published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Taking in a ball game
I was given a bit of bad information the other day.
It was from a co-worker, and he meant well, trying to give me something to write about.
He had said that, along with this being Sebring's 100th anniversary, so too was it the century mark for the writing of the ballpark classic "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
The baseball playoffs are in full gear, with the new wildcard format in place that made the final stretch of the season a wild one.
And with remembrances of joining in with the crowd, singing along with Harry Caray during the seventh inning stretch so many times at Wrigley Field, the topic did provide a spark.
So, of course, I went about doing some research on it and found some mighty interesting things.
The song was penned by successful vaudeville entertainer and songwriter Jack Norworth, who also wrote "Sine On, Harvest Moon."
He was on a train ride into Manhattan when it popped into his head and within 15 minutes, it was completed.
The lyrics were revamped a bit in 1927, but the funny thing is, Norworth had never actually been to a ball game.
Maybe he had noticed some folks were headed to a game and thought to himself, "Nobody's ever taken me out to a ball game."
Funnier still, even with the success of the song, which soon became a ballpark staple, Norworth still didn't get to his first game until 1940.
It should be noted that at his first game he saw the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs, 5-4.
Moving forward in time to the man who would take it from a ballpark staple to a broadcasting staple as well, the aforementioned Caray.
He first began singing it at the ballpark in 1971 while broadcasting for the Chicago White Sox.
Caray reportedly said, "It's the only song I know all the words to."
This was done off the air, just to the fans within earshot.
A few years later, maverick Sox owner Bill Veeck had noticed it and decided to secretly put a hidden microphone in the booth so that the whole park would be able to hear.
As Veeck would explain to the always self-effacing Caray, "Everyone knows they can sing as well as you, or better, so they'll sing along. If you had a good singing voice, you'd intimidate them and nobody would join in."
It became a hit at Comiskey Park, but with limited exposure on television, even in Chicago, it really didn't become widespread.
That came about a few years later when Caray became the Cubs play-by-play man on WGN.
At the time, virtually all Cub games were broadcast on the station, which would soon become part of any basic cable package throughout the country.
This not only spread the Cubs brand around the nation, so too did it give Caray's rendition of the song and the daily sing along.
And it became such an integral part of a day at Wrigley that, even after Caray's death in '98, the tradition continues at every home game with celebrities, Chicago sports figures, past and present, and all sorts of psuedo-celebrities who may have some local tie-in.
Not everyone is a fan, of course, with one former Major League pitcher pointing out that it was kind of silly to be singing that song when you were already at the ball game.
"In the seventh inning, fans all get up and sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and they're already there," former pitcher Larry Anderson said. "It's really a stupid thing to say and I don't know who made 'em sing it. Why would somebody that's there get up and sing take me out to the ball game? The first person to do it must have been a moron."
Point taken, yet again, it was written by someone who had never been, and still wouldn't get taken out to a ball game for another 32 years.
And yes, that math is right, because that tip I got about this being the 100th anniversary of the song is wrong.
It wasn't written in 1912, the same year the Titanic sank and Sebring was established, it was written four years earlier, in 1908.
Which is kind of funny in and of itself.
Because the team that perhaps did the most for the song, the Cubs, would win the World Series that year - and haven't won it since.
Dan Hoehne is the Sports Editor of the News-Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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