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Baseball's Anthem

Before it became the song of the seventh-inning stretch, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was a hit on the vaudeville stage.

The surging popularity of baseball in the early 20th century-inspired vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley songwriters to compose a variety of popular songs. Many examples now reside in the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music. Wouldn't you like to hear, if only just once, "Base Ball Polka" or "Home Run Quick Step"? You know the song, though you don't really know the song:

Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I never get back
What you most likely do not know is that the version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" commonly sung at American ballparks is but the chorus of the original composition. Not many people can sing the two verses.

Amy Whorf McGuiggan can. A writer in Boston whose son, Ben, is a Johns Hopkins freshman, McGuiggan is the author of Take Me Out to the Ball Game: The Story of the Sensational Baseball Song (University of Nebraska Press, 2009). Her research revealed a 150-year history of baseball songs and brought her to the Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries' Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, where she found a trove that includes not only the song at the heart of her book but "Back to the Bleachers for Mine," "Base Ball Polka," and "Home Run Quick Step." Twenty-two pieces of sheet music from the Levy collection illustrate McGuiggan's volume.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was written in 1908 by 29-year-old vaudeville star and Tin Pan Alley songwriter Jack Norworth (who also wrote, with his wife, Nora Bayes, "Shine On, Harvest Moon") and composer Albert Von Tilzer. Neither Norworth nor Von Tilzer had ever been to a ballgame. But vaudeville performers and songwriters had to be alert to whatever the public fancied, and in April 1908 Norworth was riding the subway when he glimpsed a poster of a ballplayer, advertising a game at New York's Polo Grounds. He began scribbling lyrics and 30 minutes later had "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Asked later why he had written it, Norworth replied that it was "simply time for a baseball song." How right he was. The 1908 season concluded with a thrilling pennant race among the Chicago Cubs, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates, and seemingly all of New York got caught up in the excitement. Norworth's song became such a hit, it was stolen by so many other vaudevillians that he abandoned it in his own act.
— Dale Keiger

Return to April 2009 Table of Contents

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