Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Albert Von Tilzer, composer; Jack Norworth, lyricist (New York: The New York Music Co., c1908). Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.
One hundred years ago, on the 2nd of May, 1908, the United States Copyright Office received two copies of a new song titled Take Me Out to the Ball Game, submitted by composer Albert von Tilzer and lyricist Jack Norworth. This musical work, affectionately referred to over the century as the "other" national anthem, baseball's national anthem, has become the grand-slam of all baseball songs. It has been ranked in survey polls as one of the top ten songs of the twentieth century and is second only to "Happy Birthday" and "The Star Spangled Banner" as the most easily recognized songs in America.
Few musical creations embody such significance in American musical culture or rise to the stratum of Americana as Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Just why the song has enjoyed such lasting popularity has been the topic of sports commentators, journalists, and popular music historians for decades. After all, one author quips, "Stardust it ain't." Critics have described the lyrics as crude, but singable, and puzzle over the chartbuster's instant success. Fans of the song, however, insist that it is the sheer simplicity and straightforwardness of the words, gender-neutral and shrewdly crafted so as not to name or favor any one team, coupled with von Tilzer's luring waltz-like rhythms and unforgettable melody that sealed the baseball ditty's success.
Only a handful of fans realize that the two verses of the song are about Katie Casey (later changed to Nelly Kelly), a girl who was mad with baseball fever as she asked her young beau to take her to a ballgame rather than a show. This faint whiff of romance added to the song's success on vaudeville, where singers (including Norworth's wife and star, Nora Bayes), actors, even acrobats, incorporated the hit into their acts. Also adding to its immense popularity, the song was featured during intermissions at the early twentieth-century nickelodeons where it was accompanied by "lantern slides," photos touched up with paint that provided the audience with a visual component to the song as the lyrics scrolled across the bottom of the screen. This way, when Katie Casey made the pitch to her date, everyone in the audience could respond in song: "Take me out to the ball game..."
Like no other American sport, baseball has been glorified and preserved in musical form by inspired songwriters and poets since its beginnings. In 1858, the year when amateur baseball teams in the northeast established the first league, the National Association of Base Ball Players, one player from the Base Ball Club of Buffalo published the first piece of baseball music - The Baseball Polka. Since then hundreds of songs have followed, some composed by the players themselves, some by their sponsors, several by well-known musicians, others by unknown fans. And, it cannot be mere coincidence that all of their baseball songs generally avoided baseball issues: integration, free agency, players' strikes, drug use, salaries, etc., never appear in the lyrics; rather, they instinctively focus on the glory, the heroes, or the past traditions of the game. Back in 1951, radio broadcaster and journalist Walter Winchell asserted that Take Me Out to the Ballgame epitomized that focus, that it embodied baseball's lure and essence, where the ball park becomes an "island of innocent excitement in a world of wild despair."
For over fifty years, there has been a quasi-official history of baseball's anthem, much of it gleaned from an interview with the lyricist, Jack Norworth (1879 - 1959), who claimed that he scribbled the words on an envelope after seeing a sign on the subway that read: "Baseball Today -- Polo Grounds." Today, this scrap of paper is included in the permanent collection of baseball memorabilia at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Norworth also maintained that he had never attended a professional baseball game before penning those sixteen lines, which were set to music by songwriter and publisher Albert von Tilzer (1878-1956), who also had never seen a baseball game. This anniversary year, as this classic song enjoys a guaranteed resurgence, new research on its origins and one-hundred year history will undoubtedly emerge in the books, articles, and radio commentary appearing throughout the 2008 baseball season. It will even be honored this summer with its own first-class stamp! The song's success has also benefited future generations of American songwriters as the royalties from all of Norworth's hits (including his second most famous song Shine on Harvest Moon) were donated to the ASCAP Foundation. In every sense, Take Me Out to the Ball Game is, in the words of Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Caray, "a song that reflects the charisma of baseball," a song that makes the game even more magical and allows you, the young or the old observer, to raise up your voice and become part of it.
Did You Know...
Cracker Jacks were an instant hit when introduced at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair by a local popcorn company and were first sold at some ballparks in 1907; once the product was inexplicably linked with baseball in Norworth's 1908 lyrics, sales of the crunchy concoction skyrocketed.