Van Lingle Mungooooooo

December 23, 2014

DAVE FRISHBERG

DAVE FRISHBERG

When I bought the 2008 Jetta I’m driving now, I was disappointed but not surprised to find that it did not have a cassette-tape player. Having been born in the era of 78 rpm records, I have long since accepted the fact that sound technology changes every two or three days. Still, I was nonplussed about all the music now trapped on all those cassettes. I have thought about throwing them away but, fortunately, I never did. I say “fortunately,” because I recently learned how easy it is to transfer the sound from those tapes to CDs (which, I know, are another fading medium). One of the first tapes I transferred was something called “Baseball Musak,” a collection of songs and other recordings having to do with our national game.

VAN LINGLE MUNGO

VAN LINGLE MUNGO

Among the cuts on that tape is a jazz tune called “Van Lingle Mungo,” which was written by pianist-composer David Frishberg and released in 1969. Frishberg had composed a melody but couldn’t satisfy himself with lyrics. During this same period, Frishberg leafed through a baseball reference book and came across the name of Van Lingle Mungo, a pugnacious guy who pitched in the major leagues from 1931 to 1945. Mungo’s full name fit perfectly into the cadence of the last seven beats of Frishberg’s melody. After discovering that, Frishberg scoured baseball’s calico past and composed a lyric for his song consisting almost entirely of thirty-seven players’ names, including such melodic monikers as Augie Bergamo, Frenchy Bordagaray, and Sigmund Jakucki.

FRENCHY BORDAGARAY

FRENCHY BORDAGARAY

The result of this improbable combination was described by music critic Ira Gitler as “one of the best jazz works of the 70s.” The song, which one might imagine listening too while sipping a lonely gin-and-tonic in a dark and careworn lounge, has a haunting quality that oddly has as much to do with the names as with the melody.
Van Lingle Mungo, by the way, was a pitcher of some consequence. He averaged 16 wins per season from 1932 through 1936. He struck out 238 batters in 1936, leading the National League. He was on the NL All-Star team in 1934, 1936, and 1937. He suffered an arm injury in 1937 and won only 13 major league games in the next six years. Still, he has a winning lifetime record (120-115) and a respectable lifetime earned-run average (.347) — both enviable achievements.
You can hear Dave Frishberg’s song by clicking HERE:

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2 Responses to “Van Lingle Mungooooooo”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    Do you know what intrigued me most about the video? The comment section. It’s like a hot stove league in there. Really fun.

    I did spend some time pondering the fellow’s name: Van Lingle Mungo. It reminded me of the British rock group, Mungo Jerry, and something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

    Finally, I found it. Mungo Jerry took their name from the poem, “Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer,” part of T. S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.”

    It always goes back to the cats. 🙂

    • charlespaolino Says:

      I didn’t want to make that post too long, so I didn’t mention that Van Lingle Mungo, who was from South Carolina, owned a movie theater after he retired from baseball. At the time, black people weren’t allowed in theaters, but Mungo was the first to install a balcony where black folks could be segregated. Given his personality, it’s likely he did that so he could increase box office receipts, but it was something of a landmark.

      Regarding cats, when Marcello came to live with us I suggested that we name him Jellylorum or Munkustrap, but Mrs. Paolino wasn’t having it.

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