Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Story Behind "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"

In America, baseball is called the national pastime. Organized baseball was well into its glory years before other sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer were drawing much of an audience. Baseball has infected the American culture with its heroes, its jargon, and its cult of personality. It is only natural that one of America's most popular sing-along songs relates to the sport.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is a simple tune that tells of a girl who wants her beau to take her to a baseball game instead of to another popular spot. The song turns 100 years old this year, and the United States Postal Service has commemorated the event with a beautiful new stamp.

The song is instantly recognizable to most of those in the U.S. In fact, the song is frequently credited as the third most popular sing-along song in America, after the national anthem and Happy Birthday.

United States, 2008

Incredibly, the author of the song, Jack Norworth, had never been to a baseball game when he wrote the song. He was riding on the subway in New York, when he saw a sign advertising "Ballgame Today - Polo Grounds". The Polo Grounds was the name of the stadium used most notably by the New York (later San Francisco) Giants baseball team.

During the 30-minute subway ride, Norworth, an accomplished songwriter, dashed off the words to the song. Soon thereafter, he took the lyrics to composer Albert Von Tilzer who created the popular tune, which later that year, became a #1 hit.

Around 1910, the song began to be played during baseball games, even though there was a certain irony to singing about being taken to a ballgame, while at a ballgame. Over time it became an anthem to the national sport.

Norworth supplemented his original song of 1908 with new lyrics in 1927. Few people know that there is a story to the song, and most only know the chorus. For those unfamiliar with the song, here are the lyrics to the chorus:

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowds;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get 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 ball game.

When the 50th anniversary of the song rolled around in 1958, Major League Baseball presented Mr. Norworth with a lifetime pass to get into any ballpark. It's a shame they waited so long; Norworth died the following year. It is likely that he rarely used his pass, as it took 32 years after the song was written before he had seen his first Major League baseball game.

In 1976, Chicago White Sox announcer Harry Caray unwittingly altered the course of baseball history when he started singing the song during the 7th-inning stretch, an extended break in the action during the middle of the 7th inning of a ball game. Caray would often sing to himself or others in the broadcast booth while it was being played by the stadium's organist. Someone turned on his microphone, unknown to him, and his singing was broadcast to the fans in the stadium. The fans loved it and soon thereafter began to sing with him; singing along to the chorus became a Chicago tradition. Later, when Caray moved to the broadcasting duties of the crosstown Chicago Cubs, whose games were broadcast nationally by superstation WGN, the sing-along started becoming a national occurrence. Soon, fans from every stadium were singing along to the song during the 7th inning stretch.

Today, July 16, 2008, the United States Postal Service issues a 42-cent stamp commemorating this popular song. Drawn in the style of baseball trading cards popular during the song's early days, the stamp design captures a nostalgic essence of the song. It interweaves period typography and even shows the first 6 notes of the song on a music staff.

You can order this beautiful stamp, while supplies last, at

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