Given that my online presence, or perhaps we should say persona, is so involved with poetry & music, it may come as a surprise to you, dear readers, to learn that most of my life I’ve been a nut for baseball. As a kid growing up in New England, I came under the spell of the 1967 Red Sox, & not counting a few periods here & there during which my attention wavered slightly, I’ve loved the game ever since.
I’m a bit of a prodigal, at that: someone who grew up a Red Sox fan who began pretty early on to gravitate toward the National League teams—my favorite ballplayer of all-time is without question Roberto Clemente of the Pirates, & I doubt another will come along to supplant him. & since I lived in San Francisco I’ve rooted for the Giants (actually, since a bit before I moved there, because I recall being quite disappointed when they lost to St Louis in the ’87 playoffs.)
When I was younger, I followed all the major sports to some degree. As time has gone by, my interest in all the others has flagged, & I rarely pay any of them more than the most cursory attention. But baseball is different. It is of course the most “writerly” of sports, fostering the careers of Ring Lardner, Damon Runyan, Roger Angell, Roger Kahn & other notables; its best radio announcers are also word artists of a high order: Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Mel Allen, Vince Scully, Ned Martin, & the Giants Hank Greenwald & current broadcaster Jon Miller just to name a select few—& to my mind, if you can’t be at the park, radio is still the best way to enjoy a ball game.
So it’s not surprising that one of our most literate songwriters, Dave Frishberg is not only an ardent baseball fan, but an artist who has incorporated his fanhood into his songwriting. Frishberg has composed a number of baseball related tunes, but his most famous is unquestionably “Van Lingle Mungo.”
Indeed Frishberg’s song is one of the great tributes to old-time baseball. Lyrically, it consists simply of a list of baseball players' names—but what names! You can find the whole list here at the Baseball Almanac; the only word in the lyrics besides the names is ‘and.”
For those of you who are interested, Van Lingle Mungo was a right-handed pitcher who plied his trade with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1931 thru 1941, & then played for the New York Giants in 1942-43, finishing his career after the war, again the the Giants, in 1945. Mungo was a journeyman pitcher (folks who are baseball stats nuts can find his career figures here), with his best campaign probably coming in 1936 (tho one could make an argument for ’34 as well), when he won 18 games (but also lost 19!), pitching 311 innings (common then, unheard of now), with 238 strikeouts & a 3.35 earned run average.
The music Frishberg composed for the song is a perfect backing—his considerable songwriting talent extends to the music as well (& he's also an accomplished jazz pianist.) But the lyrics are the stuff of legend.
Photo of Van Lingle Mungo (in his final years with the Giants, naturally!) links to its source.