The song Van Lingle Mungo was released a year before I was born, in 1969. I likely heard it for the first time 12-15 years later, when I was around the age of 13. The lyrics of the song consist entirely of odd-sounding names of former Major-Leaguers.
Composed, written, and performed by American Jazz pianist David Frishberg, Van Lingle Mungo, was just one of the many pieces of baseball history and Americana that captivated me as a teenager in the 80’s.
Give it a listen here!
Oddly enough, along with millions of other American children of the 70’s and 80’s, I had long been listening to another David Frishberg tune on Saturday mornings as I ate my Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch and watched cartoons: He wrote the lyrics for the classic Schoolhouse Rock segment, “I’m Just a Bill”!
A lifelong baseball fan, Frishberg is said to have written the melody to what would become “Van Lingle Mungo” before he had any kind of lyrics in mind. Then, while browsing through a list of Major League Baseball player names in the Baseball Encyclopedia, he came across the name Van Lingle Mungo. The unusual name stuck in his head and he began humming it into the Bossa Nova-style melody he had written. He would eventually add the names of 36 other big-leaguers to complete the tune.
The Baseball Encyclopedia has since been replaced by a vast list of online resources like Wikipedia and BaseballReference.com, where you can find information on the 19,543 (as of this writing) men (as of this writing) who have played Major League Baseball. One of my favorite sources of content is Baseball Reference’s list of players “born on this date”. On the list, you will find every player, from Hall of Famers to the “Cup-of-Coffee” guys who barely got a taste of “The Show”.
While no Hall-of Famers were born on June 8th, the man who many would consider the most infamous Cup-of-Coffee player of all-time, was. Standing just 3’7″ and weighing 65 lbs., little person Eddie Gaedel drew a walk in his only plate appearance, as a publicity stunt for the St. Louis Browns on August 19, 1951. Gaedel was born on June 8, 1925.
As David Frishberg discovered back in 1969, the (much shorter at the time) list of former big-leaguers is full of funny names and oddball characters. Had he been searching names by birthday, the songwriter would have found several good ones from which to choose on June 8th: Cub Stricker. Tacks Neuer. Del Paddock. Webbo Clarke. Van Mungo.
Far from a Cup-of-Coffee player, Van Lingle Mungo was born on June 8th, 1911 and played 14 seasons in the Major Leagues, from 1931-1945. He spent the majority of his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a hard-throwing pitcher, leading the league in strikeouts AND walks in 1936. The 4-time All-Star selection averaged 17 wins a year from 1933-36 but an arm injury during the 1937 season limited his effectiveness for the rest of his career. He played his last three seasons with the New York Giants, finishing his career with a pedestrian win-loss record of 120-115 with 1,242 strikeouts, 868 walks, and 33 hit batters. While his career statistics did nothing to immortalize him among the all-time greats, David Frishberg’s 1969 ode to baseball gave him top billing over Hall-of-Famers Roy Campanella, Johnny Mize, Lou Boudreau, Ernie Lombardi, and Early Wynn.
Launched on June 8, 2019, the Van Lingle Mungo Hall of Fame is where we celebrate Baseball History and Obscura through the weirdest, funniest names and characters to have ever played the game or contributed to its place in Americana.
If you’d like to share pictures of baseball cards, memorabilia or artifacts associated with our Hall of Fame members – or if you’d like to nominate additional members of the VLMHoF, please (!) drop us a line here.