Happy day after Opening Day! Or, if you’re a Tigers or Marlins fan, happy Opening Day!
In honor of Opening Day, I thought the most famous baseball song of them all was in order. It’s been over 100 years since it was released, but the Anthem of our National Pastime is more recognizable than ever. It’s also one of 3 or 4 songs I sing to my son most nights before he goes to bed (the long version, not just what you hear during the 7th inning stretch).
Artist/Title/Album: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer (1908)
First performed by Nora Bayes. First recorded by Edward Meeker.
Description: 29-year-old songwriter Jack Norworth was inspired to pen the words when he was riding a New York subway in 1908. Baseball was becoming increasingly popular in the early part of the 20th century, and Norworth saw a sign advertising to go to a NY Giants game: “Baseball Today – Polo Grounds”. He got his friend, Albert von Tilzer, to compose the music for the tune, and his wife, Nora Bayes, performed it for vaudeville audiences. Edward Meeker was the first singer to record the song, while the most successful version at that time was the one performed by the Haydn Quartet.
The verses to the song are about a young girl, Katie Casey, who had baseball fever – she spends any money she has at the ballgame and knows “all the players and all their names”. She turns down the ask of her “young beau” to go to a show, instead claiming she will only go on a date if he takes her to a baseball game.
Recognition: This was the very early days of the recording industry, so Billboard didn’t exist yet. Nonetheless, the song was almost immediately a hit, and was particularly popular because it lent itself to the audience singing along.
- The version sung by the Haydn Quartet became the #1 song on the sales charts, on October 31, 1908, after the memorable Cubs comeback during the 1908 baseball season. It stayed atop the charts for 6 weeks, matching the longest #1 run of any individual version of a song that year (though 2 different recordings of the song “The Glow-Worm” had a combined run of 11 weeks).
- In 2001, the RIAA ranked it as the #8 song of the 20th century, behind a few songs like “Over the Rainbow” and “American Pie” but ahead of many others like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.
- On July 16, 2008, the USPS issued a 42¢ stamp to commemorate the popular song in honor of its 100th anniversary.
- In 2008 the song became the 14th winners pf the Towering Song Award, given out song for their cultural influence. The Songwriters Hall of Fame, which gives out the Towering Song Award, also inducted Norworth as a member. Norworth got a lifetime pass from MLB to ballgames in 1958.
- In 2010, the recording was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, meaning it was determined to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
The full version of the song, with the 2 verses, got a little more publicity when Ken Burns’ baseball documentary came out. The song was the main theme of the documentary, with versions recorded Carly Simon and Dr. John for the PBS broadcast. Upper Deck made a set associated with that documentary, and the song was immortalized with the card above.
How it’s related to baseball: Obviously, it’s a song about going to a ballgame. Today the song is played at every MLB game in between the top and the bottom of the 7th inning. It’s become associated with the game to the point where “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is considered one of the 3 most recognizable songs in America, behind “Happy Birthday” and “The Star Spangled Banner”. The song has been recorded too many times to count, from Meeker to Frank Sinatra to the Goo Goo Dolls to Aretha Franklin. Stan Musial would play the song on his harmonica to open the ceremonies at the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
It’s probably associated with Harry Caray as much or more than anyone else. It was Caray who turned the song from a popular organ selection to the tune that every park plays in the 7th inning stretch.
When Caray joined the White Sox in 1976, owner Bill Veeck noticed he would sing the words when the organ played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. Veeck actually asked Caray if he’d sing the song for the whole park, but was refused. Legend has it that somebody turned on a microphone and Caray first did it unwittingly – but from what I’ve read he was eventually convinced by Veeck to go along with the idea. White Sox fans loved it and joined him in the song. When Caray moved the Cubs, he continued the tradition and the National broadcast by WGN had the whole country loving the idea. Every park now plays the song in the 7th inning stretch, though they substitute some variant of their team’s name for the words “home team”.
When Caray passed away, the Cubs switched to exclusively having guest singers.
Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the hometown crew,
Every sou, Katie blew.
On a Saturday, her young beau,
Called to see if she’d like to go,
To see a show but miss Kate said “No,
I’ll tell you what we can do:”
Take me out to the ballgame,
Take me out to with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don’t care if I never come back!
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
if they don’t win it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out
At the old, ballgame!