Baseball On Stage

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“Play Ball, You All”: Baseball’s Turn Down Tin Pan Alley by Katherine Walden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

As mentioned previously, Babe Ruth’s popularity within and outside baseball was tied to his successful ability to market his baseball achievements and notoriety within other popular culture mediums. However, Ruth was by no means the first or only player to attempt to leverage a baseball playing career into broader celebrity or popularity within entertainment forms outside of sport. During the early years of the TPA era, baseball players often founding off-season employment outside baseball out of economic necessity. Although the sport’s increased popularity and economic success caused off-season employment to become less of a necessity, as players became pop culture icons and celebrities within entertainment, players even before Ruth’s success attempted to achieve pop culture fame.[1] New York Giants outfielder Mike Donlin’s work on the vaudeville performing circuit is well-documented, as he spent multiple years working toward break-out success writing and starring in vaudeville sketches and performing acts. [2]

New York Giants southpaw pitcher Rube Marquard also leveraged his baseball success and popularity to get access to performing opportunities both within vaudeville and on Broadway. In one of baseball’s more colorful popular culture intersections, some of Marquard’s stage appearances cast him beside vaudeville star and popular culture icon Blossom Seeley, who was married at the time. Their extra-marital affair, Seeley’s divorce, and subsequent remarriage to Marquard was titillating fodder for tabloid headlines, propelling both into the popular culture limelight.[3] After the scandal subsided, the two continued to perform together in a variety of live entertainment shows, and songs performed or introduced by the couple appear in the TPA collection, including “Just Like a Butterfly that’s Caught in the Rain” and “Those Ragtime Melodies.”

In addition to songs that were performed by or featured baseball players, the TPA collection also includes a number of songs written by individuals involved in professional baseball. For example, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and Detroit Tigers third baseman George Moriarty also doubled as a poet, newspaper columnist, and aspiring songwriter. His work as a lyricist appears in TPA titles that include “Remember Me to My Old Gal,” “Little Alligator Bait,”  “You’re Gonna Win That Ball Game, Uncle Sam!,” and “I Can’t Miss That Ball Game.” Moriarty’s lyric credits far outnumber the number of songs written by other baseball players. His lyrics, while not exceptionally catchy, are no more awkward or ungainly than other TPA lyrics, which often contained awkward turns of phrase or word cadences in order to accommodate the musical styles of the popular song form.[4] Also notable is the fact Moriarty’s lyrics make little reference to his own background or experience as a baseball player, a trend observed in the cover images or marketing for other titles. For example, the cover for “Those Ragtime Melodies” includes the inscription “Introduced by Blossom Seeley and ‘Rube’ Marquard.” The only Moriarty title that references his baseball career is “Remember Me to My Old Gal,” whose cover includes the inscription “Words by George Moriarty, Captain of the Detroit Baseball Team.” The same cover mentions the song was “Successfully introduced by three great ballplayers, Chief Bender, Coombs, and Morgan, the heroes of the World Series,” although where exactly the song was successfully introduced is not clear.

Although referenced only in passing in Moriarty’s repertoire, the involvement of Bender, Coombs, and Morgan promoting TPA songs in live venues on stage is mentioned elsewhere in the collection. They were also involved in introducing songs not written by Moriarty. Along with the Pearl Sisters, the group introduced Jimmie Monaco’s “Oh, Mr. Dream Man, Please Let Me Dream Some More.” Charles Albert “Chief” Bender graduated from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, more well-known for its football team, and spent the majority of his career pitching for the Philadelphia Athletics. Jack Coombs and Cy Morgan also pitched for the Athletics during Bender’s time with the team. Although the trio’s connection to Moriarty is not entirely clear, it is reasonable to assume they knew of each other from baseball-related activities and off the field became part of the cohort of baseball players trying to find a niche in the emerging American popular culture entertainment market. Although not addressed at length in this paper, Bender’s American Indian ethnicity was represented in a variety of caricatured depictions in American popular culture, according to his biographer Swift.[5] Stereotypes about the American Indian as the “noble savage” permeated reactions to Bender, including even his “Chief” nickname. How Bender and his playing career were represented in songs that mention him as well as how he constructed and performed an American Indian identity in live entertainment performances would be rich sites for future research.

The only other baseball player who doubled as a songwriter for the titles in this collection was Guy Harris “Doc” White was a pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox and partnered with Chicago-based sportswriter and lyricist Ringgold Wilmer "Ring" Lardner to compose “Gee! It’s a Wonderful Game” and “Little Puff of Smoke, Goodnight,” the more successful title. Also in the collection are two songs, “I Can’t Get to First Base With You” from 1935 and “We Wrote Our Love Song Together” from 1937, co-written by Fred Fisher and Eleanor Gehrig, the wife of New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig.[6] This collection mentions Blossom Seeley, Eleanor Gehrig, and the Pearl Sisters, but the sheet music itself contains little information about how those individuals came to be involved in the baseball-related popular music projects. Although not discussed at length in this paper, the role of women in promoting baseball-related TPA music would be a rich site for future research, particularly given women’s continued exclusion from full-fledged participation in professional baseball.


[1] David K. Jackson, "Barnstorming, Baseball, and Bluegrass Music," NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 17 (2009): 103-21.

[2] Rob Edelman, "Baseball, Vaudeville, and Mike Donlin," Base Ball: A Journal of the Early Game 2 (2008): 44-57.

[3] Noel Hynd, Ragtime Romance: The Scandalous True Story of Baseball's Rube Marquard and Vaudeville's Blossom Seeley (Marstons Mills: Parnassus Imprints, 1996).

[4] Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley a History of America's Great Lyricists (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

[5] Tom Swift, Chief Bender's Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 4-5.

[6] Arch Ward, “Talking It Over,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Il.),15 February 1937.

Baseball On Stage