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'Take Me Out' turns 10011/14/2007 6:24 PM ET
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
"Baseball Today -- Polo Grounds."
Jack Norworth, a songwriter and Vaudeville performer, saw that sign while riding a New York subway in 1908. Although not a baseball fan himself at the time, he saw the meaning in a single game for New York Giants fans and for so many others.
It inspired him to pen the lyrics to a song that would be called "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," and now an institution within the national pastime is about to be celebrated in fitting style.
Major League Baseball and Baby Ruth, the Official Candy Bar of Major League Baseball, today announced the 2008 season will be ushered in with a nationwide celebration in honor of the 100th anniversary of one of America's most well-known and well-loved songs.
Beginning Opening Day and continuing throughout Opening Week, Major League Baseball, along with many Major League clubs, will host in-park searches for the most talented performers of the unofficial anthem of baseball fans everywhere. Starting on Opening Day and continuing through June, fans will also be able to enter by submitting audio or video clips of their performance to Major League Baseball at MLB.com. Club winners will also be featured on MLB.com.
The winner of the nationwide search will lead the crowd in the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch of the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
"Singing 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' is a quintessential part of every ballpark experience and giving our fans a fun and interactive way to honor its 100th anniversary is a perfect way to start the 2008 season," said Bob DuPuy, president and chief operating officer of Major League Baseball. "Baby Ruth knows how to help our fans take time to savor the baseball experience and we are delighted to partner with them to celebrate one of the great American traditions -- Opening Day -- and this timeless song."
Many notable recordings of the song include those by Nora Bayes, wife of Norworth; The Haydn Quartet, with popular tenor Harry MacDonough, who recorded a popular hit rendition of the song in 1908 for Victor Records; and Harry Caray, the late Hall of Fame broadcaster who first sang the song during a game in 1971. Since Caray's passing, it has been a wonderful tradition for a different guest to perform the song during each seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field -- typical of the music's eternal allure.
But this song is everyone's. In fact, it is generally acknowledged to be the third most-performed song in America in a typical year, behind only "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Happy Birthday to You."
Baseball fans also made a big deal of the song's 50th anniversary back in 1958, but there was no such technological capacity for this kind of widespread search for the best renditions. Here are some of the comments then, showing the true timeliness of this song:
"Of the several hundred songs written for or about the National Game, 'Take Me Out To The Ball Game' looms above them all -- like a Stan Musial coming to bat in the ninth inning," Harold Rosenthal wrote in the March 16, 1958, issue of The Sporting News. "It was so good that the song is probably familiar to 999 out of every 1,000 persons in the United States."
"Although more than 300 other baseball songs have been composed in the last 50 years, 'Take Me Out To The Ball Game' has withstood all the challenges and remains the musical classic of our national sport," Clyde Snyder wrote that year in the Los Angeles Times.
That kind of history will be captured in a forthcoming book called "Baseball's Greatest Hit: 100 years of Take Me Out to the Ball Game." It is being published on Opening Day by Hal Leonard, the world's largest music publisher, and the other two authors are Andy Strasberg and Bob Thompson. The 46-chapter book will include: a bio on Norworth as well as Albert Von Tilzer, who co-wrote the song; the more than 500 artists who have recorded the song; the more than 1,500 times it has been used in movies or TV; and how the song became linked to the seventh-inning stretch.
Tim Wiles, a foremost authority on the subject at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, contributed to that book and said, "One of the things we argue in the book is that the song reached new heights of popularity during its second 50 years, largely due to Bill Veeck and Caray."
A Jan. 20, 1981, Chicago Tribune article by Bob Verdi (headline: "Unsigned Caray Bit Itchy in Eden") speculated whether new owners of the White Sox would rehire Caray. The legendary broadcaster went on a rant against his critics, and against team management that had generally fielded a poor product: "When the talent isn't there," Caray said in the article, "that's when you start singing 'Take Me Out To The Ball Game."
The song also was made popular in the 1949 MGM musical film, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, and Harpo Marx played it on his harp in an episode of "I Love Lucy." It is known by the oldest and youngest fans alike, and singing it for the first time is part of the initiation into this tradition.
The original lyrics penned by Norworth in 1908 are part of the collections at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The average person has no idea what any of the lyrics are other than the chorus. Here is the 1908 versions written by Norworth, who went to his first Major League game in 1940:
Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Take me out to the ball game,
Katie Casey saw all the games,
* A "sou" was common slang at the time for a low-denomination coin.
There is a 1927 version as well. But again, it is only the chorus that the average fan knows and cares about. That is what you will hear constantly in 2008, more than in any baseball season before. Baby Ruth will undertake a fan-oriented multi-platform campaign to support the promotion, and details will be announced in early 2008.
In commemoration of this major anniversary, Baby Ruth also will release a special seven-inch long "stretched" version of the popular candy bar. This limited edition "Seventh Inning Stretch" Baby Ruth bar will be available during the 2008 season at retailers nationwide.
"'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' is a song that belongs to baseball fans everywhere," said Hyder Raheem, marketing manager for Baby Ruth. "No matter what team you root for, the song has been a part of our collective baseball experience throughout the years. Baby Ruth is thrilled to be able to give fans the opportunity to have some fun and really express their unique style and passion for their teams while also savoring one of the truly great moments in life: the seventh-inning stretch."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.