Baseball and Jazz

It all connects....

According to the Boston Globe, pitcher Ben Henderson may be the first individual to have used the word jazz. An April 2, 1912, headline says so. Different dictionaries, such as Webster’s Third and The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, furnish alternate etymologies: TCOED places the first use in 1909; Webster’s has its own funky (and wagnalls) origins and meanings.

In Right Off the Bat, Martin and I recount something of the historic relationship between baseball and race. (We touch on music and baseball, but only to the degree that the sport inspired a couple of memorable songs, mainly about legendary players.) The story is well known; and not writing a history but more of an appreciation, there was no attempt to belabor it.

If the Civil War marked a sea-change (a term from The Tempest) in race relations within American society, the struggle continued in baseball till Jackie Robinson took a big-league field, and still (sadly, in baseball as in life) continues. As the United States healed and grew, baseball became the National Pastime. There are complex, prismatic reasons for this, but whatever each of them may be, such is a truism.

Henderson was white, using a term that was not generally part of “a white vocabulary” one-hundred years ago. Of course since then, Africa and African-Americans have much to do with the music (and dance and literature and film and the general culture) enjoyed by a good portion of the world, of which jazz is a kind of cynosure or essence.

On this centennial (in a couple of days) of the use of the word jazz, as well as the recent one-hundredth anniversary (November 13, 2011) of the birth of legendary Buck O’Neil, I present the list of greatest Negro Leagues players as compiled in a recent issue of the Sporting News. Catcher: Josh Gibson (who may or may not be the only player to have hit a fair ball clear out of the old Yankee Stadium, during an exhibition). First Base: Buck Leonard. Second Base: Newt Allen. Third Base: Ray Dandridge. Shortstop: Willie Wells. Outfielder: Turkey Stearnes. Outfielder: Oscar Charleston. Outfielder: James “Cool Papa” Bell. Right-handed Pitcher: Satchel Paige. Left-handed Pitcher: Willie Foster. Manager: C.I. Taylor. The collective active dates are fifty, from 1904 (C. I Taylor) to 1954 (Willie Wells’s last season). Paige is the only one to have a career in Major League Baseball in addition to his playing days in the Negro Leagues.

It is amazing that a century removed from the Negro Leagues, and fewer than two by half from the Civil War, Magic Johnson is the face of a group purchasing the Los Angeles Dodgers for a record sum: the same franchise for whom Jackie Robinson, who changed everything, played.

Advertisements

About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
This entry was posted in Baseball, Right Off the Bat Book and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Baseball and Jazz

  1. Pingback: Bits and Pieces, March 30

  2. barrypopik says:

    >>Different dictionaries, such as Webster’s Third and The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, furnish alternate etymologies: TCOED places the first use in 1909<<

    Thw 1909 citation was in error and actually from 1919. The online OED has corrected this…I have suggested that a jazz musician perform the national anthem at the LA Dodgers-LA Angels game on April 2nd, but no one listens to me…There's much more about the history of "jazz" if you're interested.

  3. barrypopik says:

    >>Different dictionaries, such as Webster’s Third and The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, furnish alternate etymologies: TCOED places the first use in 1909<<

    This was published in error and the actual source was from 1919, not 1909. The online OED has corrected the error…I've suggested that a jazz musician perform the national anthem at the LA Dodgers-LA Angels game on April 2nd, but no one listens to me…I have tons of information on the history of the word "jazz," if you're interested. My American Dialect Society colleague found the 1912 citation in the digitized LA Times in 2003, but there's more to the "jazz" story.

  4. Thank you for this etymological clarification and for your knowledgeable response to our posting. Such a rare (one hopes) misprint in “OED” would make the 1912-headline a real story. (Along with standard sources, in our book we identify Jane Austen, of all people, as the first to put “base-ball” in print [1815].) More to the point, the bigger history of white-black relations in the U.S. is linked, without qualification, to the history and lore of baseball: in complex, multifaceted ways. We at ROTB are far from experts in jazz, and have no doubt that “there’s more to the ‘jazz’ story,” as you say. Again, thank you for calling our attention to this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s