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                                   JULY:   THE 123rd  ARTICLE FOR BASEBALL GURU




Baseball has had a rich history in theatre, music, and literature, For this article and next month as well we'll focus on the stage (we'll talk about DAMN YANKEES, it’s a special case, next month­).


   Twenty six years ago when "THE FIRST", a musical about Jackie Robinson opened on Broadway it had moderate success and closed quickly.

   However it refuses to disappear and has had a few revivals since then. Of course it still promotes the myth of Robinson being the first black to play in the Major leagues (Moses Fleetwood Walker was,  followed by his brother Welday and followed by about 80 to 90 others). But the play does show in graphic depictions what Robinson went through in those early days. The songs are decent and the parts for Robinson and Branch Rickey are powerful ones.


   Diamonds had so much going for it!  The renowned team of Roy Blount Jr. and John Lahr developed the sketches, it was directed by Harold Prince, an indoor stadium was mounted on the stage by acclaimed designer Tony Straiges, and most of the musical numbers were written and composed by John Kander and Fred Ebb.

   Basically the musical is a series of sketches without any discernable plot but plenty of comedy and besides the songs written for the play, other songs are used as well. The Star Spangled banner done in Kabuki Style, Take Me Out to the Ball game as an audience sing along.

  Some of the songs that are original to the show included He Threw Out the Ball (which explains how God invented baseball), Hundreds Of Hats, 1919 (a ballad about the Black Sox Scandal, Song for a Hunter College graduate.

   The show appeared in 1985 at The Circle in the Square and received a poor write up by Frank Rich.

   The only other appearance was off off Broadway and that received an even worse review.


   The Boston Red Sox were the last team to sign an African American Ballplayer (Pumpsie Green) to a Major League contract. How do you make a musical play about that? Well that's just one of the areas that Johnny Baseball dealt with and throw in THE CURSE, a baseball Greek chorus, and young ballplayer (Johnny O'Brien who's hero is Babe Ruth and who lusts after a well stacked girl named Daisy). The play maneuvers between three time periods. As a result of that we have BIg Popi hitting a crucial homerun, a black player (not Pumpsie Green) trying out for the team, and Joe Cronin and Tom Yawkey making periodic appearances. There were plenty of songs, none of which made an impression. Critics found the play to be too episodic and disjointed.

   It appeared in the latter part of 2002. It is being revised in the Williamstown theatre for the summer and we’ll have to see how that goes.


   In 2010 a play with a book by Tony Sportielllo and original songs by Al Tappper went into rehearsal for what was to be an Off Broadway opening. The buzz was that it would be a musical dealing with baseball and was in the tradition of Damn Yankees. That was saying a lot and unfortunately not only was it not another Damn Yankees it didn't last more than two weeks.

   Critics found the writing to be sophomoric and the score to be uninteresting and not very melodic.

   It’s a shame because it had an unusual plot. It dealt with a radio station in the 1930s who had such poor ratings that they invented a mythical baseball team  who are terrific, they win everything and the small town that the station broadcast from ate it up. The station led them to believe this was a real team and did complete broadcasts of their games. Eventually Life Magazine finds out about it and exposes them.

   The name of the play was National Pastime. Their was an effort to bring it back in 2011 but at the last minute the backers felt  it was too risky and withdrew rheir money.

   Next month part two:

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