"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is among America's favorite songs and is the third most frequently sung tune in the U.S. after "Happy Birthday" and the national anthem. In its centennial year, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is celebrated in a new book that traces the history of this icon of American popular culture.
Jack Norworth had never been to a baseball game, but on the New York subway one day in 1908, the vaudeville actor and lyricist saw a poster promoting the sport. He took out a pencil and wrote the words to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." When he got to work his partner, composer Albert Von Tilzer, supplied the music.
Tim Wiles is director of research at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York and co-author of Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. He says there is more to the song than its famous chorus. "The first line of the first verse is, 'Catie Casey was baseball mad, had the fever, and had it bad.' So, it is a song sung from the point of view of a young woman."
Catie tells her young "beau" that she wants to go to the ballpark, a place very few women were seen in 1908.
An eager public bought sheet music, player piano rolls and cylinder recordings of the song. Tim Wiles says "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was even played at the movies to occupy down time when camera operators changed reels. "This was [a] perfect [time] for the house pianist to play a song, try to get theatergoers to sing along. And they projected these lantern slides, a kind of a very, very primitive music video up on the screen."
The illustrated story of Catie Casey helped put "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on the top of the music charts late that year after the 1908 World Series. While the song has been played at American baseball games ever since, it wasn't until the mid-1970s that it became a popular sing-along ritual. Today it is heard at every park in the nation during the break in the seventh inning. Wiles says that time is often called the happiest moment in sports. "You are outside, you are sitting there with family and friends and all of a sudden, the organ cranks up and you are singing. It is not what you think you would do at a sporting event, but it is a lot of fun."
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" has inspired television shows, movies and hundreds of recordings in many different styles, from symphonic to rap and jazz. Wiles and his co-authors reviewed 550 versions before choosing 16 for the CD included with the book. He says each one reflects the spirit of Catie Casey's simple request. Today nearly half the people who attend major league baseball games are women.