Thanks for the Music, Mr. Gammons

Photo by Andy Esposito/NYSD

Perhaps it is somewhat plagiaristic to write an article about another writer’s articles, but this is more about leading readers to one of the greatest baseball reporters in the history of the game, and to serve notice to pick up on one of the absolutely best regularly produced baseball magazines currently available.

What this is about is an unsolicited commercial for the latest issue of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s bimonthly magazine, Memories & Dreams.  The six-times per year publication maintains themes in each issue, and the current issue focuses on how much music plays a part in baseball.

From the daily chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the history of opening every game with the National Anthem, to walk-up music, and the current baseball anthem, “Centerfield,” the “sounds of the game” incorporate every genre of music and in many cases include the very ballplayers from the game making that music.

What this is also about is a wonderfully spun piece in the current issue (Vol. 44, Number 2) of Memories & Dreams by Mr. Peter Gammons, often acknowledged as a real GOAT in the baseball community amongst scribes, a Hall of Famer himself – having been honored with the J. G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding baseball journalism in 2004 – and often a member of the various Veteran’s Committees who determine who deserves a plaque after being overlooked by the writers in past elections.

The issue features several pieces exploring musical connections, including:  a history of the legendary song, “Van Lingle Mungo,” by Dave Frishberg, with lyrics composed entirely of unusual ballplayer names; a collection of rock and roll photos clicked by Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (art gallery-worthy shots of Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, U2, ZZ Top, Metallica, and KISS); the back story of John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” tune and the day he presented the Hall with the bat-shaped guitar that played the song; baseball-themed songs (from “Talkin’ Baseball” to “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio”); an absolutely awesome piece by Steve Wulf paying tribute to some of the many ballplayers who have played instruments and had “hits” on the charts as well as on the field; and features or photos about “rockers” such as Eddie Vedder, Jack White, Toby Keith, Kenny Loggins, Timothy B. Schmidt, and even Crosby, Stills, & Nash who have made the journey to Cooperstown and wear their baseball allegiances quite prominently.

Even the opening remarks by Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch boasts of his treasured memories of being “in the ballpark” when favorite musicians and bands made appearances.  He was there in Shea Stadium when Billy Joel performed his historic, “Last Play at Shea” concert, or in Dodger Stadium rocking to the Stones or Michael Jackson, at Chase Field for Kenney Chesney, and dozens of other stadium concerts.

The Gammons piece includes details how former White Sox organist Nancy Faust is credited with pioneering walk-up music when she played, “Jesus Christ Superstar” for slugger Dick Allen.

Allen expressed talents with his vocal chords as well as his prowess with a Louisville Slugger when he fronted a band called “The Ebonistics” in the ‘60s, and even once sang at a halftime concert in Philadelphia’s Spectrum.

Allen’s brother, Hank, recalls his singing teammate, Arthur Lee Maye, who famously sang on many charted hits, including, “Louie, Louie,” and “Earth Angel.”

“Arguably the most pre-eminent musician among MLB players has been Bernie Williams,” writes Gammons, and we couldn’t agree more.  “Bern, Baby, Bern” is a brilliant Grammy-nominated guitarist and anyone who has heard his stirring tones knows he’s as adept with the guitar as he was with the bat.

And when his buddies Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter made their way into Cooperstown, Williams was there with his guitar to serenade them with his uniquely jazzy version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”  Last September, when Jeter accepted his plaque, Williams was accompanied by former Billy Joel saxophonist Richie Cannata.

That’s Cannata you hear on Joel’s legendary recording of “New York State of Mind.”

Gammons, himself a noted guitarist who has been known to take the stage from time to time with his band, also praises Tony Conigliaro, who once sang on “The Merv Griffin Show,” Jim “Mudcat” Grant, who claims he “made more money singing than pitching,” Tim Flannery, who has played with members of the Grateful Dead and has recorded several albums with his bluegrass band, and a musical connection that goes back to former Tigers pitcher Virgil Trucks.

Virgil’s great nephew, Derek Trucks, is an outstanding guitarist heralded for his musical expertise with the Tedeschi-Trucks band and the Allman Bros.

It’s a longtime adage that many ballplayers occasionally wish they were musicians and many musicians sometimes wish they were ballplayers.  It is ofttimes a symbiotic relationship between the two careers.

As Jimmy Durante once jokingly bemoaned, “Everybody wants to get into the act.”

Even Hall of Famers.

Stan Musial was handy with the harmonica.  The one-time all-time National League hits leader with 3,630 base hits actually became a Hohner Harmonica endorsee and spokesman for a while, and wherever he went, he was quick to produce one to render “Wabash Cannonball” or other similar ditties.  He was oft found at night in the basement club at the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown during Induction weekends entertaining his fellow Hall of Famers with a drink in one hand and his harmonica in the other.

Ken Griffey, Jr. has been known to sing a tune or two.  Ozzie Smith also can passionately display a notable voice.

Other ballplayers with vocal chops include:  Tim McCarver, Scott Radinsky, Ben Broussard, Yoan Moncada, Hyun Jin Ryu, Deion Sanders, the late Jose Lima, and Barry Zito.

Mike Piazza would “warm up” for his ballgames by playing the drums.  Ron Guidry kept a drumset in Yankee Stadium for when he wanted to bang on the skins.  Paul O’Neill also could rock out on a drum kit.

Former Dodger and Red Sox great Reggie Smith was so good as a drummer, he actually became a Slingerland endorsee, and was featured in several of their catalogues back in the ‘70s.

Many ballplayers are also guitarists and front bands and/or recorded albums, among them:  Bronson Arroyo, Jack McDowell, Sid Fernandez, J. D. Drew, Doug Flynn, Dave Hansen, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, and Greg McMichael.

Many former ballplayers enjoyed their instrumental diversions.  Denny McClain is an organist.  Phil Linz also famously and infamously played the harmonica.  Maury Wills played the banjo.  Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Eddie Basinski played the violin.  So could Frankie Frisch.  Mickey Cochrane played the sax.

Many ballplayers.  Many stories.  Much music.  You can pick up on some these fun tales in that issue of Memories & Dreams, and you might want to pick up on a subscription.  Every issue follows a fun theme, and also features a particular Hall of Famer with stats and stories.

The summer issue of Memories & Dreams becomes the program of the actual Induction ceremony, which will be held this July and will see seven new entrants receive their plaques.

For more info about Memories & Dreams, the Induction Ceremony, or anything else Hall of Fame related, click on, or call 1-607-547-0397.

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