The classical ball game
"A lot of people think musicians are pantywaists. That’s a bunch of nonsense." -- violinist and baseball player Eddie Basinski (see below).
Classical music and baseball. A natural combination? Can one equally appreciate Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Lawrence Peter Berra? Wasn't it in fact the sagacious Yogi who said the symphony ain't over till it's over (probably after hearing Bruckner)? And how do you get to Carnegie Hall from Yankee Stadium?
No problem for the people pictured in this post, each a fine practitioner of one or both disciplines. Since baseball's World Series coincides with the opening of the fall concert season, it's time to take you out to the classical ball game . Peanuts, popcorn and champagne will be available during the seventh inning intermission...er, stretch.
At about the same time he became the youngest professional organist in Connecticut, the fellow on the left above was pitcher and captain of the baseball team at the Hopkins Grammar School. That's Charles Ives, alongside his unnamed battery mate, who may have found Charlie's deliveries to be as wild from the mound as his later music sounded to unsuspecting audiences. At least the catcher had a mask.
While Ives and his wife Harmony were spending much of their last years at their country home in West Redding, Connecticut, the lovely lady on the left above was a beloved resident of adjacent Ridgefield (my home town). What does Geraldine Farrar, legendary Metropolitan Opera soprano and movie star (yes, they did opera films in the silent era) have to do with the national pastime? The answer is on the right: Her father Sid Farrar, an infielder with the National League's Philadelphia Quakers (forerunner of today's Phillies) and Philadelphia Athletics of the short-lived Players League over an eight-year career.
Before he became president of the Juilliard School, founding head of Lincoln Center, and one of America's most important symphonists, William Schuman (left) considered baseball to be his passion. Perhaps that's what led him to study with composer Roy Harris, (right). I couldn't tell you whether Harris was much of a ballplayer, though he did drive a dairy truck and do other odd jobs to stay alive in his early years. But it was to Harris, after Arturo Toscanini had done his Third Symphony in 1940, that the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates said "If I had pitchers who could pitch as strongly as you do in your Symphony, my worries would be over." Harris' s Third Symphony and Schuman's Symphonies Nos. 3 and 5 will all be knocked outta the park during the Springfield Symphony Orchestra's current concert season.
Their ranks depleted by the draft, the major leagues were desperate for players during the later years of World War II. How desperate? Enough for the Brooklyn Dodgers to promote concert violinist Eddie Basinski onto their roster. In fairness, Basinski, though unathletic in appearance, was quick as a cat on the field, and a good enough minor league player (a much bigger deal then than now) to be elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame. That's Eddie on the left, serenading his Portland Beavers teammates. The more recent photo on the right comes from an entertaining New York Times profile of Eddie and other musical ballplayers, including our next one.
In more recent years, a few baseball players have also enjoyed notable musical careers. Denny McClain, the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season, moonlighted successfully as a jazz organist. Pitchers Jack McDowell and Bronson Arroyo have made quite a bit of noise in the rock field. Pictured above, with his tools of the trade, is the slugging center fielder on four Yankees championship teams, whose smooth jazz albums have earned praise from fellow musicians and a Latin Grammy nomination. A serious student of the classical guitar, Bernie Williams never traveled during his playing days without his instruments. Now retired from the game, perhaps the accomplished switch-hitter could be persuaded some day to step across the dish and give us a taste of his classical side.
Then, there's the story of Babe Ruth and the sunken piano...