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.”

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