Communities and Fans
“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.
Although specific details about performance and reception for this collection is not known, the significant number of songs that relate to specific teams or players suggests a degree of localization or specificity in the target market for particular songs. Titles like “Red Sox Speed Boys,” “The Galloping A’s,” “Oh, You Reds!,” and “The Superbuc Song” mention particular teams, identifying players on the roster, recent achievements or notable records, and in some cases specific elements of the ballpark or fan base. Though specific evidence of how and where these songs were performed or the sheet music or recordings disseminated would be needed to fully document this trend, I see these songs as working to engage with a particular local audience during a specific moment of the team’s history. Rather than appealing in broad strokes to baseball’s popularity or identity as a national game, these songs are much more contextual and narrow in scope, also losing some of their popular culture resonance once turnover within the fan community (or team roster) limits audiences’ ability to identify with the specific players mentioned or events described.
Other songs in this category focus on the role of particular coaches as integral to a team’s success. In particular, a number of titles were dedicated to Cornelius “Connie Mack” McGillicuddy who managed and periodically co-owned the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901 through the 1950s, a period in which the Athletics won five World Series titles. Titles dedicated to Mack include “Connie Mack, We Love You,” “Grand Old Man of Baseball,” and “Connie’s Little Elephant.” In songs referencing coaches or managers, the ability of the leader to build and coach the team effectively, in a manner leading to winning and competitive success, was given more attention than the role of specific players on the team. In many cases, the language used to mark a particular coach or manager as “one of us” or “our own” invoked more paternalistic undertones (or sometimes more explicitly, as in references to “Uncle Connie”) than songs mentioning specific players, which focused on their in-game performance and achievements and highlighted a close proximity to the fan base.
Although songs related to George Herman “Babe” Ruth dominate references to specific players, other players, real and fictitious, are mentioned. “Slide, Kelly, Slide” (one of the earliest recordings released by Edison Studies in 1927) describes the playing style of Michael Joseph “King” Kelly who played for the Chicago White Sox and Boston Beaneaters and also was one of the earliest baseball players to cross over to the vaudeville stage. A 1927 Edward Sedgewick silent film about baseball carried the same title. “Husky Hans” paid homage to Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop Johannes Peter "Honus" Wagner. Although songs about particular players are likely directed more at their geographically-specific fan bases, lyrics focus less on particular achievements of the teams these individuals played on but give greater attention to elements of their playing style, demonstrating an effort to appeal to an audience beyond just fans of a particular team.
Also worth noting within this group of titles are some songs that focus on versions of baseball other than the organized professional game. Dick Wolfe and others authored songs about the ability of Little League, Legion, or Auxiliary youth baseball programs to provide recreational opportunities and character education for American boys, and “We’re Loyal to You, Illinois,” “Wearers of the Blue,” “The Days at Fair Bucknell,” and “Fordham ‘Ram’ March and Two Step” are all focused on the sporting programs for particular colleges. Given the fluidity of minor league, farm teams, and barnstorming organizational structures during this period, the absence of songs about those teams is understandable, with “House of David Blues” about the barnstorming team affiliated with the Michigan-based House of David Israelite religious society. The team originally consisted of society members but began to higher increasing numbers of semi-professional players, though keeping the requirement for uncut hair and beards.
Interestingly, songs about particular teams were not immune to or separate from the broader organizational developments happening in baseball during this period. Although this project focuses on baseball popular music titles created up through the 1950s, worth noting is the number of songs written leading up to the Dodgers’ 1957 move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. From “Leave Us, Go Root for the Dodgers, Rogers” to “Let’s Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn” and “I Come from Brooklyn,” a number of titles written in the early 1950s express fan anxieties over the Dodgers’ impending move. Although further investigation is necessary, the presence of songs that directly interface with the economic, business, and organizational realities of professional baseball contrasts with the notion that baseball’s popularity within popular culture was tied only to its ability to provide romanticized nostalgia or escape from more depressing contemporary realities.