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Baseball Music and Songs at the Library of Congress

Chronological Song Index

Following the main section of the bibliography is a short title index, arranged chronologically to better expose more of the intersections between baseball and American music over a period of 150 years. Not only does the alignment of trends in popular musical forms and the ever-changing themes explored in the songs’ lyrics with baseball history emerge, but also the fluctuation of total annual outputs of baseball sheet music becomes more transparent.

Four subject areas with intersections of note include:

  • The prevalence of 19th-century instrumental works in American popular music, largely marches and dances, and the presence of brass bands at the ballpark
  • Tin Pan Alley and the explosion of popular American song in the early 20th century simultaneously appearing as baseball established its dual-league organization, solidified post-season tournaments (e.g., the birth of the World Series in 1903), and witnessed a culture that embraced a rapidly growing fan base for the home teams and individual players; this section also provides a brief overview of sheet music cover artists with some notable examples from the Music Division's collections
  • The decline in publishing printed sheet music once recording, radio, and television broadcasting superseded the parlor piano as the family’s main entertainment
  • A gradual shift at the ballpark to stadium organs, pre-recorded music, and the use of popular music not related to baseball

Instrumental music: When twenty-five amateur clubs held a convention in 1858 to organize the first baseball league, the first piece of music devoted to baseball was composed for the event: "The Base Ball Polka" by J. Randolph Blodgett, a player with the Niagara Baseball Club of Buffalo, N.Y. launched the tradition of including music explicitly composed for individual events: a steady outpouring of marches and dances marking victories of favorite teams, tournaments, World Series contenders and other related events became a mainstay. Some outstanding examples of baseball marches are listed below.

The years 1900-1920, sometimes referred to as the Dead Ball Era or perhaps more aptly called baseball’s “Glory Years,” was a period marked by increasing stability and growth for the country as well as the sport: when the dual-league organization was solidified and cities erected new ballparks to accommodate the crowds; when the World Series became a much anticipated annual event, managers (also known as field generals) became more invested in the teams; the fostering of players’ notoriety continued to swell, media coverage rocketed and loyal fan-bases grew exponentially.

Paralleling the public’s fascination with our national pastime was the unprecedented expansion of the music publishing industry, which in a few short years invented and implemented ground-breaking marketing tactics that resulted in millions of sales. From hiring professional artists to illustrate the sheet music’s cover art (one of the highest forms of commercial art during that period) or generating sets of lantern slides that brought the story of a song’s lyrics to life in cinemas and on the nickelodeon’s silver screen (the precursor to MTV), to hiring current vaudeville stars or song pluggers to perform their tunes as soon as they came off the press and then inserting their cameo photos on the music covers, the implementation of their new marketing strategies was brilliant and effective. Proof? The number of baseball songs tallied from 1880-1899 totaled about 100; between 1900-1919 that number of songs tripled to almost 300!

Tin Pan Alley Sheet Music with Signed Cover Art: Only the finest artists at that time added signatures to their published cover art. Bill Edwards on the Rag Piano External website identifies Joseph Hirt as one of “those singularly talented "company men" who while working for other lithographers managed to have his work signed.” Hirt’s cover art, which first appeared in 1901 and extended through 1917, included the cover art for baseball’s most famous anthem, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game!" Examples of signed artists contributing to Tin Pan Alley’s sheet music publishing are shown below.

mmm Cover art signatures by the artists De Takacs ("Stars of the National Game"), Pfeiffer ("Batter Up Uncle Same is at the Plate"), Willson ("When that Vampire Rolled her Vampy Eyes at Me"), Etherington ("My Old Man is Baseball Mad"), Coleman ("That Baseball Rag"), and Hirt ("Take Me Out to the Ball Game"). See the links below for additional information about these songs.

Between 1920-1939 the number of published baseball songs plummeted to below 150 entries. This 50% decrease from the previous two decades can be attributed to several factors including:

  • As the country plunged into the Great Depression at the close of the 1920s, the publishing industry witnessed a sharp decline in sales and, in turn, in the number of works they chose to publish. One consequence of this recession was the notable increase in unpublished baseball songs among the deposits submitted for copyright
  • Sound recordings and radio and television broadcasting gradually superseded the dominance of the parlor piano (and the need for sheet music purchases) as the family’s main form of entertainment.

Worth noting is that many more baseball songs now appear as part of movie scores, e.g., Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1947-49), Casey at the Bat (1945), Baseball Montage (1942), Make Mine Music (1946), and Whistling in Brooklyn (1943), etc.

As always, songwriters continued to indulge fans’ latest crazes with songs for the winning teams (e.g., the Detroit Tigers with nine songs recorded in the mid-1930s or the Brooklyn Dodgers with over twenty entries in the 1940s and 50s) and for the iconic superstar players (tributes to Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, etc.).

The first ballpark organ was installed at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 1941; within a year’s time Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field followed suit, as did others. The ballpark organ offered a new flexibility, with musical options that were no longer dependent on the availability of band parts. Now, it was possible for the organist to select songs, or portions of songs, that complimented/personalized what was happening on the field or in the stands. Today, most teams have given up their organists in favor of ballpark DJs who boom canned rock into the crowds as players walk up to the home plate.

Bruce Stark, artist. ‘The right pitch too’.[1950 - 1953]. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.