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ROBERT HILBURN

Rhino Records Gets Back in the Ballgame : Pop: Fun-minded label releases a sequel to last year's 'Baseball's Greatest Hits.'

March 31, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN

Play ball!

The start of the major league season may have been pushed back to April 9 because of the labor dispute, but Rhino Records is going to help baseball fans get into the spirit next week.

The fun-minded label, which specializes in reissues and concept albums, is releasing on Tuesday the sequel to last year's widely acclaimed "Baseball's Greatest Hits" package.

Though the 1989 edition contained such quintessential items as Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First?" skit and Terry Cashman's "Willie, Mickey & the Duke," there was plenty left to make the new "Let's Play II" collection an equal delight. Think of the albums, in fact, as a pop double-header.

Indeed, "Let's Play II" is so filled with rare items--both musical selections and short sound bites--that it amounts to an aural trivia quiz.

* What celebrated pop singer and noted Dodgers fan released "The First Baseball Game," a good-natured novelty in 1961, which contended that the first baseball game was chronicled in the Bible?

Sample lyrics:

Goliath was struck out by David

A base hit made on Abel by Cain

And the Prodigal Son made a great home run

Brother, Noah gave checks out for rain

Answer: Would you believe Nat King Cole?

* What bluesman recorded a song, "Robbie-Doby-Boogie" in 1948 that saluted the breaking of the color barrier in baseball?

Sample lyrics:

Hooray, hooray

The time has really come

Cleveland's got Larry Doby

And Brooklyn's got Jackie Robinson.

Answer: Brownie McGhee.

* Who was the Academy Award-winning actor, a noted tough guy, who recorded a radio promo for baseball in the '50s that declared a "hot dog at the game beats roast beef at the Ritz"?

Answer: Humphrey Bogart.

* What duo released in 1980 a satirical country-gospel number, "Will You Be Ready (At the Plate When Jesus Throws the Ball)," that pointed out "no sinner's ever happy when he hears that umpire's call."

Answer: Elmo & Patsy, yes the same pair that gave us that wacky Christmas hit "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer."

* What actor-comedian lamented in a 1957 single, "Let's Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn," the idea of the Dodgers moving to Los Angeles?

Sample lines:

It ain't official yet

We hope official it don't get

But beware my friend and let me warn ya

They're thinkin' of taking the Bums to Californ-ya.

Answer: Phil Foster, the guy who played Frank De Fazio, Laverne's father, in "Laverne & Shirley."

And now, the tie-breaker:

* Every Los Angeles baseball fan has heard the song "It's a Beautiful Day for a Ball Game" hundreds of times because it is played at the start of every Dodgers game. What hit record from an off-shoot of the same group of singers made the national Top 30 five years in a row in the late '50s and early '60s?

Answer: "The Little Drummer Boy" by the Harry Simeone Chorale.

Among the other treats in "Let's Play II": soulmen Sam & Dave's "Knock It Out of the Park" the original "Damn Yankees" cast recording of "(You've Got to Have) Heart" and Willie Dixon/McKinley Mitchell's "That Last Home Run," a tip of the cap to Hank Aaron's 715th homer

James Austin, who co-produced the collection with Warren Fusselle, said work on the sequel began soon after the strong reaction to last year's "Baseball's Greatest Hits," which has nearly tripled its original 15,000 sales projection.

Austin had hoped to have some of the songs on volume two--especially "(You've Got to Have) Heart"--on the original collection but simply couldn't secure licensing rights in time.

In putting together the additional songs for this edition, Austin and Fusselle not only did their own independent research, but rummaged through hundreds of suggestions from fans.

The most frustrating omission for Austin is John Fogerty's "Centerfield," the 1985 recording that has become a semi-official anthem on baseball telecasts and at many ballparks across the country.

"We went after 'Centerfield' last year, but we couldn't get Fogerty's permission," Austin said. "It was our first priority when we started putting together 'Let's Play II.' We even had someone personally talk to him about it. But the word back was that 'Centerfield' is very special to John and he didn't want it be part of any compilation at this time."

Though "Let's Play II" pretty much follows the format of last year's "Baseball's Greatest Hits," Austin promises a surprise next year when volume three of the series is released. "They'll still be songs about baseball," he said. "But there'll be more of a conscious theme or link to the songs."

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