Illustration by Alex Fine

Continuing our exploration of music relating to spring, we take a look today at songs inspired by the game of baseball (whose season begins tonight)…and while the topic has spawned plenty of novelties and throwaways, here are a few songs about America’s pastime that should appeal to the Sleepy Hollow faithful.

Belle & Sebastian – “Piazza, New York Catcher”

Like many of Stuart Murdoch’s compositions, “Piazza, New York Catcher” is full of romanticism, melancholy, and melodic expertise. Rather than being “about” baseball, Murdoch uses the sport as a touchstone in both location (“San Francisco’s calling us / the Giants and Mets will play”) and cultural reference (the tabloid-informed quip, “Piazza, New York Catcher / are you straight or are you gay?).” He interweaves these references with a typically Murdoch-ian tale of confusion in love and self, bringing baseball back in his note that “the catcher hits for .318 / and catches every day” (Piazza hit .286 that year), and a reference to Sandy Koufax, who famously missed a World Series start on account of Yom Kippur: “the pitcher puts religion first / and rests on holidays.” Its a perfect representation of baseball’s perpetual ability to exist alongside the individual American life–not bad for a band from Scotland.

Bob Dylan – “Catfish”

Included on the initial installment of the now long-running Bootleg Series, “Catfish” is an acoustic, smoky blues tribute to pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter recorded during the sessions for 1976’s Desire. And while Hunter is known for his superb play that included over 2,000 strikeouts, 200 wins, and a career ERA of 3.24 (he also pitched a perfect game in 1968), he is also remembered as being one of the first free agents to receive a high-paying contract when he moved from the Athletics to the Yankees in ’75. The “Mr. Finley” who “wouldn’t pay” refers to Athletics owner Charlie Finley, and Dylan describes Hunter as the “million dollar man” who can strike out any player in the game. Coincidentally he chooses Reggie Jackson as Hunter’s named batting victim–Jackson would later make the transition from Oakland to New York himself and become Hunter’s teammate. Of course, Dylan’s prediction that Hunter would make the Hall of Fame came true, though the pitcher would ultimately die at a young age of Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – “Walter Johnson”

Though Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers will always be remembered for Modern Lovers’ classic 1974 debut album that foreshadowed the punk movement (and features one of the all-time-great rock and roll anthems in “Roadrunner”) he’s had a successful career as a performer that continues to this day. This acoustic ode to the great (and these days occasionally overlooked) Senators pitcher Walter Johnson focuses mostly on the gentle character of the right hander, whose 417 wins, 2.17 ERA, 3,508 strikeouts and record 110 shutouts remain one of the great achievements in the history of the game. “All through baseball he was loved and respected / well bitterness in Walter Johnson? / it was never detected” croons Richman, praising Johnson for playing fairly and refusing to aggressively intimidate other players despite his prowess. And though seemingly not much more than a toss-off from 1985’s Rockin’ and Romance, “Walter Johnson” reminds us that baseball and music are sometimes best when they’re just plain fun.

See also:
Paul Simon-“Night Game”
Bobby Horton-“Steal Away”
The Baseball Project-“Here Lies Carl Mays”
Dan Bern (w/ Common Rotation)-“Five Nothing Lead”
Sister Wynona Carr-“The Ball Game”