. Chance Holliday’s “Home Run” follows a similar theme in the Rockabilly style, and Johnny Darling (I’m guessing no relation to former Mets pitcher Ron) asks his “Baseball Baby” to hit a home run (but, Johnny, Darling, “you can’t play baseball in the dark?” Get with the times, man).
Following a brief “baseball is…” by a then-sane Charlie Sheen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem, “Baseball Canto,” the music resumes as with country crooner Cowboy Copas’ lover’s lament in “Three Strikes and You’re Out.”
Then we find religion, with the gospel “The Ball Game,” as sung by “Sister” Wynona Carr.
Later on the CD, Dylan provides the musical version of the “bio-pic” for some of the stars of the 1940s and 50s: Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?”; “Don Newcombe Really Throws That Ball”; and “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio” and “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song”) which include the ballplayers in somewhat stiff cameo appearances (what happened to the Mantle tribute, “I Love Mickey?”). Sam Bush reprises the genre with “The Wizard of Oz,” his ode to Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith.
Rounding out the CD is jazz saxophonist man Sonny Rollins’ “Newk’s Fadeaway” and Ry Cooder’s haunting “3rd Base, Dodger Stadium,” about Hispanic Los Angelenos displaced when the city built the new ballpark for the Dodgers. My favorite, however, was Wilco’s remake of Woody Guthrie’s “Joe DiMaggio’s Done it Again.”
Seth Mnookin, author of Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top, also opined on the Dylan/baseball program.
Even if Dylan isn’t your cup of tea, this is a CD worth getting since it’s difficult to find some of these tunes elsewhere.