Song Of The Day 4/14/2016: Ry Cooder feat. Bla Pahinui – “3rd Base, Dodger Stadium”

Baseball Week – This is arguably my favorite rock-era song with a baseball theme, though it's not really about baseball. It comes from Chávez Ravine, guitarist and musicologist Ry Cooder's finest album since Paradise and Lunch, which was a good 32 years. The story of Chávez Ravine in Los Angeles is an underplayed chapter in our national's colorful history of disenfranchisement that Cooder tells beautifully. Chávez Ravine was a community within the city limits of L.A. that was home to many generations of Mexican-Americans who self-sufficiently lived off their own land. It was called "the poor man's Shangri-La." After the Federal Housing Act of 1949 gave government funds to cities that committed to build public housing projects, the mayor of L.A. decided Chávez Ravine would be a perfect place to do so. He told the residents they'd have to sell their houses to the city because of eminent domain, but they'd be fairly paid and would have first pick of new housing units for themselves. Obviously the residents weren't pleased with this development, but many took the government at its word. That never fails, right?

The area was leveled by 1952, and this is where things got really screwed up because of Joe McCarthy's Red Scare. Many jittery opponents and corporations cried that a public housing project was un-American, and incoming mayor Norris Poulson swept into office by promising to put a stop to the Communist threat. He bought the land back at a cheap rate on the guarantee that it would be put to some public use. Oh, by the way, most of the original homeowners who were forced out weren't even close to fairly compensated for their land. That might be a given but I thought I'd point it out.

This series of events coincided with the interests of Walter O'Malley, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and a rapidly-populating L.A. area that hadn't yet scored a professional sports team. O'Malley got the land for even less pennies on the dollar and got a stadium built at the Ravine, where the Dodgers started playing in 1962. Obviously the Dodgers made the best of out the situation, gave back to the community and won over the hearts of the locals.

That's why this song -- in which a team groundskeeper rhapsodizes about his old homestead in the Ravine, conveniently located 90 feet from home plate -- is so good: Despite the heartbreak of losing his home and his community because of some rat-bastard politicos, the guy's still "a baseball man." It's sung by Bla Pahinui, a legacy of one of Hawaii's most renown musical families. Seriously, if this doesn't rip your heart out, you must like hackey-sack.

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