Ever since the introduction of the long-playing album, a development that demanded more artistic expression on record jackets, baseball has been in on the fun. Gathered here today are 15 of the most interesting record covers presented in approximate chronological order. To qualify for inclusion, an album must either have baseball imagery on the cover or baseball content on the recording.
Joe E. Brown - How to Play Baseball / Ralph Houk - Hear How to Play Better Baseball
Brown, a fun-loving comedian and Houk, a retired marine, both cut albums bent on making kids into better ballplayers. The covers evoke their respective approaches: Brown jokes around to get his message across while Houk is clearly not going to tolerate any stupid questions or horseplay. Did these ever work? Is there some guy walking around today who became a pretty good ballplayer because he listened to Ralph Houk on the family hi-fi?
Mel Allen's Baseball Game
Just what is this, exactly? Boardgamegeek.com gives this description: "This game uses an 33⅓ LP recorded by New York Yankees announcer Mel Allen to determine the outcomes of baseball plays. Each side of the LP has seven tracks, for use in different game situations. Each track has four interleaved grooves announcing the resulting play, leading to different outcomes based on which groove happens to catch the phonograph needle. The back of the LP sleeve itself is used as a game board." Why it rates here is that action shot on the cover. The ump is airborne! Wild.
Andy Roberts - A Night with Andy Roberts featuring the Schmitz Sisters
Hot damn. You know it's going to be a party when the man is simultaneously playing a piano and an accordion. Shit's gonna get real in a hurry. When the Washington Senators lammed out of the nation's capital and headed for Bloomington, Minnesota, Andy Roberts was there to greet them with a song called "Let's Meet at the Game Today." And how come Lawrence Welk never scooped up the Schmitz Sisters?
The Best of Waite Hoyt in the Rain
Hall of Fame pitcher and Reds broadcaster Waite Hoyt was known for ability to provide entertaining filler during rain delays, so much so that he recorded two albums of this material. What really makes this cover is that Hoyt is sporting a case of beer. Sure, Burger was the Reds' sponsor, but isn't it more fun to think that the picture suggests Hoyt is going to imbibe this whole case while spinning his yarns?
Who scored the first run in Angels history? This guy right here. Contemporary American Leaguer Denny McLain got a lot of attention for his music, but not so Pearson, who took a far more righteous path through life than the 30-game winner. The cover shows Pearson in his road grays as well as mufti, which makes it unique among player-turned-musician presentations.
Shay Torrent - Center Field Serenade or Music I Dug Out
The organ first made its appearance in a big-league ballpark at Wrigley Field in 1941. Its heyday lasted about 50 years. During that time, many ballpark organists released albums, including this one from Angels keyboard master Shay Torrent. Some other organist albums include: Eddie Layton (Yankees), Better Layton than Never; Jane Jarvis (Mets), Jane Jarvis Jams; Paul Richardson (Phillies), Crystal Keyboard Reflections; Ernie Hays (Cardinals), Organ for All Seasons; and Frank Pellico (Cubs), Phantom at the Organ.
Baseball: The First 100 Years
In the late ‘60s every cover artist seemed to draw as though they had the aurora borealis fused to a rainbow coming out of their minds. How did this cover come about? Probably something like this:
Record producer: We've got a spoken word history of our national pastime coming out next year. I thought we'd go with some nice sepia-toned photos on the cover to evoke the past.
Art director: No way, man. My brain is alive with ideas. I just came down from a trip to the theater.
Record producer: There's a theater upstairs?
Art director: Oh man, you're not digging my vibe; I just saw Yellow Submarine. Everything makes sense to me now. The colors, man...the colors!!!
Jerry Vale - Where's the Playground Susie?
Crooner Jerry Vale was born in the Bronx, so it only made sense that he's pictured on the cover of this 1969 album watching the Yankees (or watching something) during the team's Period of Deprivation.
The Big Red Machine
I guess this cartoonish bulldozer thing is an okay representation of the 1970 version of the Big Red Machine. That's the team that nearly got swept by the Orioles in the World Series. The later version, though, the one with Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Ken Griffey, and Tony Perez that won 210 games and beat the Red Sox 4-3 in 1975 and swept the Yankees in 1976? That Big Red Machine should look more like this.
Babe Ruth - First Base
This Babe Ruth was an American-named British band that was popular in Canada and whose best-known song was called "The Mexican" (a tune that was instrumental in the birth of hip hop). The album's cover art, though, was by Roger Dean, best known for his work with Yes. Many say his paintings either influenced or were ripped off by a little film called Avatar, which prompted him to sue. A friend of mine had a Roger Dean mural painted on his wall in high school and it was actually very well done. When his parents sold the house, they painted over it.
This cover just screams 1970s, doesn't it? It makes the list because it embodies the style of the decade so well. It even includes a picture of Joe Rudi making his famous catch in Game 2 of the 1972 World Series ... a catch I've always thought was way, way overrated. Oh, and why did A's players hate owner Charles O. Finley so much? The answer is in this record's title: He always managed to get his name in the middle of things, grabbing spotlight time away from the men on the field.
Barbara Manning - One Perfect Green Blanket
Musician/Blogger Collin Daniels put this one among his 50 favorite rock-album covers of all time, writing, "It took a little-known female indie rock artist from the early 1990's to put a gorgeous painting of a fully-populated, vintage baseball field, with players in action, on an album cover."
The Baseball Project - Volume 2, High and Inside
While most who had to deal with skipping or warped records don't miss them very much, it is undeniable that cover art lost something with the reduction in size from the LP to the CD format. Still, though, this cover proves it's possible to deliver a gem in miniature.
Dropkick Murphys - Live at Fenway
You can't go wrong with Fenway Park's manual scoreboard.