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Dick Heller: Anthem anniversary
Tin Pan Alley songwriter Jack Norworth was riding a New York City subway one day in the spring of 1908 when he spotted a sign reading “Ball game Today at the Polo Grounds.”
Immediately inspired, Norworth grabbed a piece of scrap paper and began scribbling the first verse of a song for his wife, vaudeville actress Nora Bayes:
Katie Casey was baseball mad/Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the home town crew/Every sou Katie blew.
On a Saturday, her young beau/Called to see if she’d like to go.
To see a show, but Miss Kate said, “No.
“I’ll tell you what you can do.”
A century later, that verse has been mercifully forgotten, but the chorus of Norworth’s little ditty endures as the third-most frequently played song in the United States behind “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday.” It is, of course …
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.
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!
Norworth wrote the song in 15 minutes, and it was time well spent. Today nobody remembers most of the 2,500 other tunes he turned out, but this quickie effort is played and sung during the seventh-inning stretch at most games. Heck, it even survived the croaky version warbled over the P.A. system at Wrigley Field by longtime Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.
Norworth turned over his lyrics to composer Albert Von Tilzer, who set them to music, and the tune was published in May 1908. By the time the Cubs won the 1908 World Series - their last such achievement for at least a century - it was one of the nation’s biggest hits in an era when people bought sheet music and sang around the piano in the parlor.
Ironically, neither Norworth nor Von Tilzer had ever seen a baseball game. Norworth finally made one in 1942, 17 years before his death at 80.
About the Author
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