Baseball, more so than any of the other major professional sports, is built on the awareness that anything that happens in the current game being played becomes immediately a part of a long, storied, and statistically verified past, uniting everything in the single arc of a ball toward the plate, where the swing of a bat can change the moment, but that swing and its result -- good or bad, according to one's allegiance -- takes its place in a legendary past a second later, a cipher in a game that worships ciphers. Baseball is instant nostalgia, which is why this four-disc box set of baseball ephemera is bound to get a good deal of media attention. Consisting of one disc of baseball songs, a disc of play-by-play broadcasts of historic baseball moments, a disc of interviews with players and managers about those historic moments, and a final disc of baseball poetry, comedy routines, and audio of baseball players doing commercials, The Great American Baseball Box (which comes in a box shaped like second base) is packed full of more nostalgia than ten boxes of doo wop hits. Thankfully the booklet that accompanies the set approaches the whole enterprise from a sane and balanced perspective, linking baseball and its history into the larger scheme of American cultural history, so that when you hear Count Basie's "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?" from 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson first stepped on to Brooklyn's Ebbets Field to break baseball's color barrier, the full implication of the song (the vocal is sung by Taps Miller) is clear. Likewise, when Bob Dylan equates the multi-million-dollar free agency of pitcher Catfish Hunter in "Catfish" to not working on Mr. Finley's farm any more, it's clear that baseball, at least as it has been written and sung about, has always functioned as a mirror of the larger culture, where greed all too often has been mistaken for a way of life, and whole franchises tumble because of it. Then there is Dave Frishberg's delightful "Van Lingle Mungo," which fashions a whole song out of the names of obscure baseball players, and you begin to see the scope of baseball's passion for minutiae, which can be as exotic as you want to make it. In the end, The Great American Baseball Box makes a great gift for a baseball fan, but one wonders how much any of these discs would actually get played past once, unless you're an old-time Giants fan and feel like hearing radio broadcaster Russ Hodges scream, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" (which followed Bobby Thomson's famous shot off of the Dodgers' Ralph Branca in 1951), over and over again. Baseball grounds its present in the past on a daily basis, and this set is a monument to that. But baseball is also a game of contradictions (much like the country that gave birth to it), and everyone knows that the only pitch that matters now is the next one.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
Track Listing - Disc 1