MLB: Bob Dylan and the American Pastime

Beloved musician, talented artist, influential leader, baseball fan. On October 13, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize and we look back on his experience in baseball.

On Thursday, Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” (per nobelprize.org). Best remembered for his poetry and songwriting, Dylan was also a true baseball fan behind his musical talent.

At the same time Dylan’s musical career was taking off, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with 61 home runs in 1961. At first there appears to be no connection between the two. However, Tom Clavin and Danny Peary bring them together in the first chapter of “Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero”:

“Among those rooting for Roger Maris as he closed in on Babe Ruth’s record in September of 1961 was a folksinger whose nascent career took off that month in New York City thanks to a rave in the Times and his first studio work. Although he wasn’t much of a sports fan, Bob Dylan felt pride when he learned that the ballplayer making national headlines also hailed from Hibbing, Minnesota.” (per Bleacher Report)

The two missed each other in Hibbing by six years. The singer-songwriter moved there in 1948 when he was seven years old, while the ballplayer moved out of Hibbing in 1942. Regardless, it is a bond they both share along with their love for baseball.

Once Dylan became an established musician, he dedicated a song to the great ballplayer Catfish Hunter. Through his 15-season career, Catfish pitched for the Kansas City Athletics, Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees. He pitched to a 9-6 postseason record and 3.26 ERA, helping him win five championships with Oakland and New York. The eight-time All-Star won the Cy Young Award in 1974 and entered the Hall of Fame in 1987.

Dylan name-drops Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin and simply called his ballad for the mustached pitcher, “Catfish”.

“Lazy stadium night, Catfish on the mound. ‘Strike three,’ the umpire said, batter have to go back and sit down.”

A Pair of Tours

Five years later, Dylan had the chance to chase both his love for music and baseball. Along with Willie Nelson, Dylan put on The Bob Dylan Show tour in 2004, which they performed in minor league ballparks throughout the country. On August 6, they kicked off the tour at the birthplace of baseball, Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York.

After the success of their first tour, they added John Mellencamp and the trio put on another ballpark tour in 2009. Starting at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Illinois, they performed in 21 minor league baseball stadiums from July to mid-August.

In between his two ballpark tours, Dylan was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his own special way. In 2006, Dylan produced a XM Radio program called “Theme Time Radio Hour”. During one of his episodes, he performed his own renditions of baseball songs, such as Les Brown’s “Joltin Joe DiMaggio” and a spoken word version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

Currently archived in the Hall, that episode serves as a material example and immortalization of Dylan’s love for the American Pastime.

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