Songs spawned by baseball range from such all-but-forgotten turn-of-the-century items as Let's Get the Umpire's Goat, Take Your Girl to the Ball Game and The Feds Are Here to Stay (they stayed all of two years) to the occasional serious offering—Frank Sinatra's 1973 recording of There Used To Be a Ball Park, for example. By and large, they haven't exactly stood the test of time. In fact, Terry Cashman's Willie, Mickey & 'The Duke' (Talkin' Baseball) is probably the most popular song about the sport since Take Me Out to the Ball Game, the old standby written in 1908 by Jack Norworth and Albert von Tilzer.
Willie, Mickey & 'The Duke' established a whole new career for Cashman, a successful 43-year-old New York music producer and writer who co-produced, with Tommy West, songs for the late Jim Croce and wrote at least one major hit, Sunday Will Never Be the Same.
Because of Talkin' Baseball's success, it has become chic in sports circles today to contact Cashman if you need a song to commemorate a special occasion or favorite team. He has become a troubadour of the sports world. When the Boston Celtics recently honored retiring general manager Red Auerbach, the tributes included Cashman's Light It Up, Red, a salute to Auerbach's practice of lighting up a cigar at courtside when he felt certain the Celtics had won. Cashman also has written and performed songs for Phil Niekro Day in Atlanta, Earl Weaver's retirement in Baltimore (The Earl of Baltimore) and Johnny Bench Night in Cincinnati (One Stop Along the Way). And it's probably Cashman's music you're listening to before broadcasts of New York Knicks and Rangers games (The Madison Square Garden Theme), televised Wimbledon coverage (Splendor on the Grass) and the New York Marathon (The Long Run).
How does one get to be a specialist in sports songs? For starters, it helps if you already own a healthy music production business—Cashman's is the New Jersey-based Lifesong Records. It also helps quite a lot if you know the subject. Cashman does. "He knows baseball better than anybody I've ever met," say Thornton Geary, a close friend and a former director of radio and television for the New York Mets. Geary's father-in-law is Dick Young, sports columnist for the New York Post. Young says his son-in-law has a better grasp of baseball facts than he does. If Geary knows more than Young, where exactly does that put Cashman?
"I consider myself a baseball historian," says Cashman. "I read everything I can. I love questions about who did this or that in baseball. I used to walk around with The Baseball Encyclopedia. I used to take it on planes with me."
Cashman's interest in sports burgeoned along with his interest in music. He grew up in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan in the 1950s ("five minutes from the Polo Grounds") as Dennis Minogue, a name he later changed for professional reasons. He's still Dennis to his family and closest friends. He was a good enough pitching prospect at CCNY to win a contract from the Detroit Tigers organization, and he played one season in the minors ("I could throw hard enough, but I didn't have good control"). Though his baseball career eventually fizzled, sports continued to be of major league interest.
Which brings us to Talkin' Baseball. Cashman wrote the song in 1981 when Geary, then still with the Mets, gave Cashman a copy of a photograph taken by Mets photographer Dennis Burke at an Old-Timers' Game at Shea Stadium. Featured in the picture were four great outfielders who had played all or most of their careers in New York—Duke Snider, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. These were the heroes of Cashman's youth.
"One morning, staring at the picture, I said, 'Maybe there's a song there,' " he recalls. DiMaggio presented a problem, though: He wasn't a contemporary of the other three players. So Cashman decided to put DiMaggio on the bench, so to speak.
"The song just flowed into my head," Cashman says. "I fell asleep that night, and the next day I got up and wrote it in 20 minutes."
Cashman's record began to be played on radio just about the time of that year's baseball strike. In fact, it received considerable air play and caught on quickly. Cashman says that's because it offered a nostalgic look at the game and some of its postwar heroes, a perfect contrast to the strike. "People related to it," he says. "They longed for that time when they were young and baseball was played by men who loved to play the game and weren't making a million dollars a year."