The most enduring song to come out of the game of baseball was written by two guys who had never seen a game. Tin Pan Alley's Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer wrote the tune in 1908. At the time, composers like Norworth were trying to write popular songs that would sell a lot of sheet music. Norworth did not have an interest in baseball, but in this time before mass media, going to a game was a shared experience that made good subject matter for a song.
There were many other baseball songs of the era, including one written two years earlier called "It's Great At A Baseball Game," but "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" is the one that caught on. Norworth was married to a famous vaudeville singer named Nora Bayes, which gave him a huge advantage in promoting his songs.
By 1930, Vaudeville was dead, but the song lived on. In 1934, nearly 30 years after it was written, the song finally made its debut at a baseball game in St. Louis during the World Series.
Jerry Silverman, author of The Baseball Songbook
, told Songfacts
: "It's an easy song to sing, obviously. It's a nice, catchy melody, a nice bouncing three-quarter-time song. But there's no intrinsic value to the song. I mean, it's just another pop song."
Although most people are familiar with just the chorus to this song, there are full lyrics, including an introduction where the fellow is singing to his girl, inviting her to go different places, but all she wants to do is go to the ball game.
This is played at most professional baseball games in America during the Seventh-Inning Stretch, where fans stand up and stretch out before the home team hits in the seventh inning. The Seventh-Inning Stretch started to catch on sometime in the 1920s, and this song soon became part of the tradition. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, "God Bless America
" was played in place of, or in addition to "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" at many parks, and while The New York Yankees continue to play "God Bless America" at every game, most teams play it only on Sundays, and every stadium continues to play "Take Me Out To The Ball Game."
Cracker Jack is a snack brand made with peanuts and popcorn with a caramel coating. The mention in this song helped make Cracker Jack an iconic product that continues to be sold, including at many baseball stadiums. Since baseball games are at least two hours long, snacking is a big part of going to the park, and many baseball songs of this era included references to food.
By the time Norworth wrote the lyric "buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack" in 1908, Cracker Jack had been a popular treat for over a decade, since its debut at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair - but it wasn't sold at baseball games until 1907, just one year before the song was written.
As Jerry Silverman explains, there is nothing about this song that sets it apart from many others written around this time, but somehow it has endured. Says Silverman: "The one by George M. Cohan could have been the song, "Take Your Girl To The Ball Game." I mean, melodically it's just as interesting, it tells virtually the same story, and who knows why that didn't make it? It's just one of these intangibles of popular taste that you can't really put your finger on. It's very hard to make an objective statement as to why one song is better. For example, there's a song that was written in 1906 called, "It's Great At A Baseball Game," and it was also written by two great American songwriters. One was Fred Fisher, who wrote "Peg Of My Heart," for example. And Richard Whiting, who wrote "Sleepytime Gal," and "Beyond The Blue Horizon," that was Bing Crosby's theme song, and "On The Good Ship Lollipop
," that was Shirley Temple's theme song. So they wrote a song called "It's Great At A Baseball Game." And guess what? It's also a waltz in three-quarter time. And halfway through the chorus, it says, "get your hot buttered popcorn and peanuts." So they're also plugging the menu that you can have at a baseball game. It's not Cracker Jack, it's buttered popcorn and peanuts. So, everybody had the same idea. And that's the one, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" was the one that everybody remembers, and "It's Great At A Baseball Game" no one remembers. Although it's just as good a song."
Since this song is more than 75 years old, it is in the public domain, meaning it can be performed without paying royalties. This makes it a very affordable song to play at stadiums - replacing it with a more recent song could be tough financially.
In 1907, there was no way to hear or see a baseball game without going to the park. Says Silverman: "You couldn't listen to it on the radio, so either you went to a ball game, or you didn't go to a ball game. That was the end of it. There was no choice. Songwriters picked up on what was going on at the time. If it was kids playing hooky from school and rushing off to the ball game, there were songs about that. If there were songs about kill the umpire, they did that. There's all kinds of little references to the spirit of the times. The songs that came right after the Civil War in the 1860s have a very military martial air. They sound like Civil War marching songs, and they talk about, 'It's a bloodless sport.' In other words, with a reference back to the bloody sport of the Civil War, and how we're all brothers again. So each era had its own point of reference."
Norworth took a swing at writing another baseball-themed hit the year after this called "Let's Get the Umpire's Goat." With lyrics like "We'll yell, 'Oh, you robber! Go somewhere and die, Back to the bush you've got mud in your eye!" it was a popular refrain for frustrated spectators, but it didn't soar the home-run distance of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
The song loaned its name to the 1949 musical film Take Me Out to the Ball Game, starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
Carly Simon and Louisiana singer-songwriter Dr. John both recorded versions for Ken Burns' 1994 Baseball documentary.
This was used in the 1992 film A League of Their Own, starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, and Madonna. It was also prominently featured in the 2000 thriller Frequency. Frank (Dennis Quaid) sings it to his young son, Johnny, at bedtime and grown-up Johnny (Jim Caviezel) sings himself to sleep with the chorus. Part of Carly Simon's version is also used as a transition to a scene where the cast is getting ready to watch a baseball game.
The Goo Goo Dolls recorded an alt rock version in 1996 for the MLB "What a Game" commercials.
Many celebrities have been invited to sing the chorus to this during baseball games, including Chicago native Mr. T, who led the crowd of Chicago Cubs fans at Wrigley Stadium in 2009. Other than a nod to the Cubbies, he didn't take much creative license with the lyrics (No "take me out to the ballgame, fool," unfortunately).
Harpo Marx, of the classic comedy team The Marx Brothers, strummed a version of this on his harp on I Love Lucy, in the 1955 episode "Lucy and Harpo Marx."
Frank Sinatra praised this song while guest-hosting on Bill Stern's Colgate Sports Newsreel in 1949: "It's a tune that has all the color, all the swing, all the punch and feeling of the game." He added: "It's the theme song of a great nation's national pastime, a diamond hymn for free Americans."
This was used on ER in the Season 2 (1995) episode "Hell and High Water." Dr. Ross (George Clooney) encourages his young patient (Erik von Detten) to sing the song while he tries to rescue him from a flooded culvert.