Singing the Praises of Baseball for 100 Years - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Singing the Praises of Baseball for 100 Years

Bob Thompson co-authored a centennial history of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."  (WorldNow/Barry Abisch) Bob Thompson co-authored a centennial history of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." (WorldNow/Barry Abisch)

By Barry Abisch
Provided by WorldNow

There are more than 3,000 songs about baseball. Many of them, says Bob Thompson, are not very good. But 100 years after it was written, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" remains one of the best, if not the very best, baseball song.

That is not a conclusion Thompson reaches lightly; baseball music is a subject he takes seriously. So seriously that to mark the centennial of "Take Me Out..." he and two baseball buddies collaborated to produce the definitive book on the song, "Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.' "

Stamp Act

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is the first song ever to be honored with a U. S. postage stamp. The 42-cent commemorative stamp will be issued later this summer.

Sweet Deal

The song also is part of a promotional competition for the Baby Ruth candy bar. The winning fan will get to lead the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the All Star Game at Yankee Stadium on July 15.

Book Report

"Baseball's Greatest Hit" is an oversized volume, 210 pages with photographs and illustrations. The book is published by Hal Leonard and retails for $29.95.

Thompson, the associate dean of the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College in New York, wrote the book with Andy Strasberg, a San Diego sports marketer and memorabilia collector, and Tim Wiles, research director for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Singer-songwriter Carly Simon contributed the forward, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig wrote the introduction and Pulitzer-prize winning sportswriter  Ira Berkow added an essay.  Included is a compact disc with 16 versions of the song, culled from the more than 650 cuts listed in the discography.

For many readers, the big surprise is discovering that they don't know the first line of a song Thompson says is the third-most sung song in America. Only "The Star Spangled Banner" and "Happy Birthday" are sung more often. For Thompson, the biggest surprise in writing the book was the discovery that "Take Me Out..." became a part of baseball only in the 1970s, nearly 70 years after it was written. Originally, "it wasn't played at baseball games," he said.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was written by Jack Norworth, with music by Albert von Tizler. Both men were part of the Tin Pan Alley music establishment at the turn of the 20th Century. Among Norworth's other songs that remain at least somewhat familiar today was "Shine on Harvest Moon." Von Tizler also was a prolific composer; among his durable hits was "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time."

The part of "Take Me Out..." that is popularly sung is the chorus, which does begin with the title line. But before that, there is the little known verse, starting off with the real first line of the original song: "Katie Casey was baseball mad..." Katie's beau wants to take her to a show, but there is someplace she would rather be. Cue the chorus, the part that just about everyone knows. In 1928, for reasons never explained, Norworth wrote different verses to the song, replacing Katie with a new heroine: "Nellie Kelly loved baseball games...." 

When "Take Me Out..." was written in 1908, it became a hit, leading the sales charts for seven weeks during that year.  It became popular not at baseball games, but at the movies. 

 Music was played during the intervals while film reels were being changed, and Tin Pan Alley was quick to exploit the opportunity to popularize new music, Thompson said. Illustrations and the lyrics often were projected on the screen, and movie audiences began singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." It had the effect the promoters were hoping for. "Take Me Out..." led the sales charts -- sheet music in cylindrical recordings -- for seven weeks during 1908.

Although the song was played at baseball games on occasion, it became part of baseball ritual only after 1975. That's when noted announcer Harry Caray began crooning the song during the seventh inning stretch at Chicago's Comiskey Park.  Now, it is sung - or at least played - during the stretch at every major league park, according to a survey done for the book.

The presumption that "Take Me Out..." has been baseball's anthem for 10 decades is only part of the mythology. Norworth's claim that he wrote the song on a New York City elevated train is questioned by the authors.  Norworth -- who seems to have been almost as prolific as a promoter as he was as a lyricist -- also encouraged a story that he did not attend a baseball game until many years after writing "Take Me Out..." The authors find at least some evidence suggesting Norworth did in fact see a game in 1908. They also offer reason to doubt that the hand-written lyrics donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953 are, in fact, Jack Norworth's original.

Does any of this matter? Not really, Thompson concedes. Mythology is as much a part of baseball as is music.

Thompson grew up in the New York City suburbs with two dreams:  "To play shortstop for the New York Yankees and first trumpet for the New York Philharmonic in the off season." In baseball, he has had to be content to be a fan. But he did earn a doctorate in music, has conducted classical orchestras and played trumpet for pop groups including the Four Tops and the Temptations.

Thompson also founded the Baseball Music Project, which organizes multimedia concerts of baseball-themed music with symphony orchestras. Many cities have baseball teams and symphony orchestras, "but they never have anything to do with each other," Thompson said. He sees the Baseball Music Project as a way to introduce new audiences, especially youngsters, to symphonic music.  This summer's tour began with the Fox Valley Symphony in Appleton, Wisc.   and continues with the Boston Pops in July and the San Diego Symphony in August.  Hall of Famer Dave Winfield narrates.

And, yes, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is on the program.

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