The Great American Baseball Box is a baseball fan’s dream because, other than the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s archives, this is quite possibly the greatest collection of historical baseball recordings ever assembled. It is a portable audio Cooperstown that enlightens and entertains the listener about America’s pastime. Contained within the box, whose cover is textured like a base, are four CDs that offer up over four hours of baseball’s legacy.
Disc 1 is a collection of music that’s associated or influenced by the game. The theme from every seventh-inning stretch, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, performed here by The Andrews Sisters, and the lesser known “It’s A Beautiful Day For A Ball Game” by The Harry Simeone Songsters capture the fans’ enthusiasm for a day at the ballpark. Players are memorialized in songs like “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit that Ball” by Count Basie & His Orchestra, “I Love Mickey” by Teresa Brewer and the song’s namesake, Mickey Mantle, and “Catfish” by Bob Dylan. The joy of playing the game is expressed in John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Right Field”. It’s not all fun, though, especially when your favorite team is a perennial loser. Dedicated fans can go a whole lifetime without seeing their team find success. Steve Goodman turns that frustration into laughter with “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request”.
Disc 2 features the games. These clips are not only classic baseball moments, but some have grown to such iconic heights in our culture that people who don’t know their context know them. It transports the listener back to a time when a wonderful storyteller wouldn’t just deliver the play-by-play, but instead would craft a tale so wonderfully that you felt like you were in the stands.
Highlights include “The Shot Heard Round The World” when New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson homers against the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the National League pennant. Russ Hodges’ classic call “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” is one of the most legendary moments in radio history. New York Giants’ Willie Mays robs the Cleveland Indians’ Vic Wertz with an over-the-shoulder catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series immortalized simply as “The Catch”. Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final major-leaguer at bat.
The highs and lows of baseball are presented as records are made and hearts are broken. From New York Yankees’ Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record to Kansas City Royals’ George Brett having a home run disqualified for using too much pine tar on his bat. From Cincinnati Reds’ Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record to Bill Buckner’s legendary error.
Television allowed us to see games from all over the country, yet the broadcasters were still able to make the events intriguing with their words. Curt Gowdy and Joe Garigiola report on Atlanta Braves’ “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson, and Tom Seaver talk us through New York Yankees’ Reggie Jackson homering three times in final game of 1977 World Series. Jack Buck is almost stunned by the injured Kirk Gibson pinch-hitting a homer to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Triumphs in the World Series are forever preserved. You can relive New York Yankees’ Don Larsen pitching the only perfect game in World Series history, Pittsburgh Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7 home run winning the 1960 World Series, and Arizona Diamondbacks’ Luis Gonzalez Game 7 hit to beat the New York Yankees in 2001
I would have liked for the announcers to be credited. The scores and stadiums are listed, but it was the voices of those men who truly shaped the game in fans’ memories more than anything else. Growing up in Los Angeles, I was very disappointed that the legendary Vin Scully, who has been the voice of the team since 1950, didn’t make the cut. Nor did other well known voices like Harry Caray and Bob Uecker.
Disc 3 belongs to the players and we get to hear these men in their own words. Cy Young talks about his perfect game, Ty Cobb reflects on his career, and Hank Greenberg reveals his greatest thrill in the game.
Lou Gehrig, sounding nothing like Gary Cooper, announces his retirement with his famous quote that he’s “the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” Some that weren’t lucky with the poor decisions they made include Pete Rose addressing gambling allegations back in 1989 and Sammy Sosa on his upcoming suspension for using a corked bat in 2003
We hear about the business of baseball as Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax hold out for new contracts, Stan Musial discusses unionizing players and league expansion, and Frank Robinson speaks about his trade from the Baltimore Orioles to the Dodgers.
Jackie Robinson reflects on being Major League Baseball’s first African-American player. Hank Aaron talks about the pressures of going after Babe Ruth’s career home run record. Reggie Jackson reveals that he received death threats from The Weatherman. Another disappointment in the set is that there is too brief a mention of the Negro Leagues, and no audio from them at all.
Disc 4 is a catch-all for everything baseball-related. There is a reading of Casey at the Bat by DeWolf from 1909, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio answering fans’ questions on radio programs, and Dizzy Dean promising Dinah Shore Christmas snow in California. We hear players doing commercials: Richie Ashburn for Wheaties!, Roy Campanella for Packard Bell TVs and hi-fis and Reggie Jackson for Volkswagen Rabbits.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a baseball retrospective without a few comedy classics and it couldn’t call itself The Great American Baseball Box without the signature comedic piece about baseball: Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s On First?” Garrett Morris from Saturday Night Live appears as fictional player Chico Escuela, who didn’t hesitate to let everyone know that “beisbol been berry berry good to” him. And a classic that serious baseball aficionados and fans of sports radio should know, Tommy Lasorda, Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager and one of the game’s greatest ambassadors, gives a censored and hysterical response to a reporter after the Mets’ Dave Kingman hit three homers to beat the Dodgers back in 1976.
Inside is a 50-plus-page booklet with an overview of the history of baseball from its humble beginning in 1848 when Walt Whitman saw great things in the game to the 2004 World Series when the Boston Red Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino.
Shout Factory has created an outstanding collection even with my minor gripes. It is safe to say that every baseball fan will love it. Hopefully, a DVD version of this set is in the works.