Michael Franks’s “Baseball,” from his album “One Bad Habit” (1980, Warner Brothers).
Today, we answer some important questions: Is baseball really that much like love? Did the Pittsburgh Pirates look awesome in 1970? How can I keep control of my nerves with the way you wind up when you throw me those curves?
Before we dive in, some background; Michael Franks’s “Baseball” isn’t the first time a songwriter has made this striking (LOL) analogy. The Intruders’ “(Love Is Like A) Baseball Game” is probably the closest analogue, since it places a woman on the pitchers mound and her man at bat. That song has always confused me — the main line in the chorus is “love is just like a baseball game, three strikes you’re out.” Do The Intruders live in a world where you “strike out” three times with a woman before you’re really “out”? No wonder they’re called The Intruders.
There’s also Mabel Scott’s “Baseball Boogie,” which is a lot more subtle — it’s only on a careful listen that you hear Scott make any direct reference to what kind of analogy she’s making. It’s so subtle, in fact, that parents put photo montages of their kids playing little league on youtube and use this song as the soundtrack. Still, there’s no question: “If I pitch, can you catch?” is the question we should all be asking our prospective mates.
On a completely opposite note, there’s Sister Wynona Carr’s “The Ball Game,” where LIFE is a ball game and JESUS is standing at the home plate. “The first base is TEMPTATION, the second base is SIN […] if you pass you can make it in.” Maybe this song isn’t that different from Franks’s after all.
Okay, so… Michael Franks. Michael. Franks. I had never heard of Michael Franks before hearing this song, but his website tells me that some of his best known hits are “Popsicle Toes,” “Monkey See-Monkey Do,” “The Lady Wants To Know,” “When the Cookie Jar is Empty,” “Tiger in the Rain,” “Rainy Night in Tokyo” and “Tell Me All About It.” As soon as I looked over that list, I knew that my next calling in life had made itself known: I am now the editor of MichaelFranksGraphs.com, coming soon. If you’re still not sold on Michael Franks, let me quote A. Scott Galloway: “As long as Michael Franks continues to put pen to paper, lending life and voice to song […], the tradition of true artistry will gracefully endure…like branches braving the night breeze in Brazilian banana trees.” TRUTH.
“Baseball” is a masterpiece of smooth modern jazz and I don’t know how I lived 29 years on this earth without it. I knew as soon as I heard it’s dulcet tones that Guided By Voices’ “Look, It’s Baseball” would just have to start sitting in the backseat of my Favorite Baseball Songs automobile.
The chorus of this song is very direct: “On the baseball / Love is just like baseball / All it is baseball / Love is just like baseball.” No mistaking it, y’all — love is like baseball. Just like it. That’s all it is. Baseball, love. Love, baseball.
In the verses, though, it becomes clear that what Franks is really saying is that baseball is like going home with an awesome dude who has silk sheets on his waterbed. In the first verse, he explains that you have had twenty wins and one save and now you’re up against him. 20 wins? In one season? Wow. Anyway, it’s really hard for him to keep his eyes on the ball. Because you are so beautiful. He doesn’t say that last part, but I am very adept at reading between the lines and I really think that’s what he means.
The second verse is when parsing this song gets uncomfortable. “How did you get your uniform on so perfectly tight?” That’s a question I wish I could still ask Major League baseball players, know-what-I’m-sayin’?!? If we’re going to FANTASIZE, “how did you get those stirrup socks on so tall?” is my next question.
He struck out twice, singled “but died,” but then — brace yourself — “you made me pop up / by sneaking inside.” I think we can just leave this line alone. If you’re confused, I suggest finding a lady who has a subscription to Cosmo and asking her. It can only get better. Franks’s protagonist — let’s call him Michael — is going to “change that sneer to respect, make your eyes open wide when you feel me connect.” That’s the line, and there’s nothing for me to say about it other than “awesome.” Sometimes you just have to let the masters speak for themselves.
After the awesome ride Michael gives the ball/you in that verse, we are reminded once again that love is like baseball. Last verse: Michael has a 3-2 count and he wants to end the game like “Beethoven’s Ninth.” He’s “tearing ’round third, sliding towards home / tearing ’round third, sliding towards home.” He’s sliding towards home. There’s now a permanent bruise on my side from all the metaphorical nudging I received listening to this song a dozen times today.
This song leaves me with as many questions as answers: what baseball games does Franks attend where “everyone” sings The Star Spangled Banner? If love is like baseball, doesn’t the infield fly rule mean that my boyfriend has to tell me I look pretty whenever I get dressed up? What does Michael Franks think about the new Marlins uniforms? Why is he standing outside of his closet on that album cover?
I don’t have those answers, but this much is clear: love is just like baseball and Michael Franks is the Babe Ruth of love.
P.S. If any Fangraphs reader performs and sends me a video of them covering this song, I will personally send them something awesome as a prize. I’d do it myself but the only song I know how to play on guitar is “Free Fallin'”.
P.P.S. He’s talking about sex.