Albert von Tilzer and Jack Norworth wrote the song “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” in 1908. Jack Norworth, who wrote the lyrics, never attended an actual ballgame until June 27, 1940. He saw the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 5-4. So all those “popcorn and crackerjacks” moments were visualized by Jack, a vaudevillian whose other big hit was “Shine On Harvest Moon.” You might not remember that one.
I mention this bit of history only because major league baseball spring training has started, so baseball is on some people’s minds, and because the guy who wrote the music, Albert von Tilzer, had never attended a ball game either. It’s more understandable in his case, just penning the melody, but still, how do you write a song about going to a ball game when you’ve never gone to one? There’s no historical evidence that he ever went to a major league baseball game in his lifetime. He died in 1956 at the age of 78.
Albert von Tilzer and his older brother Harry were prolific songwriters of their day. Here’s some of my favorites from Albert’s catalog: “Oh How She Could Yacki- Hacki, Wicki-Wacki, Woo” (Doesn’t that title just make you want to throw that one on the ol’ victrola?), “My Cutie’s Due at Two-to-Two” (Good rhyming title but makes me think of delivering a baby for some reason.), “The Alcoholic Blues,” and one of my favorites “Put on Your Slippers and Fill Up Your Pipe, You’re Not Going Bye-Bye Tonight” Oooo Weeee.
I don’t care much for baseball as a spectator sport. I did play a lot as a kid. We had a school yard with a field a few blocks from the house I grew up in, so we always had a game going after school and on Saturdays. We played in the back alley too, using the street as an outfield and Dr. Schunk’s parking lot for the infield. Worked out good, but my father didn’t approve of left and center fielders standing in the street, and the doctor’s office blocked any decent hits to right field. So a walk to the school was usually in order. But I find watching baseball kind of like watching paint dry. In four words, “Its Boring As Hell.”
Not the kind of sentimental time forever preserved in the immortal words of the song sung at every game in the “seventh inning stretch”. And just to clarify, the song wasn’t sung at the “seventh inning stretch” until Harry Caray started singing it with the crowd in 1971. For those of you that don’t know who Harry Caray was, he was a rather famous sports broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox and later the Chicago Cubs.
Which begs the question, if you’re already at the game and it’s the seventh inning, why are you singing about someone taking you out to one? And by the way, the song starts like this:
“Katie Casey was base ball mad.
Had the fever and had it bad;
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev’ry 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.”
You then run into the chorus. Now, I’m not sure what the 4th line means, but I don’t think I’m going there. Katie became Nelly Kelly in later versions of the song, and the censors must have gotten a hold of it, because they took that part about “blowing” out.
Hopefully I’ve given you a little more appreciation for a 103-year-old song that almost everyone knows. I always stumble on the second line of the chorus. I can never remember to “take me out with the crowd.” Come on, I know you wanna sing it, and it will be in your head for the rest of the day.