From The Archives

Bob Dylan, Tangled Up in Baseball

Exploring the Bard of the North Country’s deep connection to the national pastime

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In 1961, just as Bob Dylan was cutting his teeth in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village, another young man from Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, was taking New York City by storm: Roger Maris. In the last chapter of his pseudo-memoir Chronicles: Volume One, the then-21-year-old folk singer describes meeting with music publisher Lee Levy, who asks him if he’s written any songs about baseball players.

“I didn’t follow baseball that much but I did know that Roger Maris who was with the Yankees was in the process of breaking Babe Ruth’s home-run record and that meant something,” writes Dylan. “Maris was from Hibbing, Minnesota, of all places. Of course, I never heard of him there, nobody did. I was hearing a lot about him now, though, and so was the rest of the land. On some level I guess I took pride in being from the same town.”

Dylan’s connection to the national pastime surfaced throughout his career, which may explain the below story from the April 13, 1993, issue of the Voice, in which John Lammers and Hart Seely celebrated opening day by previewing every major-league team through the prism of Dylan songs (Yankees: “Howe is in the basement, mixing up the medicine. George is on the pavement, thinking ’bout the government. Boggs in the trench coat, bat out, paid off, says he’s got a bad back, wants to get it laid off. Look out kids, it’s something you did. God knows when, but it’s C’lumbus again.”)

This week marks the release of the fourteenth installment of Dylan’s Bootleg Series, More Blood, More Trackswhich offers fans a deep dive into the sessions for 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. That same year, Dylan rekindled his connection with the Bronx Bombers by penning “Catfish,” an ode to Catfish Hunter, which name-checks Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson.

2004 saw Dylan and Willie Nelson touring minor-league ballparks around the country, kicking things off in Cooperstown, New York; it was a tour the pair repeated with John Mellencamp in 2009. By that point, Dylan had made his fandom explicit when he dedicated an episode of his Theme Time Radio Hour to the national pastime in 2006.

Later that year, Jonathan Lethem asked Dylan about baseball in a Rolling Stone profile. In particular, Lethem wanted to know what team was the singer’s favorite. Dylan responded:

“The problem with baseball teams is all the players get traded, and what your favorite team used to be — a couple of guys you really lifted on the team, they’re not on the team now — and you can’t possibly make that team your favorite team. It’s like your favorite uniform. I mean…yeah…I like Detroit. Though I like Ozzie [Guillen] as a manager. And I don’t know how anybody can’t like Derek [Jeter]. I’d rather have him on my team than anybody.”

If only Lammers and Seely had been writing a few years later, we might have gotten “Jeter and the Monkeyman.”

The Bob Dylan Baseball Abstract

By John Lammers & Hart Seely

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

  1. Yankees: Howe is in the base­ment, mixing up the medicine. George is on the pavement, thinking ’bout the government. Boggs in the trench coat, bat out, paid off, says he’s got a bad back, wants to get it laid off. Look out kids, it’s something you did. God knows hen, but it’s C’lumbus again.
  2. Milwaukee: They pitch just like a Wegman, yes they do. They get rich, just like a Wegman, yes they do. And they twitch just like a Wegman, but they hit just like a B. J. Surh’f.
  3. Baltimore: lt’s a Har’ld, it’s a Har’ld, it’s a Har’ld, it’s a Har’ld — it’s a Har’ld Baines a­gonna fall.
  4. Toronto: Well, if you’re trave­lin’ in the north country fair, where the winds hit heavy on Pat Borders’s ‘hind. Remember Steib to bne who lives there. He once threw a n’hitter for nine.
  5. Boston: It ain’t Vaughn, babe, Mo Mo, Mo, it ain’t Vaughn, babe. It ain’t Vaughn you’re look­in’ for, babe.
  6. Cleveland: They long to pitch you in the morning light. They long to pitch you in the night. Stay, Nagy, stay — stay while the game is still ahead.
  7. Detroit: Knock knock knockin’ on Cleveland’s door. Knock knock knqckin’ on Cleve­land’s door.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

  1. Texas: “Velocity,” I spoke the word as if a wedding vow. Ah, but Ryan was so much older then. . He’s younger than that now.
  2. Kansas City: Because some­thing is happening but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Cone?
  3. Oakland: Y’see Canseco on the street, you always act sur­prised. You say, “How are you?” “Good luck,” but you don’t mean it. When you know as well as me, you’d rather see him paralyzed. Why don’t you just come out once and scream it?
  4. Minnesota: Winfield, put your gloves in the-ground. You can’t use them anymore.
  5. Chicago: Take me on a trip upon Bo’s magic swirlin’ hip, his swiftness has been stripped, a vic­tim of a clip, his feet too slow to step, waitin’ only for his shoe deals to be wanderin’.
  6. Seattle: Heading out to the west coast, Lord knows they paid some dues, getting through, tan­gled up in Lou.
  7. California: And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn. “Come in,” he said, “I’ll give you, Gruber for a song.”

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

  1. Montreal: You don’t need a Wetteland to know which way the wind blows.
  2. Mets: Once upon a time you played so fine, you threw away Dykstra before his prime, didn’t you? People’d say, “Beware Cone, he’s bound to roam,” you thought they were all kiddin’ you. You used to laugh about, the Strawber­ry that was headin’ out. Now you don’t talk so loud. Now you don’t seem so proud. About having to shop Coleman for your next deal.
  3. St. Louis: “No reason to get excited,” the Mets they blindly spoke. “There are many here among us who feel Gregg Jefferies’s but a joke.”
  4. Pittsburgh: It ain’t no use to sit and ponder Bonds babe, it don’t matter anyhow. An’ it ain’t no use to sit and ponder Drabek, if you don’t know by now.
  5. Philadelphia: Well Daulton and Dykstra should have some fun. Just keep them off Highway 61!
  6. Florida: I see coming every reject from the rest to the South­east. Any day now, any day now, they shall be released.
  7. Chicago: The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast. A slow one now will never be fast. As the present now is just as the past, the order they’re never evadin’. And the last one now will always be last, for the Cubs, they aren’l a­changin’.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

  1. Atlanta: Well they’ll stone ya and say Maddux is the end. They’ll stone you and then Smoltz will come again. They’ll stone you with Tom Glavine in your car. They’ll stone· you with Av’ry on his guitar. .Yes but you should not feel so all alone. Everybody just gets stoned.
  2. Cincinnati: It’s a shame the way she made them scrub the floor. But they ain’t gonna work on Margie’s farm no more.
  3. Houston: You can pitch Dra­bek with all that you can afford. You can pitch Swindell and put goose eggs on the board. Well, you may pitch the devil or you may pitch the Lord. But you’re gonna have to bat somebody.
  4. San Diego: Come all without, come all within. You’ll. not see nothing like the mighty Gwynn.
  5. San Francisco: Here is the story of the Magowan, the man St. Petersburg came to pan, for what he never done, who sits in the owner’s box but one … day he could’ve been the Tamp’ian of the world . .
  6. Los Angeles: Yonder stands Martinez with his gun. Crying like a fire in the sun. Look out the Braves are comin’ through. And it’s all over now, Dodger blue.
  7. Colorado: An’ the silent bats will shatter. From the scores be­tween the lines. For they’re one too many castoffs. And a thou­sand runs behind.

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