Eddie Basinski and Van Lingle Mungo
by John Delach
In 2011 I wrote the original version of “Van Lingle Mungo”, updating that edition after I discovered that Eddie Basinski had passed away.
It’s the musicality of his name that gives these lyrics legs. Say it slowly, let the syllables roll off your tongue: Van Lingle Mungo.
Van Lingle Mungo pitched in the major leagues from 1931 to 1945 mostly with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A talented hurler trapped on a lousy team; he had his day in the sun before fading into baseball history until his unique name enabled him to gain a peculiar recognition when his name was prominently featured in a song about baseball.
Roger Angell, one of our American literature’s treasures and a and devoted baseball fan and historian described Van Lingle Mungo in his quasi-memoir, Let Me Finish:
When I exchanged baseball celebrities with pals at school, we used last names, to show a suave familiarity, but no one ever just said “Mungo” or even “Van Mungo.” When he came up in conversation, it was obligatory to roll out the full
name, as if it were a royal title, and everyone in the group would join
in at the end of the chorus: Van Lin-gle MUN-go!
In 1969, the songwriter, David Frishberg wrote a jazz ballard, (at that time referred to as; “a bossa nova ballard.”) The lyrics consisted entirely of the names of baseball players except for “big” and “and”. The title is “Van Lingle Mungo.” And every chorus ends with his name.
Mr. Frishberg sang Van Lingle Mungo’s name exactly as Angell sets it out in his 2006 copyrighted book.
In 2011 when I first wrote this piece, I noted the following information:: For the record, the experts who keep track of this kind of trivia report that six players named in the song remain alive, today: Max Lanier, 92, Eddie Joost and Phil Cavaretta, both 91, Johnny Pesky, 88, John Antonelli, 76 and Eddie Basinski, 84.
Van Lingle Mungo. was born in 1911, died in 1985. He won 120 games and lost 115, was most prolific from 1932 to 1936 when he won 81 and lost 71. He had several problems both on and off the field. On the field, he felt the need to strike out every batter giving him a high pitch count that limited his ability to complete games.
Curiously, if Van Lingle Mungo pitched in today’s game, nobody would have cared about this weakness as almost every starting pitcher is only good for a maximum of six innings. He hurt his arm in 1937, an injury that should have ended his career. Curiously, he hung in there pitching junk for another seven years.
Off the field, he enthusiastically pursued wine, women and late-night adventures. On a spring training trip to Havana, he barely escaped a machete being wielded by the outraged husband of a nightclub singer and his latest conquest. He was wild and mean and had a terrible temper. Several sources quoted Casey Stengel who managed him on the Dodgers:
Mungo and I get along fine. I just tell him I won’t stand for no nonsense, and then I’d duck.
If you use Google or another internet search engine, you can find the complete lyrics, or actually hear Dave Frishberg sing his tune.
In January. Eddie Basinski’s obituary appeared in The New York Times. The headline read:
Eddie Basinski, 99, Infielder
And an Equally Elite Fiddler
Basinski had taken classical violin lessons since childhood and was a member of the University of Buffalo symphony orchestra when America declared war on Japan in 1941.
A marginal professional baseball player, his poor sight not only kept him out of the major leagues, it also prevented him from being drafted. But it did give him the opportunity to reach the major leagues as a replacement player for those starters who went to war. He played 39 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1944 and 108 in 1945. Sent back to the minors in 1946, he played in 56 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1947.
He remained in the minor leagues until 1959 pitching for the Portland Beavers and five other teams including one in Venezuela. He told The Times about a violin recital that he performed between the two games of a doubleheader “I got a tremendous ovation and had a good doubleheader too.”
In January, in death, Eddie Basinski achieved a final milestone as he became the last baseball player named in Dave Frishberg;s salute to baseball to pass away.
RIP Eddie Basinski.