Van Lingle Mungo: Pitcher and Song Title Too

Van Lingle Mungo ~ If they ever make his movie, The Pecan Park Eagle recommends Nicholas Cage for the title role.

Van Lingle Mungo
 If they ever make his movie, The Pecan Park Eagle recommends
Nicholas Cage
for the title role.

The story of Van Lingle Mungo is a case in which two passions of the same person finally merged and transformed one of the most interesting baseball player names into the title of a song that has been acclaimed as one of the most important jazz numbers of the very late 1960s through the entirety of the 1970s.  The fellow whose creative forces put it all together was Dave Frishberg, a jazz pianist and composer who just happened to also have gone on to become of the early members of SABR because his fascination with the game we don’t even need to name in this part of the universe, but probably will, anyway. Baseball is a love that rests as comfortably on the muse farms and in the hearts of the artfully inclined creative types as it does in the scientific minds of those saber-metric mathematicians who have formulated their “money game” ways into decision-making roles with almost every MLB club these days.

Dave Frishberg Composer "Van Lingle Mungo"

Dave Frishberg
“Van Lingle Mungo”

Back in 1969, Frishberg apparently was going through one of those little pre-natal labor pains that comes with creative writing. He had a little melody that had been rolling through his head that would then be filled with interesting name that he pulled from the Baseball Encyclopedia. There was one little five-note hole to be filled at the end of the repetitive melody stanza that he needed as memorable punchline. Frishberg found his solution when he ran across the wonderful name of a 1930s Brooklyn Dodger pitcher named Van Lingle Mungo.

In case you might care for the countdown on the syllables of that fabled moniker – that name again was Van-Ling-le-Mun-go! Five! Five syllables! Five Notes! It sounded strange, but fit so well, it earned its way up to song title too. First released as a 1969 single, Frishberg later that same year included “Van Lingle Mungo” as one of the numbers of his new album, “Oklahoma Toad”.

There are forty MLB ballplayers named in “Van Lingle Mungo” – the light piano jazz number that both sounds and plays well as a “for listening and background music only” that was once so popular during the “Lizard Lounge Era” that saw its best days from post-WWII through the 1970s. The song has been incorporated into the National Baseball Library Archives at Cooperstown – and much information is available on the Internet about the history of the song.

Here’s a nice summary on the history of the song that includes the names of ballplayers it included as lyrics:

"Van Lingle Mungo" The Book A SABR Production

“Van Lingle Mungo”
The Book
A SABR Production

A book also has been written by 32 SABR members, with Bill Nowlin acting as the primary editor, and it is entitled “Van Lingle Mungo: The Man, The Song, The Players”. It is available in paperback and e-book versions. Also, at this same link, look for the link midway down the page that will transfer you to You-Tube to hear Dave Frishberg performing the song and playing the piano.

Last, but not least, here’s the Baseball Almanac link to Van Lingle Mungo’s MLB career pitching record (1941-43, 1945) with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. All but the last three years were spent as either a Brooklyn Robin, during the clubs last season as Robins in 1931. From 1932 to 1941, Mungo played as a Brooklyn Dodger for all of ten years.

Baseball – you are a mighty river that carries all who ride with you to the ocean of everything else that is truly good and important in life. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, it is probably because you are not that deeply involved with the soul of the game, but that’s OK too. Find your own river to the sea. This one just happens to work fine for me.



5 Responses to “Van Lingle Mungo: Pitcher and Song Title Too”

  1. stanfromtacoma Says:

    Van Lingo is a good song. Baseball music is really interesting. I have a recording of Stan Musial playing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the harmonica that is a delight to hear. Phil Linz might be the ball player most associated with the harmonica. For those unaware Phil played “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the back of the team bus after a Yankee defeat. Manager Yogi Berra yelled at Linz and told him to stop playing. Phil wasn’t sure what Yogi was saying, so he asked his teammate, Mickey Mantle, what the manager was yelling about. The always helpful Mantle told Linz that Yogi wanted him to play louder. The rest is history.

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    I had heard the jazz tune before, but knew nothing about it or Van Lingle Mungo–a definite Nicholas Cage look-alike.

    Baseball as your river to the sea works for me–as well as a train heading down the tracks. I recently purchased an Astro commemorative brick to be installed outside Minute Maid Park, which in a few words chronicled the times in the 1950s my family boarded trains out of old Union Station, heading north to Trinidad, Colorado.

    In 2000, just before I flew down to Houston to attend my first game at Enron Field, I was asked by a friend in Denver if I had been to the new ballpark yet. I answered, “Sort of.”

    And for my first game (Rockies vs. Astros), I made sure to enter through the Union Station entrance.

  3. Bob Hulsey Says:

    I’ve been working on a modern version of Van Lingle Mungo with Jose Altuve as the featured name…I still have some gaps in it but here’s the big finish:

    Chris Ianetta
    Shin-Soo Choo
    Luis Valbuena
    Nelson Cruz
    Robby Cano and Tony Sipp
    Albert Pujols and Coco Crisp
    Hanley Ramirez
    Carlos Gonzalez
    Felix Hernandez
    Jose Altuve

  4. vdpittman Says:

    Here’s a link to the song on YouTube:

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