Something about America’s pastime inspires whimsical paeans from even the generally sports-ambivalent world of indie rock. Just ask Death Cab For Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard, who took a break from prepping his solo debut, Former Lives (out via Barsuk 10/16), to post a long-dormant track titled “Ichiro’s Theme” to Soundcloud. Gibbard was reflecting on yesterday’s bittersweet trade that sent his beloved Seattle Mariners’ Hall of Fame-bound international superstar, Ichiro Suzuki, to the New York Yankees.
But Gibbard is far from alone among musicians when it comes to tributes to the Boys of Summer. Here are six more unabashedly novel baseball-inspired tracks from punks, moonlighting rock stars, and bedroom folkies alike.
The Baseball Project (Featuring Craig Finn) – “Don’t Call Them Twinkies”
Hold Steady frontman, Midwest native, and noted New York transplant Craig Finn has a point about his home-state Minnesota Twins: Despite World Series titles in the 1987 and ’91 of his youth, and perennial postseason appearances throughout the 2000s, those Great Lakes mashers consistently get the Rodney Dangerfield treatment from bicoastal types. While contributing guest vocals to Peter Buck and Steve Wynn’s ongoing Baseball Project on 2011’s High And Inside, Finn may have exercised some underdog hyperbole by declaring, “These are heroes,” but he’s otherwise wholly justified in encouraging fans to “wave those Homer Hankies” and, of course, “Please don’t call them Twinkies.”
Eddie Vedder – “All The Way”
Like fellow classic-rock acolyte and Middle American Finn, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder aligns himself with a scrappy Central-division mainstay. Unlike Finn’s occasionally successful Twins, though Vedder’s beleaguered Chicago Cubs are primarily notorious for coming just shy of glory. 2008 marked an improbable 100 years of World Series futility by the proud, storied Cubbies, compelling Vedder to officially release his single, “All The Way.” The acoustic, plaintive rallying cry insists that, “Someday we’ll go all the way,” poignantly references Wrigley Field as “our diamond, our jewel” and boasts, “We are not fair-weather but foul-weather fans.” Well, if you can’t beat ‘em, fuck ‘em.
Dropkick Murphys – “Tessie”
At this point, the Dropkick Murphys are veritable ambassadors of Boston. Their music teems of Irish-Catholic struggle and triumph, barrels through the soundtrack of locally focused movies like The Departed, and blares out of Fenway Park PAs with violent intent. But as it happens, the Red Sox approached them in 2004 with the idea of re-imaging this old vaudeville tune about turn-of-the-century BoSox fanatics called the Royal Rooters into a rollicking contemporary team anthem. The timing was, of course, perfect. Boston won their first World Series in nearly a century that October, and even if the lyrics to “Tessie” are tangentially baseball-oriented at best, the song will forever be entrenched in Yawkey Way lore.
Todd Snider – “America’s Favorite Pastime”
Few of sports’ urban legends have amassed the general interest of Dock Ellis’s June 12, 1970 no-hitter, thrown while the pitcher was allegedly on acid. It wasn’t until 1984 that the former Pirates starter claimed he’d been thoroughly tripping during his one and only no-no, recounting, “The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes. Sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn’t.” Veteran alt-country songwriter Todd Snider, enamored with the tale, spun his own three-minute folk yarn inspired by Ellis’s affair. Snider, however, did take some liberties with the pitcher’s already surreal detailing of events, singing of a leadoff man who “turned into a dancing rattlesnake” and “hallucinating Halloween scenes.”
The Mountain Goats – “Cubs In Five”
Mountain Goats maestro John Darnielle might be the only artist to reference both the Chicago Cubs and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in one fleeting rage-ballad. “Cubs in Five” is a winning, if dated, romantic metaphor circa 1995 from a guy who may or may not know a lick about what happens on a baseball diamond. Speaking of a past love, Darnielle wails, “And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league/And the Tampa Bay Bucs will take it all the way to the top/And I will love you again/I will love you like I used to.” He must have moved on from that old flame by now, because, as Eddie Vedder can tell you, the Cubs have yet to fulfill Darnielle’s narrator’s prophecy.
Belle & Sebastian – “Piazza, New York Catcher”
Mets’ All-Star catcher and potential Hall Of Famer Mike Piazza had a rough go of things off the field in 2002, thanks to persistent rumors — and Piazza’s subsequent denial — that he was gay. So who better to put the macho man’s plight into tender, empathetic song than twee Scottish luminaries Belle & Sebastian? “Piazza, New York Catcher” is actually a bit cryptic, and largely centers on the storyteller’s pursuit of companionship with an elusive “wayward girl” dubbed “Miss Private.” The scattered, explicit mentions of Piazza (e.g. “Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?” and, “The catcher hits for .318 and catches every day”) function more as internal asides and/or demonstrations of commitment than a goof on the man himself. Unsurprisingly, Piazza — a noted classic rock and metal fan — has neither commented on the song’s lyrical content nor expressed an opinion on its musical merit.