Picks and Pans Review: Baseball's Greatest Hits
updated 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT
It's not quite right to call this hour-long album the Hall of Fame of baseball recordings. It includes, for instance, a 1978 tune by a man named Ritchie Ray, "Baseball Card Lover," which seems devoted to connecting trading cards to masturbatory impulses. Then there's "We Are the Champions," in which four members of the 1981 World Series-winning Los Angeles Dodgers (Jay Johnstone, Rick Monday, Jerry Reuss and Steve Yeager) croak through an old Queen song. Omitted are such classics as "O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg" from the film Take Me Out to the Ball Game or Frank Sinatra's "There Used to Be a Ball Park."
For the most part, though, this album's lineup is full of fun and surprises.
As for the familiar, there's Abbott and Costello doing "Who's on First?" (still funny on the 100th or so hearing), a snippet of Lou Gehrig's "I consider myself the luckiest man" speech at Yankee Stadium, Russ Hodges's radio call of Bobby Thomson's home run that won the 1951 National League playoffs and "Casey at the Bat" in a remarkably well-restored 1909 reading by actor DeWolf Hopper, who helped popularize the Ernest Thayer poem.
There are plenty of happy surprises too. Especially enjoyable is "Van Lingle Mungo," a tune by hip-pop composer Dave Frishberg with lyrics consisting entirely of major-league players' names: "Whitey Kurowski, Max Lanier/Eddie Waitkus, Johnny Vander Meer...Big Johnny Mize and Barney McCosky/Hal Trosky." There are songs devoted to singing the praises of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson. "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball," by the 1949 Count Basie band, is by far the best track on the album musically; the Les Brown band does "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio," and Mantle and Mays do bit parts on their tunes. (Teresa Brewer croons to Mantle, "I wish I could catch him and pitch a little woo.")
There's even real poignancy in "A Dying Cub Fan's Lament," a 1981 tune by folk-pop singer Steve Goodman (he wrote "The City of New Orleans"). Goodman, a long-frustrated Cub fan, knew he had leukemia when he wrote the song. He died in 1984 at 36, not long before he was to sing the national anthem at the Cubs' first postseason game in 39 years. Cub fans can appreciate his tune's message: "I've got season tickets to watch the Angels now/And that's just what I'm going to do/But you the living/You're stuck here with the Cubs/So it's me who feels sorry for you." (Rhino)