Baseball is all about second chances and comebacks. First chances, too.
It can work that way for baseball songs as well. In 1981, New York City singer/songwriter Stan Satlin wrote Baseball (America’s National Pastime) a joyful, innocent tune.
This song is the musical version of Moonlight Graham, who never got a major league at-bat.
First, you have to understand where the words to this song came from and that Satlin was inspired by the work of two poets, America’s poet Walt Whitman, whose baseball words were a profound part of the iconic baseball movie Bull Durham.
The second was baseball’s poet Casey Stengel, who put together a memorable career as a player with the Brooklyn Dodgers, then as manager of the Yankees, winning seven World Series, and as the first manager of the newborn New York Mets.
When Satlin, who lives in New York City’s West Village, wrote his song 39 years ago it was a difficult time for baseball, a strike year. The game was losing its innocence. The song was to be on the “A” side of the 45-rpm record and was produced by Terry Cashman and was sung by a group called The Mudville 9.
Satlin had high hopes for his song but another song was needed for the “B” side.
Quick history lesson: Records offered an A and a B side. It was a much different musical world than the streaming music world we live in today. The A side was to be the star – the bonus baby – the can’t miss prospect. The B-side was the utility man or middle reliever.
So Cashman came up with something, another baseball song for the B-side. He finished writing his song, he once explained, in about 20 minutes because it dealt with how he saw the game growing up in a New York that had three teams, the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers. His song was inspired by an Old-Timer’s Day photo taken at Shea Stadium in 1977 that featured Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider and Joe DiMaggio.
The song was called *Willie, Mickey and the Duke (Talkin’ Baseball).
Joe D didn’t make the cut because the song just didn’t have the same sound with his name and his era of excellence began before the other three New York iconic centerfielders.
By now you know that Cashman’s B-side song quickly became an anthem for the game, especially in New York and in ballparks all around the country, so much so that in 2011 in Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame – and I was there – Cashman was honored.
Meanwhile, the A-side of the record, never made it out of A-ball.
Satlin believes it is the perfect time to bring his happy, fun song out of mothballs because baseball is once again going through a most difficult time in this Coronavirus Era. He wants our spirit to be lifted by those uplifting voices in his wonderful song: Baseball (America’s National Pastime) including the voice of his son Ari, who was 11 years old at the time.
“The song has been lying idle all these years,” Satlin told BallNine. “Paul McCartney once said if they never heard the song it is a new song.”
“ I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us. ” -Annie Savoy
In Bull Durham, Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy offers up a Whitman “quote” that is kind of close to what he wrote but she added Hollywood flair, saying, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.”
Here is what Whitman actually wrote: “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game–the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous dyspeptic set. Repair these losses and be a blessing to us.”
The point is Whitman loved baseball and saw it as the great sport for the United States of America. Same goes for Casey. All that made a great impression on Satlin.
“I came across Casey Stengel’s definition of baseball and I wrote that song,” Satlin said. “I like to take the words into song, I’ve done a lot of that with Walt Whitman.
“I got my son singing it with me with him and his friends,” Satlin said who had a mutual friend help deliver the song to Cashman. “We brought the song to Terry. He obviously loved it and decided to record it,” Satlin explained.
Cashman produced the record and hired the singer. “It was the guy who sang the Army song “Be all that you can be in the Army,” Satlin said.
That would appear to be a talented singer named Jake Holmes. “He did a really good job,” Satlin said. “The children’s voices, Ari and three of his friends did a good job, I rehearsed them and when they went to the studio they brought their gloves and their baseballs. Four boys, I like to call them Casey’s Kids.
“My song was Side A and Willie, Mickey and the Duke was Side B. So, while the record was being manufactured Terry sent Willie, Mickey and the Duke out into the world. By the time manufacturing was complete, nobody was playing my side and Willie, Mickey and the Duke was already a hit.”
As they say, that’s show business … and baseball. Lou Gehrig once replaced Wally Pipp.
Satlin never retired his song. He wanted it to see it have its day on the diamond.
“Every once in a while, I would play it and I played it for a few friends recently and they all loved it,” Satlin said.
Ari Satlin is a songwriter and musician and recently delivered the song to his longtime friend and old bandmate, Chris Vitali, founder of BallNine.
Ari sang on the song along with three friends, one is Nasheet Waits, who is considered one of the great jazz drummers of today. “That might have been the first time Nasheet was ever in a studio,” Stan Satlin said.
Waits is the son of the late percussionist Freddie Waits, who was a regular on Motown Records sessions and in the ‘70s was in groups that supported such legendary singers as Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Carmen McRae.
Quite the talent and quite the story behind this lost baseball record.
Satlin, 82, has written several musicals including Auratorio Americana, Robin Hood, and Children of Adam. Auratorio Americana is a musical journey of God and Country, using the words of Walt Whitman, Tom Paine, and Black Elk and was performed at Lincoln Center with 100 voices and then for the Ambassadors to the United Nations in the Brooklyn Museum.
In 1979, Satlin sang his song New York, the Soul of America, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s 100th anniversary. “I sang it on the steps of the Cathedral at noon with Mayor Koch, Gov. Carey, Cardinal Cooke, Walter Cronkite and me, and then at night I sang it again in the Cathedral and that was an incredible experience.
“I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame,” said Satlin, who lives in Westbeth, the largest artists’ residence in the world. “In my off-Broadway musical a couple of critics compared me to (Stephen) Sondheim and Lorenz Hart so I’ve had my little bit of history.”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Baseball (America’s National Pastime) had success 39 years later, giving Satlin a comeback victory in extra innings.
“It’s a good thing for this song to go out to make people happy because in a strange way just like Terry’s song was during the strike. I have no idea if the baseball season will survive.”
The greatest baseball song of them all: Take Me Out to the Ballgame was written in 1908.
Satlin said his life changed and he started writing songs when someone gave him a copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
“He was a big baseball fan,” Satlin said. “I started writing all these songs about America and you know, Whitman loved America, the spiritual America.”
Satlin said he is most proud of his 100 voices work “because when the singers were singing it they felt like they were being healed. Because as I was writing I was being healed.”
Satlin also worked with famous promoter Sid Bernstein, who brought the Beatles to America. Bernstein died at the age of 95 in 2013. “He was a very good friend,” Satlin said. “We went to Liverpool together, we were trying to pull off a Millennium Festival in Liverpool. He was the most kind man you could ever meet.”
Energy is a gift as well as songwriting and Satlin keeps busy and appears to be much younger than his age. He would like nothing better for his baseball song to have a life, a little bit like a song version of The Natural, where success was derailed but then came out of nowhere at a later age.
“This song never got a first life,” Satlin said with a laugh. “This is the second first life.”
Satlin said he asked Cashman for the copyright to the song about three years after it was recorded and was given the copyright. “I do own the song,” Satlin said.
“I’m not sure but maybe my baseball song encouraged him to put out Willie, Mickey and the Duke,” Satlin said. “But what a hit record that was for him. He is like the baseball balladeer.”
Including Casey’s words in the song was brilliant. “Casey Stengel is not just a baseball hero, he is an American folk hero,” Satlin said.
“With Walt Whitman I would capture a line and within that line is a melody,” he said of the songwriting process. “and I guess when I read Casey’s definition of baseball: ‘You play it with a round ball and a round bat, nine guys on a side,’ immediately a melody jumped out at me and the song came pretty easy.
“And I loved it when I was sharing it with my son and the other boys, I could see their excitement in it.
“I’m an old Brooklyn Dodger fan and my brother was a Yankee fan. We lived in Brooklyn and of course the Yankees were winning all the time. Aside from seeing Jackie Robinson as a kid, one of my favorite stories was Don Newcombe pitching a doubleheader. I’m a Mets fan now, and I watch the Yankees. My son Ari is a Yankee fan.
“I believe the song is ageless,” Satlin said. “That tells me as a songwriter, people have told me this, it’s always great when a song is ageless. When you do something and it can stand the test of time that is extraordinary.
“I think this song captures the integrity and the naïveté and the simplicity and the joy and the fun of baseball,” Satlin said. “My hope is that it catches fire and gets out there, that’s my hope.”
Give this old/new baseball song a listen.