February 6, 1999

Baseball on Record.  By Michael G. Corenthal, Historian of the Disc.  MGC Publications, 1998.  222  pages.  ISBN: 0-9617673-6-7.  Price: $20 plus shipping.  Order from Yesterday’s Memories, 5631 W. Center St., Milwaukee, WI 53210.

Reviewed by Tim Brooks

The irrepressible Michael Corenthal has produced another idiosyncratic but well-executed scrapbook on an obscure corner of recording lore.  Previous volumes have included Cohen on the Telephone: A History of Jewish Recorded Humor and Popular Music, 1892-1942 (1984) and The Iconography of Recorded Sound (1986).  In this one he brings together articles and illustrations linking baseball and recordings, a subject that certainly hasn’t been overworked.

The book is divided into three sections, the Pioneer Period (1886-1919), the Golden Age (1920-1946), and the Modern Age (1947-Present), each occupying about one-third of the volume.  Within each section individual records or subjects receive from one to a dozen pages a piece.  For example, the Pioneer Period opens with two pages on “The Old Timers” (early baseball stars described in a lyric by Joseph Krueger) followed by 11 pages on “Casey at the Bat” and other Casey incarnations.  There are also entries for “Slide, Kelly, Slide” (the “first recorded baseball record”), “Uncle Josh Plays a Game of Baseball” (“wall now….”), “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and Ray Cox, the Baseball Girl.  In most cases the text of a record is transcribed, interspersed with large pictures of artists and labels.  For example here you will find a reproduction of portions of the sheet music for “Slide, Kelly, Slide,” and the text to Weber and Fields’ 1916 Columbia recording “Baseball Game.”  It’s always nice to see the dialogue from one of those unintelligible Weber and Fields Columbias.

Later sections include transcriptions of three Babe Ruth records (one with Lou Gehrig), interviews with Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb and Dizzy Dean, Joe DiMaggio’s “Little Johnny Strikeout” (a 1950 kids’ record) and “The Brooklyn Dodgers Jump” from 1949.  Oddly, the text of Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First?” is not included–copyright problems, perhaps? Each section ends with a “discography” of baseball-related records from the period, although these are really record lists rather than detailed discographies.

Poems and essays from a number of contributors are included.  A lyrical article on early baseball recordings by Jim Walsh, reprinted from a 1971 issue of Hobbies magazine, reminds us what a good writer Walsh could be, when he wasn’t obsessing about his cats.  Later, a touching essay by Milwaukee singer-songwriter Mark Shurilla describes how he wrote the novelty song “Warren Spahn,” and how the song came to be used to raise money for a paralyzed boy at a stadium benefit attended by Spahn in 1979.  Bringing things up to date are stills from the 1985 Bruce Springsteen video “Glory Days,” and a tribute to the famous Chicago announcer Harry Caray, who died in 1998.

Baseball is not so much a study of baseball-related recordings as a celebration of them.  There is no index, no source notes, no bibliography, just an engaging read.  As is customary with Corenthal’s books, the graphic layout (by Ronald Zdroik) is superb, with eye-catching illustrations seemlessly interwoven with easy-to-digest bits of text and lyrics.   Most of the pictures are in black and white, although a brief color section kicks off the Modern Era chapter.  Author Corenthal celebrates himself, too.  The introduction is festooned with snapshots of the author, a pudgy, middle-aged man, in various silly poses with baseballs and phonographs.  Perhaps this is supposed to be a joke, but whatever the intent it simply adds to the charm and personality of the volume.

The reasonably priced, handsome little book will naturally be of interest to those with a  specific interest in the subject matter, but it could also serve as a nice gift for acquaintances who simply love baseball.  One certainly doesn’t have to know much about recordings to appreciate it.  One also can’t help wondering what offbeat subject the author will tackle next.


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