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December 13, 2011

Overthinking It

Baseball, Sex, and Sheet Music

by Ben Lindbergh

Baseball and sheet music. Put them together, and the very words conjure images of taking in an afternoon affair at the ballpark with one's nearest and dearest before retiring to the parlor and gathering 'round the piano for the latest in Victorian after-dinner entertainment.* What could be more wholesome?

Everything, apparently. The following songs, unearthed on a trip through the Library of Congress' online Performing Arts Encyclopedia, are dirty enough to make one wonder why it was that Nelly Kelly** loved baseball games, and—even more suspiciously—how she came to know all the players' names.

*Which is more or less how I spent my childhood after my NES broke when a cousin tripped over the cord.
**Not to be confused with Nelly ft. Kelly.

Actual Title: "I Can't Get to First Base With You"

Rejected Titles: "They Tell Me You're the Iron Horse, But You Won't Let Me Ride," "You Never Miss a Chance to Play (Except When it's with Me)," "I'd Gladly Strip for Just the Tip of Wally Pipp"

Lyrics That Might Make Us Uncomfortable: 
The game is over, there's nothing else we can do
I can't get to first base with you

Lesson: Lou Gehrig's on-field endurance may have made him an American icon, but his consecutive games streak proved costly in the sack. While modern fans remember how Gehrig's refusal to rest deprived Wally Pipp of a roster spot, we've lost sight of the streak's real victim: Eleanor Gehrig, who found the fatigued Gehrig unreceptive to her advances. Typical Gehrig pillow talk:

Gehrig: Sorry, honey, not tonight. I have a game tomorrow.
Mrs. Gehrig: But you always have a game tomorrow.
Gehrig: /is luckiest man on face of earth
Mrs. Gehrig: /not lucky

In an era before relationship counseling, Mrs. Gehrig's only recourse when she grew frustrated by Sweet Lou's lagging libido in 1935 was to pen a popular song. With the aid of Tin Pan Alley composer Fred Fisher, author of such timeless American standards as "Chicago," "Blue is the Night," and "If the Man in the Moon Was a Coon," Mrs. Gehrig produced what was later described as a "dismal" tune that "sounded like a dirge." As Jonathan Eig notes in Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, "there was something odd about her attempt to immortalize her husband in song." 

Early in the couple's relationship, we learn, Gehrig was insatiable; Mrs. Gehrig wistfully recalls that "Once in the beginning/Love was always winning/And in ev'ry inning/You made a hit with me" before reminiscing about his impressively short refractory period: "After each ending you want a new start." A few years later, even though she "sacrificed and bunted [her] heart," Gehrig wouldn't so much as kiss her, though he did have the gall to sit there smugly smoking non-post-coital cigarettes. You probably didn't pick up on any of that in Pride of the Yankees.



Lou and onlookers laugh as Eleanor sings about her lack of sexual fulfillment. (h/t NY Times).

Decades later, Gehrig is still breaking hearts. On a recent trip to Yankee Stadium, my mom asked me who "the cute one" was when she spotted Gehrig's poster hanging in the entrance hall. She was disappointed when I told her he was off the market, but she'll feel better once she hears how he ignored Mrs. Gehrig's needs. Not that my mom has needs.
 

Actual Title: "Take Your Girl to the Ball Game"

Rejected Titles: "Ball Games Put My Baby in a Baby-Making Mood," "Bear Me a Baseball Team," "You Wanter Have a Daughter But I Don't Think We Oughter"

Lyrics That Might Make Us Uncomfortable: 
When my Mame is my wife, and we're settled for life
In a home full of comfort and joys,
It's a family then, lots of kids, nine or ten, 
And I'd like to have nine of 'em boys
Then I'll have my own team, and can root and scream

Lesson: George M. Cohan thinks you should take your girl to the ball game—and George M. Cohan isn't just talking about a baseball game, if you know what he means. Sure, your girl might actually enjoy learning "all points of the game"; after all, "ev'ry real Yankee maid loves to see the game played." But if you stick around for the third verse, you'll learn the real reason for telling her to put on her best ballpark gown and caressing her hind parts while her gloved hands are busy clapping—once you've brainwashed her into liking baseball, you can turn her into a baby factory that churns out nonstop sons whom you can sculpt into a self-contained team that will play while you scream at it unless it wants to go without dinner. She'll be too busy reading box scores to worry about what your creative approach to team-building did to her body. The song doesn't say what to do when it's time for your nine sons to start schooling, but presumably they'll pay their own way with the proceeds from their off-season shifts at the sadness factory.


Actual Title: "Come on Play Ball With Me Dearie"

Rejected Titles: “Drink Enough Wine and You'll Be Mine,” “In Search of Extra In-ings,” “I Wish My Boss Were Terry Bross

Lyrics That Might Make Us Uncomfortable: Pretty much all of them. Here's the chorus:
Come on play ball with me dearie
I'll “catch” whatever you “throw”
I know lots of places where we can run “bases”
If you'll only wait for me after the show
We won't “run home” till you're weary
You'll like my “curves,” never fear
My heart is on fire, when Cupid's umpire
Come on, come on, play ball with me dear

Lesson: You probably hadn't heard of “baseball Annies before Bull Durham, but now we know they were around at least as early as 1909. This song tells the story of “sweet Mamie Magee,” a sort of Edwardian Anna Benson who “was a ‘fan' in her way.” Her “way” was to go to baseball games, invite the players to come watch her dance in a show, and then sleep with all of them. So sweet! Given that this was well before birth control, Mamie would have been an excellent choice to give the guy from the last song a homegrown baseball team, as long as he didn't mind it having a few different fathers. Note: singer must wink and make a “nudge, nudge” motion after every line with a word in quotation marks, which is almost every line.


Title: Base Ball Game of Love

Rejected Titles: “Double Up,” “Freaky in the Club,” “Hit it Till the Mornin'”

Lyrics That Might Make Us Uncomfortable: Again, pretty much all of them, but especially these:
I thought 'twas just a foul tip that you made
And soon in one, two, three I'd have you out
But you seem'd to like my curves and got what you deserved
For you earn'd that one home run without a doubt

Lesson: If you tell your friends what you did with that guy you brought home last night using only the language of baseball, your kids won't suspect that you didn't actually have the TV turned up so high because he was hard of hearing. Also, it shouldn't come as a shock that someone capable of producing lyrics like, “When first I gaz'd into your eyes/Your image made a home run to my heart” doesn't have a Wikipedia page.


Actual Title: I'm on the Right Side of the Right Girl at the Right Time and Place

Rejected Titles: “When the Clock Strikes Ten, I'll Try Again,” “The Game Was Called on Account of Shame,” “Jorge Posada : Baserunning :: Me : Sex”

Lyrics That Might Make Us Uncomfortable:
Love reminds me of a ball game                                 Now some fellows come near winning
You never know just how you'll score                         But Cupid can play short stop great
When you're called to the bat                                      In this game you need nerve
You don't know where you're at                                 You must know ev'ry curve
And you're sent to the bench once more                     Or you're out one inch from home plate
I have been as far as third base                                   I have made some awful errors,
That's as far as I ever got                                            But this time I am wide awake
It's a home run this trip                                               I will use all my wits
I'll take care not to slip                                                for the hit of all hits
It means winning or losing a lot!                                 And I'll bring home a big wedding cake!

Lesson: In an age before Viagra, singing baseball songs was a great way to psych yourself up for sex, especially if things didn't go so well the last time (or all the times before that). Before Woody Allen discovered the benefits of thinking about baseball players, 15-word song titles also served as a sexual aid–if you could manage to recite “I'm on the Right Side of the Right Girl at the Right Time and Place” to yourself a few times before the act was over, you might not have embarrassed yourself.


Actual Title: If You Can't Make a Hit in a Ball Game, You Can't Make a Hit With Me

Rejected Titles: “4-for-Foreplay,” “Keep Your Eye on the Blue Balls,” “If You'd Hit it, I Would,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”

Lyrics That Might Make Us Uncomfortable:
If you can't make a hit in a ball game, you can't make a hit with me
But the man who can hit in a ball game, can be my affinity

Lesson: As we all learned in Little League, what matters isn't whether you win or lose, but how you play the game, especially if you want to make it with “happy Mary Ann McCann.” Strike out during the game and you were liable to strike out afterwards, since Mary would ditch you for Joe McCoy (“the heavy-hitting boy”) at the first hint of an 0-fer. Protip: Your odds of hitting enough to impress her decreased dramatically if you used a combination baseball bat/lacrosse stick like the one on the cover. Note: Judging by most of this music, 85 percent of the people who paid attention to baseball in the early 20th century were named “McCann,” and the remaining 15 percent were named “Moran,” which was a remarkable stroke of good fortune for Tin Pan Alley songwriters in search of rhymes for “fan.”


Actual Title:Between You and Me

Rejected Titles: “Tinkers to Evers to Chance, Baseball's Greatest Romance,” “I'd Turn Two With You,” “Middle Infielders Have the Softest Hands”

Lyrics That Might Make Us Uncomfortable (If There Were Anything Wrong With That):
Between you and me, can't you see
What a beautiful life this will be
For you know that you're loved by somebody you love
And it's nobody else but me

Just a touch of the hand, and we both understand
There's no secret between you and me

Lesson: Over a century before a sexual orientation clause appeared in the CBA (and 60 years before there was a CBA), Tinker and Evers may have been trying to tell us something. Not only did they have time to write popular songs around the second-base bag between throws to Chance, but they also took the occasional stroll hand in hand down the moonlit strand. The irony is that while the pair may have fancied their secret safe, it was no longer between just the two of them once Will Rossiter released it as sheet music adorned with suggestive bats, balls, and catcher's gear for the innuendo-challenged.


Actual Title: Remember Me to My Old Gal

Rejected Titles: “At Least One Gal for Each Locale,” “I May Have Signed with Dan Lozano, but I Still Love You So,” “I Only Have Eyes for You (Plural)”

Lyrics That Might Make Us Uncomfortable:
Remember me to my old gal
Say a good word for me, old boy
Just tell her while I roam New York
My heart's in Illinois
Just say I have a million friends
But not one like my old pal

Lesson: Just because a player is knee-deep in road beef doesn't mean he's forgotten the girl he has back home. Sure, if he's a member of the world champion 1911 A's or the Captain of the Detroit Baseball-Team, he might have a million “friends” willing to keep him warm while he's away from home. And sure, maybe he'll take most of them up on their offers. But while his body is in their beds, his heart will be with his old lady. And he means “old” in an affectionate way! Note: George Moriarty may have written the words to this song, but he had trouble with the words to his name. You'd think someone might have caught that extra “i,” but in its defense, the Harold Rossiter Music Company couldn't consult Baseball-Reference, which is the only way I ever spell anything correctly.


Actual Title: Who Would Doubt That I'm a Man?

Rejected Titles: “If You Can Catch Balls, You Probably Already Have Some,” “Still 25 Years Till Women's Suffrage,” “I Bet You'd Like to Know What This Has to Do With Mormons”

Lyrics That Might Make Us Uncomfortable:
If any meddling person should
Perchance suspect my womanhood
I simply would assert that I
Can catch a ball when on the fly
And you know well that no one can
Bring better proof that he's a man

I scored a run! And well I ran!
Now who would doubt that I'm a man?

Lesson: Only men are athletic enough to run and catch a ball. Therefore, if you should do either of those things—even if you're wearing bloomers and your hair is suspiciously curly—you probably have a penis or are indistinguishable from someone who does. No word on whether the “New Woman” to whom this “very palpable hit” was dedicated appreciated the sentiment, but Johnny Damon has been known to sing the song loudly and defensively in the direction of the bleachers after making throws from the outfield. Note: this song may have made more sense in the context of the 1895 comic opera The Mormons—the “Greatest Hit of the Season!”—but we'll never know, since old musicals about Mormons are now impossible to google. Thanks, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Thanks to Sam Miller for a first read and to My Old Gal Jessie Barbour, both for finding this archive and for making the bigger mistake of bringing it to my attention.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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