07/27/2008 12:56 AM ET
Country music's five-tool player
Hall of Famer Acuff played semi-pro ball before music
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
In 1939, the National Baseball Hall of Fame opened in Cooperstown, N.Y., and in 1967, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, inspired by the baseball version, opened in Nashville. In other words, the Grand Old Game and the Grand Ole Opry have gone hand in hand for a long time. In honor of this weekend's Hall of Fame celebration in Cooperstown, MLB.com/Entertainment went to the Country Hall recently and dug up some interesting connections between country music Hall of Fame members and baseball. This week: Roy Acuff.
NASHVILLE -- Roy Acuff was known as the "King of Country Music," and "always will be," according to Tina Wright, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum director of media relations.
The Tennessee-born singer, known for his hit songs "Wabash Cannonball," "The Great Speckled Bird" and "The Precious Jewel," was born in 1903 and burst onto the music scene in 1936. But he might not have become the country legend that he remains today if it weren't for some bad luck that involved the game he loved, baseball.
Acuff played football, basketball and baseball, but his true dream was to play for the New York Yankees. He played semi-pro baseball until a bout of sunstroke in 1929 and a nervous breakdown in 1930 left him bed-ridden for a year.
Baseball's loss was music's gain.
Acuff learned how to play the fiddle while recovering and became a sensation with his band, the Smoky Mountain Boys. He soon gained membership in the vaunted Grand Ole Opry, in 1938, and helped usher in a new era of country music that was more based on the style of a band fronted by one strong lead singer.
Acuff also became a country music publishing magnate, hitting home run after home run on the charts with the Acuff-Rose Publishing Company he co-founded with songwriter Fred Rose in 1942.
In a touching and somewhat humorous nod to Acuff from the National Pastime, Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean, who played for Acuff's beloved Cardinals, actually recorded a single of "The Wabash Cannonball" along with a band he called his Country Cousins.
"It was a pretty popular single in its own right," Wright says. "I don't think Dizzy will get membership at this Hall of Fame because of it, but hey, he had a hit pop record. How many other baseball players can say that?"
Acuff passed away in 1992 at the age of 89, but his legacy lives on, and you can learn all about him and hear his music by visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum the next time you're in Nashville. (www.countrymusichalloffame.com).
Doug Miller is a Senior Writer for MLB.com/Entertainment. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.