Blue Yodel #19 – Moneygrass

March Madness, to me, doesn’t mean basketball.

Rather, it’s the perennial delusion that just by showing up in Peoria, Arizona, and running a few wind-sprints, the San Diego Padres are guaranteed in seven months to be spraying champagne over themselves after the last out of the World Series—a delusion I always fall for, despite all evidence that pigs can’t fly.

I can only take solace in knowing that every other baseball fan is succumbing to the same chimera. Even Cubs fans. Especially Cubs fans.

Baseball and bluegrass have a long and close history. Bill Monroe created his own teams in the ‘40s to take on unsuspecting locals. The Bluegrass Boys made a little money betting on the outcome of games, and even on which team would score first.

Monroe had two ballclubs: a travelling nine called the Bluegrass All-Stars, made up of a few band members—but mostly out of ringers with professional experience who could also put up a large canvas tent for the stage show—and a team based in Nashville called the Bluegrass Ballclub.

As Jay Feldman wrote in a 1984 article in Baseball Research Journal:

“Some of these musicians were pretty good ballplayers. [Clyde] Moody, for instance, as a young man with a blazing fastball (and control problems) had pitched two minor league seasons for Asheville, N.C., before pursuing music full time. [Jackie] Phelps was a first-rate shortstop and a bat-control artist who, according to Monroe, struck out only three times one season, and ‘Stringbean,’ the best player among the musicians, could play ‘just about any position.’ Monroe played ‘first base and the field.’”

Feldman also quotes Don Reno from Jim Rooney’s book Bossmen: Bill Monroe & Muddy Waters:

“Bill was more interested in ball than he was in music at this time. I reckon this was a way of resting his mind from music. But he liked to kill me playing ball. We would work a show one night and drive to the next town and usually get in at an early morning hour, and he’d have a ball game set up by ten o’clock with the local team.”

Also, in Bossmen, Monroe says,

“The club I had on the road I don’t think was beat but only a couple or three times all season. They was really a wonderful club. There was a couple of teams in Kentucky and West Virginia that beat ‘em. And the umpire beat ‘em one place in Kentucky and one place in West Virginia. You know, you can’t beat an umpire.”

Carl Jackson, Doyle Lawson, and Alan Munde have long shown themselves to be big baseball fans. Sam Bush named his dog Ozzie, after the Hall of Fame St. Louis Cardinals shortstop, Ozzie Smith.

The Punch Brothers new album features a song by Chris Thile, a huge baseball fan, called Movement and Location, based on former Braves, Cubs and Padres (we’ll forgive him for going over to the dark side one season and playing for the Dodgers) pitcher Greg Maddux’s obsession with those principles in pitching a baseball.

Here’s Thile and the band discussing and playing the song for the Guardian newspaper in the UK:

And I know the Gibson Brothers were good enough ballplayers to have contemplated careers in baseball. If given a chance, Eric and Leigh will regale you with play-by-play of historic New York Yankees games. (They’re not so good on Red Sox games.)


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About the Author

Chris Stuart

Chris Stuart is a writer and songwriter living in San Diego. He was the 2008 recipient of the IBMA Print Media Person of the Year award, co-writer of the 2009 IBMA Song of the Year, and past winner of the Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting contest in bluegrass and gospel categories. You can follow him on Twitter @cvstuart, on Facebook, and at On Tuesdays you can find him having fish tacos at Roberto’s in Del Mar.