First base is temptation
You know that second base is sin
Third base is tribulation
If you pass , you can make it in.
--"The Ball Game,” Sister Wynona Carr
Rock ‘n’ roll is becoming as much a part of baseball as peanuts and Cracker Jack.
Countless ballparks and telecasts use baseball-related songs such as John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” to add to the atmosphere between innings.
So why hasn’t someone come up with an album of baseball songs?
Noticing the oversight, Richard Foos, president of Rhino Records, and James Austin, the record label’s associate artists and repertoire director, have put together a collection of baseball songs and other nostalgic touches.
Working with Warner Fusselle, author of “Baseball: A Laughing Matter,” the Rhino pair discovered there probably have been more than 1,000 baseball recordings--from rock and soul to pop and rap.
In putting together “Baseball’s Greatest Hits,” Austin and Foos weren’t able to obtain the rights to everything they wanted (especially “Centerfield”), but they did come up with such musical gems as Terry Cashman’s “Willie, Mickey & the Duke,” singer-songwriter Steve Goodman’s sweet and sentimental “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” and salutes to baseball greats Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. The latter two recordings (Teresa Brewer’s “I Love Mickey” from 1956 and the Treniers’ “Say Hey” from 1954) even feature cameo spots by the sluggers.
Among the non-musical classics: Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s on First” comedy routine, Lou Gehrig’s 1939 farewell speech and manager Tommy Lasorda’s X-rated reaction when a reporter asks his opinion of Dave Kingman’s three home-run performance against the Dodgers.
In addition, there are two versions of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (an instrumental excerpt of a 1983 recording by Doc and Merle Watson, and a 1982 parody by Tom Chalkley in the style of Bruce Springsteen) and a 1909 recitation by DeWolf Hopper of “Casey at the Bat.”
While all these selections are among the 18 entries on the vinyl and cassette copies of “Baseball’s Greatest Hits,” the CD copies contain four bonus tracks, including what may be the album’s real find: Sister Wynona Carr’s “The Ball Game.”
A gospel singer once associated with Mahalia Jackson and the Wings Over Jordan choir, Carr wrote and recorded “The Ball Game” in 1953 for Specialty, the Los Angeles record company that was also home of Little Richard. The song was a gospel hit in 1955, but most fans will be hearing it for the first time on the album.
Encouraged by the media reaction to the album (talk show host Larry King devoted an hour to it on his radio show this week and MTV plans to air four videos of songs from the album on Monday, opening day of the major league season), Austin is already thinking about a second volume.
“At first, we were talking about potential sales of 30,000 or maybe 50,000, but I think it could go up to 100,000 by the end of the baseball season,” Austin said. “I’m dumbfounded. I knew there would be interest, but I never knew there were so many baseball fanatics. We’re now working on getting them into ballpark concession stands.”
Among the tracks Rhino hopes to feature in volume two of “Baseball’s Greatest Hits”: Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and “You’ve Got to Have Heart” from the musical “Damn Yankees.”
*** “The Very Best of Jackie DeShannon” (EMI)--Like Bobby Darin, DeShannon has made sharp musical sidesteps over the years that left some of her fans confused. Yet she is a gifted writer (her credits range from “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” and “When You Walk in the Room,” both included here, to “Bette Davis Eyes”) and an appealing singer (her rendition of “Needles and Pins” conveyed the tension of a Phil Spector production). This compilation surveys her ‘60s recordings for Liberty and Imperial.
** 1/2 “Patti LaBelle” (Epic)--Producer David Rubinson worked hard in LaBelle’s 1977 solo debut to keep the singer’s melodramatic impulses in check. Even the taut arrangements, however, couldn’t always make up for the uneven material.
*** 1/2 Little Milton’s “If Walls Could Talk” (Chess)--Another of the celebrated artists to pass through Sam Phillips’ Sun Records studio in Memphis, Milton Campbell moves convincingly in this 1970 collection from blues (the rowdy “I Play Dirty”) to soul (the delicate “Baby, I Love You”).