Music and sports are so intertwined it's hard to imagine one without the other. Boston fans sing "Tessie" and "Sweet Caroline" to rally the Red Sox. The Alan Parsons Project greets the Bulls. "One Shining Moment" gift-wraps the Final Four. The action on the field has a built-in sound track—a perfect score.
It works the other way too: Sports is infused in music as much as music is infused in sports. Last year John Fogerty was honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the 25th anniversary of "Centerfield." This month singer-songwriter Terry Cashman will receive the same nod for "Talkin' Baseball." In recent years Fenway Park has been a literal bandbox, hosting shows by Springsteen and the Stones, among others; in 2005, Jimmy Buffett (a monster Cubs fan and part-owner of a minor league team) played the first concert at Wrigley Field. Joe Frazier crooned, Bernie Williams strums, Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant rap (unfortunately) and former defensive tackle Mike Reid churns out beautiful country melodies. And the list of artists with sports-themed songs spans the breadth of popular music: Bob Dylan, Jay-Z, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Common, New Order, Miles Davis, the Pogues, Snoop Dogg . . . and on and on.
That is the rich vein from which SI has mined its first collection of Sports' Greatest Hits. These aren't stadium anthems (no Gary Glitter here) or novelties (sorry, "Super Bowl Shuffle"). These are songs by serious artists who used sports as subject and metaphor, rated for both the music and their message. Many are by great storytellers with wonderful tales to tell.
The philosopher Umberto Eco said we like lists because they bring order to chaos and make us feel immortal. And we know that rock 'n' roll will never die. Read on, then, and live forever.
1 WHO KILLED DAVEY MOORE?
Bob Dylan, 1963
"This is a song about a boxer," the always enigmatic Dylan said when he introduced this ballad at his landmark Lincoln Center performance in 1964. "It's got nothing to do with boxing." That's true, in the same way that Moby Dick has nothing to do with whaling. Still, "Who Killed Davey Moore?" remains a searing indictment of the fight game to this day.
Moore was a 29-year-old featherweight champion from Springfield, Ohio, when he defended his title against a heavy-punching Cuban émigré named Sugar Ramos on March 21, 1963. A crowd of more than 25,000 filled Dodger Stadium, which was less than a year old and hosting its first fight night. Moore gave nearly as good as he got, but in the 10th round he was knocked to the canvas for the second time, his head snapping against the bottom rope, and the referee ruled a knockout. Moore was able to talk to reporters for 40 minutes after the fight, laughing and joking about a rematch. A short time later, however, the swelling in his injured brain stem sent him into a coma from which he never awakened. He died three days later.
In the song, which Dylan performed for the first time less than three weeks after the fight, several characters deny their culpability in Moore's death. The referee, the fight fan, the manager, the gambler, the sportswriter, the opponent all sing, "No, you can't blame me at all." But the prick to the consciences of all involved—and to the listener's—is inescapable.
Little changed after the fight. There were Senate hearings and calls for boxing reform after Moore's death, and the ring ropes were made safer as a result, but the sport goes right on. Not at one venue, though. In the 48 years since Davey Moore's death, there has never been another fight card at Dodger Stadium.