"Baseball's troubadour poet laureate...Chuck combines his gift for lyrics and melody with his love for baseball history and culture,
and in the process creates a new chapter in the
folklore of our national pastime."
-Tim Wiles, Director of Research Emeritus
National Baseball Hall of Fame
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CHUCK'S BASEBALL CONCERT PHOTOS
Chuck Brodsky has the kind of love for baseball that helps people like me nourish the passion for what we do. For what seems like forever, I’ve been lucky enough to run into him on his annual spring-training pilgrimage with his dad, Frank. And there’s a certain glow they radiate on those sparkling spring afternoons that says it all – about fathers and sons, and about the way baseball on a March afternoon can bond them together in a way nothing else can. But luckily for all of us, Chuck Brodsky has more than just a love for baseball. He has a special gift that makes life brighter for all of us who share that love. In my job at ESPN and ESPN.com, I’m fortunate enough to get to tell baseball stories for a living. But I’m envious of Chuck, because he can do more than merely tell baseball stories. He can turn those stories into unforgettable five-minute musical pearls that draw you in, embed themselves in your head and keep your foot tapping, just the way his does when he sings them. I’ve always been amazed that more songwriters didn’t see what Chuck sees – the incredible, moving, real-life tales that baseball produces every day of every year. But fortunately, he has an eye for the best of those tales, the ear for so many gorgeous melodies to wrap them in and the talent to turn them into his own unique form of musical magic. I’ve been listening to his amazing baseball tunes for over a decade. And I couldn’t be happier that he’s bestowed us with another fantastic supply of songs that can keep us grinning, and thinking, for another decade – and beyond.
- Jayson Stark, Senior Baseball Writer, ESPN.com
FOREWORDS FOR THE BASEBALL BALLADS
"One of the great things about baseball, as Casey Stengel said, is that anything you want to know about the game's rich history can be found. "You could look it up," Casey said, and it is my job to do so. Along with several other individuals, my job here at the Hall of Fame Library is to look up baseball things for people. One day the phone rang and a voice on the other end said: "Hi. What do you know about Eddie Klepp?" Those were the first words Chuck Brodsky ever spoke to me. I responded that I'd never heard of Klepp, so Chuck started telling me that Klepp was the only white man who ever played in the Negro Leagues. Talk about an intriguing premise! I promised to send him whatever I could find, and then asked him, out of curiosity, what his interest in Klepp was. Was he writing a screenplay or a poem or something? "Actually, it's something like that," Chuck replied. "I'm a folksinger and I'd like to write a song about him."
That's when I proposed to Chuck what I consider one of the greatest trades in baseball history. I would, without charge, send him all the info I could, if he would send along the finished song for the Hall's library collection. Chuck said that he would, and also that he'd send a copy of another baseball song he'd written, about an aging pitcher known as "Lefty." Before too long, we'd set up the first of several gigs for Chuck, the first folksinger ever to play the Baseball Hall of Fame. Chuck finds the intriguing and offbeat baseball stories that need to be told, as in the case of Eddie Klepp, or retold and interpreted, as in the case of Fred "Bonehead" Merkle, forever remembered not for his great skill, but for a trick play pulled on him in his rookie season.
Chuck combines his gift for lyrics and melody with his love for baseball history and culture, and in the process creates a new chapter in the folklore of our national pastime. Through all of his story-songs shines Brodsky's love of life, its sometimes dark humor, and its most glorious game - baseball. These nine songs are the fulfillment of a dream for baseball's troubadour poet laureate, and also for one of his biggest fans. I have only one suggestion to make for Chuck: extra innings! Encore! And hey, if you like this music, check out Chuck's four other CDs. While he's a great baseball writer, his non-baseball stuff is also very compelling. If you get a chance, see him live; he'll blow you away. Lastly, if there's an Eddie Klepp you'd like to know about in baseball history, give me a call. "
-Tim Wiles, Director of Research Emeritus, National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, NY
CHUCK'S BASEBALL BIO
Chuck Brodsky was born and raised in Philadelphia, and even though he now lives in the mountains of North Carolina, his blood still runs Phillies red. A folk singer and songwriter, Brodsky performs in concert all across North America, Ireland, and Europe throughout the year. The Baseball Ballads and The Baseball Ballads 2 each contain nine of his celebrated songs about the National Pastime and its colorful, off-beat cast of characters. Chuck has performed three times at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and eighteen of his Baseball story songs have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame’s sound recording library. He has also performed at the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame. The Ballad of Eddie Klepp, about the first white man to play in the Negro Leagues, has been heard on NPR’s Morning Edition and was the inspiration for a feature story about Klepp in The Washington Post. It was listed by Sports Illustrated magazine as being among the 25 Greatest Songs About Sports of All–Time (2012).
Chuck and his song about Richie Allen, Letters in the Dirt, were featured in an article that appeared in The Philadelphia Daily News. His beloved Philadelphia Phillies featured his song “Whitey & Harry” along with an interview with Chuck in the documentary film about their legendary Hall of Fame player, "Richie Ashburn: A Baseball Life." The PBS film “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story” (2010) featured his Moe Berg: The Song. Since releasing The Baseball Ballads 2 Chuck has recorded and released four more Baseball songs, and is currently working on more songs for a third volume of The Baseball Ballads.
WHAT'S BEEN SAID ABOUT THE BASEBALL BALLADS
"As baseball lore, well, Vin Scully surely could learn a thing or two. This is perhaps the most repertorial collection of music about sports ever put on disc....Brodsky delivers his tales with sweetness and obvious affection for the game...The stories: Grammy worthy."
-The Sporting News
“This is a grand-slam home run of an album! Most of these songs are not so much about baseball as they are about people - people who play baseball, or watch baseball - and the songs often become vehicles for larger messages.”
“One of the most insightful and well-rounded collections of baseball songs in recent memory...The Baseball Ballads serves as a reminder to fans about why the game pulls on the heartstrings of anyone who has rooted for the home team...a fascinating collection of ballads that can be considered classics worthy of the national pastime.”
“The Baseball Ballads” is a collection of brilliant Brodsky originals...Brodsky hits these tracks out of the park, and they go on for miles...These are tales of baseball’s quirky, dedicated and sometimes unloved participants...These are characters in the periphery, people who carved a unique niche in the game, on and off the field...”
“The Baseball Ballads is a collection of songs celebrating little-remembered heroes and goats, a smorgasbord of bizarro baseball history...Brodsky turns his eye for irony on the whole of baseball history, and comes up with some spectacularly improbable stories...Brodsky sings about baseball the way it used to be: unpredictable, colorful, somehow laden with moral force...he enshrines a game that mostly exists in memory.”
“The Baseball Ballads is full of songs about misfits and faded glories...These tales, obsessively researched and rendered with off-beat affection, put some skewed humanity back in a game that needs it.”
“Folksinger Chuck Brodsky hits a home run with this terrific collection of story songs about an eclectic mix of baseball personalities and personal heroes. Brodsky's focus is on the lesser known and least understood figures in baseball history, and his musical talents and appreciation for a well-researched story shine through in the words and lyrics.”
-Elysian Fields Quarterly Review
“Chuck weaves breathless tales of breaking the color barrier and creates short stories of some of his own favorite players with one of the most pleasing voices in the genre. The tales are marvelous.”
-Creative Loafing (Charlotte, NC)
"Brodsky specializes in wonderful folk songs about baseball."
“There’s more to this songwriter than fastballs and nostalgia, of course, but the baseball songs are illustrative of Brodsky’s strengths as a writer and performer.”
“The master of the baseball song.”
-Ed Becker, KDHX (St. Louis, MO)
“It’s to Brodsky’s credit that these baseball songs can appeal to people (like me) who don’t even like baseball much, and it’s because whatever subject he touches, Brodsky is able to give it powerful human interest.”
-The Canton Voice (Ohio)
“What is often overlooked when critics remark on Brodsky’s baseball tunes is that these songs, like most of his material, are, first and foremost, people stories.”
-The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC)
“Brodsky transports the listener back in time, where they sit in the stands watching the action with the smell of peanuts and popcorn thick in the air. His baseball songs are... often metaphors for life in general.”
-FFWD Weekly (Calgary AB)
“North Carolina's--and perhaps the world's--baseball song MVP is Chuck Brodsky...Brodsky has a knack for building songs around truly memorable baseball folk, the kind of characters that are so fascinating they have to be real: catcher/spy Moe Berg, tripping hurler Dock Ellis, white Negro League player Eddie Klepp, and the star-crossed Eddie Waitkus, the inspiration for the fictional Roy Hobbs.”
-The Independent Weekly (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill NC)
“Special with a capital S.”
WORLD'S LARGEST AUTOGRAPHED BASEBALL COLLECTION
FUNNY BASEBALL STUFF
ELYSIAN FIELDS INTERVIEW
THE ENGAGING AND EDIFYING EFQ INTERVIEW
Chuck Brodsky, Baseball Balladeer
By EFQ Staff
Chuck Brodsky is a folksinger. A good one. He's been at his craft for about twenty years now, ever since his freshman orientation at Penn State when he observed others playing guitar around the university campus and decided that the life of a troubadour was more appealing than spending his time sitting in a lecture hall. Before that epiphany, Brodsky's musical instrument had been the piano, but he soon took up the guitar, withdrew from classes, and began working at a folk club in Philadelphia. Over the next few years he spent at lot of time back at State College playing around the campus, but eventually decided that his future lay elsewhere. In 1981, he hitchhiked out to California, ending up in the Bay area, where he immersed himself in the local folk scene. Although Brodsky lived in Berkeley and San Francisco for most of the next¨ fifteen years, he also spent two years street-singing in Europe and six months working on a kibbutz in Israel. When in California, Brodsky sang and wrote whenever he could—and supported himself with a variety of jobs: picking fruit as a migrant laborer, driving an ice-cream truck, working as a bank courier; merchandising for a book distributor.
Such experiences undoubtedly provided him with the grist for many a song, and Brodsky began to perform at local events, including the San Francisco Free Folk Festival and the Napa Valley Folk Festival, where he won the "Emerging Songwriter Award" in 1992. But it wasn't until he appeared at the renowned Kerrville Folk Festival (in Kerrville, Texas) in 1993 that Brodsky realized his music would resonate with larger audiences. "At Kerrville," Brodsky says, "I met folks who actually book performers for events, and I started getting inquiries about my availability." He also received positiveØ feedback from fellow performers, something that took him by surprise. "I always believed in my long-term future," Brodsky adds. "But I assumed the breakthrough would be farther down the road."
Brodsky's debut CD, A Fingerpainter's Murals (Waterbug Records) was released in 1995, followed by Letters in the Dirt (1996); Radio (1998); and Last of the Old Time (2000), all of which appeared on the Red House Records label. But it is his latest release, The Baseball Ballads (which he self-produced), that has probably brought him the most media attention. The Baseball Ballads is a compilation of his previously recorded baseball songs (that have appeared on his other CDs) as well as several new releases that Brodsky has been performing the past couple of years. While he doesn't wish to be pigeonholed as a "baseball singer," he's especially happy about the publicity the CD has generated, given that his role as producer, financier, and overall designer of the accompanying song booklet made the project a "true labor of love."
EFQ publisher Tom Goldstein first interviewed Brodsky in 1999 when the singer-songwriter was in St. Paul for a concert, met him again at the Society for American Baseball Research National Convention in Milwaukee in the summer of 2001 (where Brodsky performed in a downtown park on the waterfront), and conducted a second interview by phone in early September.
EFQ: Your baseball songs seem to focus on the "fringe players" in baseball—Max Patkin, Moe Berg, Eddie Klep—or tragic figures like Fred Merkle and Eddie Waitkus. What attracts you to these kind of stories?
CB: I'm generally interested in the stories that haven't been covered and written to death. Something that's fresh, rather than just dwelling on the mundane. Obvious, well-known subjects like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio have already been dealt with extensively; I'm more interested in the stories that haven't been told.
EFQ: And yet your first baseball song, "Lefty," while loosely based on Steve Carlton, was really just a folksong about baseball rather than an attempt to examine a historical player or event.
CB: At that time I was pretty shy about playing a baseball song for a folk audience; I thought people would consider it to be trite. It never occurred to me that the public might find a song like that thought-provoking. But when I played it before an audience in Berkeley for the first time in the early nineties, people enjoyed it. So I thought I should do a song about Jackie Robinson and breaking the color barrier. Then I found out about Eddie Klep.
EFQ: In Jules Tygiel's book, right?
CB: Yeah. There was a brief mention of Klep in Baseball's Great Experiment, and I knew right away that the song would have to be about Klep's journey rather than Jackie’s.
EFQ: And that kind of opened up a new way for how you approached songwriting?
CB: It was the chance to tell a true story, to write about a real human being. Before ["The Ballad of Eddie Klep"], I wrote more introspectively—love songs, social commentary—but not much in a storytelling format. Klep was my first story-song about a real person.
EFQ: So you made a conscious decision to write more baseball songs?
CB: Once I had the two songs, I started getting referred to as the "folksinger who sang about baseball"; that planted the seed that I might be onto something. And the process was a lot of fun, especially the chance to do more research, which I found really enjoyable. Actually, a number of songs that I've written in the past couple of years, including many songs that aren't about baseball, have required a great deal of research. But it adds a quality to the stories that wouldn't be there otherwise.
EFQ: Are baseball audiences different?
CB: When I've played baseball gatherings, there haven't necessarily been a lot of music fans there. Some people may pay close attention, while others talk among themselves. At a club or folk venue, everybody is a folk music fan, in part because the venues make a real effort to get people to focus on the music. Sometimes they'll have signs on the door or on each table asking patrons to be respective of the artists. But I've been pleased with the reception I've gotten when playing at the Hall of Fame, and I thought the concert in Milwaukee [the SABR Convention] turned out well.
EFQ: Tell me about the song "Letters in the Dirt," which was the title of your second CD. Especially the line "Me & you, we never booed Richie Allen.”
CB: It was my third baseball song, and mostly a tribute to my dad. I tried to write it a few times over the years as a traditional folksong, but couldn't quite find the right approach. Once I had "Lefty" and "Eddie Klep," it sort of evolved into a baseball song. And yet it's really a thank you to my dad for letting me grow up as a baseball fan—for shielding me from the prejudice being directed at Richie Allen, who became my favorite player.
EFQ: Tim Wiles [Reference Librarian at the Hall of Fame's National Baseball Library in Cooperstown] has told me a great story about you getting to meet Dick Allen in person.
CB: I was in Cooperstown one year for a concert, and Tim tipped me off that Allen was in town and staying at the [nearby] Otesaga Hotel. I was going to drop off a copy of "Letters in the Dirt" at the front desk, but then I saw him in the lobby wearing a tux. I went over to him, introduced myself, and told him that I'd written a song about him. When I handed him the recording, he reached over and pinched my cheek. Then I took out the song booklet and showed him the illustration of the word "BOO" [that Allen used to write in the dirt around first base with his spikes]: It brought a tear to his eye.
EFQ: You had a touching experience with Max Patkin as well.
CB: I was traveling through Philadelphia a few years ago and knew that he had retired there, so I got his phone number from a local sportswriter and gave Patkin a call. I got his answering machine and left a message saying that I'd written a song about him and wanted to share it with him. He called me back, and we agreed to meet at the downtown courthouse, which is where Max spent his retirement—attending trials. He knew all the guys down there and would kid around with them. A couple of weeks later he suffered a ruptured aorta and died, but according to his family, while he was in the hospital he insisted on playing the song for every doctor that treated him. Of course, after he passed away, I had to change the song from "Going to Heaven" to "Gone to Heaven.”
EFQ: How do you come up with the subjects for your baseball songs?
CB: I saw Max Patkin in the movie Bull Durham, then »remembered that I'd seen him perform at Reading Stadium when I was a kid. At the time I filed it away, then later came back to it. I played baseball in high school with Richie Ashburn's son, but it was Whitey dying, attending his memorial service, then listening to the first game without him broadcasting that got me to write that one ["Whitey and Harry"]. A friend mentioned the Eddie Waitkus tragedy, which obviously I had to learn more about.
EFQ: You've described the making of this album as a real "labor of love." That seems especially true of the song booklet, which is a neat piece of memorabilia in its own right.
CB: Yeah, I'm pretty proud of how that turned out. I knew I would only have one chance to get it right, so I really worked hard at choreographing the details for my designer.
EFQ: I'm really impressed with the historical photos that accompany each song's lyrics. A very nice touch.
CB: The crown jewel for me was the Richie Allen photo. It appeared in Life magazine in the late sixties, but I wasn't able to track down the photographer until just a few weeks before we had to get the booklet printed. He searched for the original, but when he couldn't find it, we were at least able to get permission to use a reprinted version. Tracking down that photo made the project; it just complements the song so well.
EFQ: It must also have been a lot of fun creating the cover image of that Phillies jersey in the locker with your name and number on the back, huh?
CB: Actually, that's my dad's jersey from when he played at Phillies fantasy camps—along with his old catcher's mask and other gear. The guitar in the locker on the left is mine.
EFQ: Was your dad a ballplayer as a kid?
CB: Yeah, he played at Overbrook High in Philly, a few years ahead of [basketball great] Wilt, then in the army in Korea and Japan. He never saw combat, but got to play lots of baseball against teams on other bases.
EFQ: How about you?
CB: I played baseball at The Haverford School, mostly in center field. Richie Ashburn Jr. was our third baseman, but one game we needed him to pitch. So I spent the day before in practice working out at third. First chance I had in the game was a sharply hit grounder that took a bad hop and hit me in the eye; almost detached my retina. I spent a couple of weeks in bed after that one.
EFQ: So that's how you became friends with [Padres third base coach] Tim Flannery—two former third basemen turned folksingers?
CB: [Laughs]. Actually, I first got to know him by email. A mutual friend who I met at Kerrville knew Flan in San Diego and was hanging out with the Padres at spring training last year. He sent me an email saying that I should contact Flan, so we started corresponding. Turned out we had a lot in common, and when the Padres came to Philly that April, Tim left tickets to the game for my dad and me. When we came down to the dugout to say hi, he had the usher let us onto the field, then immediately introduced us to a bunch of the players and coaches. After the game I went back to the Padres’ hotel, and we hung out all night talking and playing. We even went out at about 3:00 A.M. for a cheese steak at Pat's [in South Philly].
EFQ: Sounds like a great friendship.
CB: Yeah, we've become good buddies. He's a really talented performer—and a good songwriter, too. He's been carrying his guitar around for about twenty-five years now, so we have a lot of road stories in common.
EFQ: When you were hanging out with Flannery, did you get a chance to talk with any of the Padre players?
CB: Later that season I had a gig in Atlanta when the Padres were also in town, so Flan and I spent a couple of nights playing on the outside patio/bar attached to the hotel where the Padres were staying. A bunch of the players and coaches came around to listen—Phil Nevin, Trevor Hoffman, Mark Kotsay, Tom Lampkin. The manager, Bruce Bochy, as well as Alan Trammell and the other coaches were there.
EFQ: What did the players think of your music?
CB: They’re pretty big fans. I was traveling through Houston in late August  when the Padres were playing the Astros, so I went out to see a game. Flan and I hooked up afterwards, and a bunch of the guys started asking us to play, but I'd left my guitar back at the hotel across town. Nevin wanted to buy me a guitar, but Tim and I kind of nixed that idea. So they ended up tipping the Astros clubhouse guy a hundred bucks to drive out to the hotel and retrieve it from my room.
EFQ: Have you and Flannery ever performed toget