America’s Favourite Pastime

Major League Baseball in the States is about to finish up for the regular season this weekend. I’ve been keeping an eye on the standings over the last few weeks and am delighted that one team in particular has made it to the playoffs for the first time in fifteen years. I’ve still got a lot to learn about the sport, so I’ve been reading up on its rules, history and culture recently. Today, I’m going to talk about four songs that focus on different aspects of America’s favourite pastime. The picture above has been captured from the music video of Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen. The song was one of numerous singles from his seventh studio album, Born in the USA (1984). Like many of the songs on the albums that preceded and followed that release, the lyric of Glory Days contrasts the high hopes and great expectations of youth with the stark realities of adulthood. In the first verse of the song the narrator recounts a chance meeting with a former high school friend who he remembered as a talented baseball player. It seems that his friend never realised his potential as all he talks about are those “glory days”. The same fate has befallen another schoolfriend and, it seems, the narrator as well. This downbeat lyric is counterbalanced by an upbeat tune and typically energetic backing by the E Street Band

Glory Days – Bruce Springsteen from Born in The USA

The title track of John Fogerty‘s Centerfield from the following year is another slice of boisterous, upbeat rock & roll and, this time, its lyric matches the music. Right off the bat, the former C.C.R. man sings about sun, new grass and rebirth. He’s on the bench and he’s pleading with his coach to put him on. You can tell that his mood is as upbeat as the music and he seems to be into the sport for fun and not for profit, as evidenced by his inferior equipment. He also refers to Casey at the Bat, a wonderful poem about a fictional baseball game that was written by Ernest Thayer in 1888. Click on the title of the poem to read it when you’re finished here

Centerfield – John Fogerty from Centerfield

America’s Favorite Pastime by Todd Snider possesses a lot of the humour and playfulness of Casey at the Bat except that his tall tale is actually true. In June 1970, Dock Ellis was the pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates who were about to play a four game series against the San Diego Padres. Prior to their opening double-header, Ellis was given permission to take a couple of days off. He drove to Los Angeles where he stayed with a friend and that friend’s girlfriend. Partial to a bit of partying, he woke up on the day of the first game having sleept through the whole of the previous day. Ellis had four hours to get to San Diego but that was the least of his problems. Thinking that he had the day off, Ellis had dropped a tab of acid when he woke up! He made it on time and took a few amphetamines and some Benzedrine to sort himself out before the game. Unfortunately, he couldn’t feel the ball properly and he had trouble seeing the catcher and opposing batter. At various times during the game, the ball appeared small or large to him. At one point, he believed that Richard Nixon was the umpire and another time he thought he was pitching to Jimi Hendrix! Despite this, Ellis achieved a rare feat as he managed to throw a no-hitter – he allowed no hits during the course of the game. Even though the players on both teams knew he was high at the time, he didn’t reveal the whole story until 1984. By the way, he’s now a drugs counselor at a prison! You can read an entertaining account of this tale and more about Dock’s interesting life here and this short award-winning animation called Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No by James Blagden is also worth a few minutes of your time. I don’t know a lot about baseball, but if there are more guys like Dock Ellis in the game then I’m going to have to find out more about it

America’s Favorite Pastime – Todd Snider from The Excitement Plan

I lived in the USA for a year and I managed to attend a few MLB games while I was there. Like everyone else, I got up to stretch my legs during the seventh innings and to belt out the words of Take Me Out To The Ball Game. The song was originally written in 1908 and became associated with baseball in the 1930s. This version by The Hold Steady goes out to regular reader Jim whose Twins have topped the Central Division of the American League. I’d like to see Minnesota make it to the World Series, though my allegiances will hopefully be elsewhere at that stage. Tune in next week when I say a few words about a city whose baseball team is back in the big time again

Take Me Out To The Ball Game – The Hold Steady