Harry Nilsson and … Baseball

It probably isn’t a total coincidence that young Harry moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles around the same time that the Dodgers made the same westward trek.

Harry Nilsson loved baseball.

The Brooklyn Base Ball Club had been a part of the National League for half a century before Nilsson’s birth in 1941. Nilsson spent his first years in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, just a few miles from where the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field.

For his 2013 biography of Harry Nilsson (Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter), author Alyn Shipton had access to notes and recordings that Nilsson made for a planned autobiography. These included Nilsson’s stories about playing basketball and baseball for Bayport High on Long Island.

Shipton relates Harry’s story about playing a baseball game in 1957 against a team with future baseball hall-of-famerCarl Yastrzemski as its star player.

Harry was playing shortstop instead of his usual position of third when [Yastrzemski] hit his first pitch like a bullet over Harry’s head. He somehow leaped vertically off the ground and caught it. Harry got another double in the game, but despite his own heroics, Bayport lost to Bridgehampton and its most remarkable player ,,,,

It’s a great story.

Unfortunately, a review of yearbooks and newspaper reports from the time doesn’t support Nilsson’s story.

Bridgehampton and Bayport were different leagues, Bridgehampton in B-3 and Bayport in B-1. Bellport, not Bayport won the B-1 championship and played Bridgehampton on June 6, 1957. So, Bridgehampton and Bayport did not play each other in baseball that year.

Yastrzemski, not surprisingly, receives extensive local press coverage during that period – surprisingly more for his prowess at basketball than baseball. But Harry Nilsson is not mentioned in any of the newspaper articles and is not included in any of the published tables of varsity high-school baseball stats.

Harry Nilsson was listed in Bayport’s stats for at least one Junior Varisty basketball game. But he is not found in the Bayport High school yearbook from 1957. So, while he played, probably briefly, for Bayport High’s JV basketball team, it isn’t likely that he ever challenged Yaz on the field in baseball.

While Harry was living in New York with his mother and his mother’s relatives, his father had remarried and started a new family not far away.

Around the time that Harry followed the Dodgers as they moved to Los Angeles. Harry’s father, also named Harry Nilsson, moved his own family to Florida. The elder Harry worked as a scout for the Cincinnati Reds and was the business manager for the Palatka Redlegs, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Reds.

Jump ahead about thirty years and Harry Nilsson is trying to revive his recording career.

Nilsson had taken a break from recording to try to manage his various business projects and to crusade for reasonable gun laws after the shooting death of his friend John Lennon. But, around 1990 he began writing and recording in hopes of securing a new record contract.

One of the songs he wrote was an anthem for his favorite sports team, the Dodgers. Harry appeared on a KABC radio sports show and debuted the song, “Yo Dodger Blue (LA Loves You),” to its listeners.

An updated version of the song was later released on the Losst and Founnd album released almost 30 years later in 2019.