When the Braves moved from Boston to Milwaukee they took with them a fine new Hammond electric organ, which they perched in a makeshift organ loft in the mezzanine box seats behind first base in County Stadium. The organ sounded fine there, but the organist became a fanatical Braves supporter and soon was directing musical Bronx cheers, raspberries, moans, groans and advice to enemy players and managers. When he began playing Three Blind Mice every time he disagreed with the umpires he had to go. The task of replacing him fell to Joe Cairnes and John Quinn of the Braves' staff, who listened to everybody around Milwaukee and finally selected Jane Jarvis, who—though an accomplished musician—had seen only one baseball game in her life. "Just don't step on anybody's toes," said Joe. "And always remember to play Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh-inning stretch," added John.
Thus prepared, Jane took her place at the console, hoping to provide a sprightly and noncontroversial musical commentary on the happenings on the diamond. But baseball is a game of unexpected happenings, and the most unexpected of all are those having to do with music and musicians. Soon after Jane started playing for the Braves there was a shower. When the ground crew hurriedly covered the infield, one of the crew members accidentally was caught under the big tarpaulin and went crawling on his hands and knees around the pitcher's mound, trying to find his way out. Some suspicion has always persisted that Jane thought it was all part of the game; at any rate, she started the stands rocking by playing Where, O Where Has My Little Dog Gone?, and she has been the official musician of the Braves ever since, this fall playing for her 450th game in County Stadium.
For some reason, baseball and music have always gone together: if that inspired musical, Damn Yankees, had never been written, there would still be ample evidence in the ancient band pieces dedicated to the sport, the marches, quicksteps, schottisches and the innumerable Tin Pan Alley attempts to duplicate Albert von Tilzer's success with Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Every club in the majors has a musical background, an astounding number of big league stars have also been professional musicians and, even now, when high union rates and mechanical music have ended the oldtime bands, there is still music of some kind in every park. Occasionally there is an orchestra, most often an organist, or at least some dedicated disc jockey playing records over the public address system to keep alive the tradition of musical inspiration during games.
It is typical of the musical history of baseball that the Pirates have become the most musical club in the National League. Maybe having a chance at the pennant induces songs and jollity, but as a general rule the most rhythmical, rollicking, harmonizing, piano-playing and guitar-strumming aggregation wins it, or comes mighty close—like the miracle Braves of 1914, who rocketed up from last place late in July, borne upward by the singing of a group of infielders led by Rabbit Maranville, and the Cardinals in the great days of the Gashouse Gang, when Pepper Martin and his Mudcat Band were a nationwide radio feature. Not all the members of the Mudcat Band were classical musicians—Pepper himself played the guitar and the harmonica, William Henry McGee, known as Fiddler Bill, played the violin, Lefty Weiland the jugs and Frenchy Bordagaray the washboard and auto horns—but when the Mudcat Band was really wound up playing their favorite number, Over the Waves, they made it sound like a victory march.
The Pirates this season are not quite so uninhibited, but they have a trio consisting of El Roy Face, Harvey Haddix and Hal Smith, all playing guitars and singing homemade folksongs. Smith writes weird mountain music with long surrealistic titles, such as When You Kiss a Girl Underneath the Rose Don't Mind a Little Powder on Your Nose. (Baseball players have a liking for such works as I Got a Churn Full of Chitlins and a Belly Full of You or the reverie, A-sittin', A-spittin', an' A-whittlin'.) El Roy Face also has a hillbilly act, calling for a guitar and a twanging voice, in which he dons a beaver hat, removes his teeth and yodels romantic tunes; and all three improvise new words to old tunes:
Oh, how they hit me tonight,
Hit me a mile a blow.
Oh, how they hit me tonight,
More than you'll ever know.
Lest it be thought that any connection established between music and baseball is coincidental, musical compositions—and very good ones, too—appeared in the early years of the game. Twenty-five amateur clubs held a convention in 1858 to organize the first baseball league, and the first piece of music devoted to baseball dates from that same year: The Base Ball Polka, written by J. Randolph Blodgett, a player with the Niagara Baseball Club of Buffalo, N.Y.
How good it was as music is open to question, but it certainly was popular. It launched a lot of instrumental pieces on baseball themes in the next few years, and Blodgett gave up his job as organist at St. John's Church to become a prosperous Buffalo music store operator.
The first musical baseball classic appeared in 1860, written for the Live Oak Baseball Club of Rochester. There was an intense rivalry between the Buffalo and Rochester clubs, and Rochester backers plainly wanted to outdo Blodgett's The Base Ball Polka with something better of their own. They commissioned John Kalbfleisch, listed in the Rochester directory of 1860 as a "professor of music," to write The Live Oak Polka. Kalbfleisch did too good a job, producing a spirited, ingenious piece of music, characterized by rocketing right-hand runs, Opus No. 7 among his works. As the national anthem of the game, however, The Live Oak Polka required too great a technical proficiency: only highly trained pianists could master it, and not many of these were to be encountered at baseball games.
Live Oak players themselves, full of pride in their music, deepened its obscurity by publishing it in a magnificent edition with a brilliant lithograph for a cover—a green field, a diamond, top-hatted spectators, a Live Oak player in a natty uniform. The result was that The Live Oak Polka became a prime collector's item, bought by people who had no idea of the music it contained. The same fate overcame the next piece of music devoted to baseball, John Zebley's really extraordinary Home Run Quick Step, which was published in Philadelphia in 1861. At that time Zebley was a salesman in a hosiery and glove store on Chestnut Street, lived with his family in their Spruce Street home and played baseball with the team of the Mercantile Club. Home Run Quick Step is the most original and haunting of the early baseball classics, technically complex, with the rhythm carried in subtle and insistent harmonies by the right hand. Its cover made it, too, a collector's item, a copy fetching about $35 a decade or so ago.