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04/01/08 11:48 AM ET

Take me out: Ballgame's lasting tune

More popular than ever, baseball's enduring ditty turns 100

Baseball fans who cheered at old Comiskey Park in the 1970s might call "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" the song that Harry Caray made famous.

But that would be giving old Harry a bit too much credit. The song was famous long before his raspy voice started belting out the lyrics to it during the seventh inning of ballgames.

Yet Caray, who once claimed it was the only song he knew the words to, did make the fan-friendly sing-alongs at Comiskey [and then later at Wrigley Field] a ritual that no other ballpark could match.

Nowadays, it would be impossible to go to any Major League or Minor League ballpark and not hear this quintessential baseball ditty before the home team bats in the bottom of the seventh, said Andy Strasberg, a former vice president with the Padres and co-author of "Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

"People talk about baseball being, along with apple pie and Chevrolet, a slice of Americana, and it is," Strasberg said. "So, too, is this Tin Pan Alley song that's purely a baseball original."

The song turns 100 this year, and it is rolling along at a merry pace toward 200 with no end in sight.

From now through May 26, fans also will be able to enter the "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" Video Contest at MLB.com by submitting audio or video clips of their performance singing the old tune. In June, a panel will select 10 finalists, and fans will vote here to narrow it down to a list of three. Those three performers will go to the All-Star Game FanFest in New York during the week of the Midsummer Classic, and a celebrity panel will choose the winner, who will lead a ballpark filled with fans -- and the world -- in the seventh-inning stretch ritual during the All-Star Game on July 15.

"It's a nice way to salute a song that, while it's not as popular as 'Happy Birthday' or 'The Star Spangled Banner,' beats everything else in popularity," said Strasberg, who has more than 500 recordings of the song.

Considering its pedestrian origins, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" has come far in a century.

As one story goes, Jack Norworth, a vaudeville entertainer and songwriter, was riding the New York City subway one day in 1908. He noticed a sign that reportedly read: "Ballgame Today -- Polo Grounds."

Baseball lyrics jumped into his mind, and Norworth wrote those lyrics down on scraps of paper.

Albert Von Tilzer then took Norworth's lyrics and put them to music, and the song, written as a waltz, became an instant hit -- a Billboard chart topper had Billboard existed at the turn of the last century.

"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."

Neither Von Tilzer nor Norworth had ever been to a ballgame when putting their song together, and the most popular version of the song begins with the second of four verses, which perhaps no baseball crowd in America -- from Wrigley, to Turner Field to Safeco Field -- can sing in its entirety, even if Caray got them queued up.

But it's that second verse that baseball fans from Boston, to Birmingham, Ala., to Bakersfield, Calif., know all too well. They've heard people as different as Buck O'Neil, rocker Eddie Vedder, Mike Ditka, Carly Simon, Ozzie Osbourne, Frank Sinatra and that big guy sitting next to them crank out the words at one time or another.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game," which has been recorded in Japanese and Yiddish, cut across musical genres from Dixieland to disco, Strasberg said.

Name a musical taste, and he has a version of the song.

"If you were to take an EKG of the song," he said, "you'd see that the heart and the popularity are just getting stronger and stronger and stronger."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.