Looking Back: Take Me Out to the Ball Game

By Bill Traughber / Nashville Sounds | April 19, 2017 12:23 PM ET

  Can you believe it has been 40 years of Nashville Sounds' baseball? I can remember my excitement often driving down to the construction site of Herschel Greer Stadium (1978-2014) to check on its progress. That year Sounds baseball began a Nashville tradition that has continued to First Tennessee Park.

   There is another baseball tradition that goes back to 1908 and can be heard in ballparks across the country. The song written by Jack Norworth, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is the most popular baseball song that brings a smile to your face while singing the words.

   But, did you know the song that became a baseball seventh inning tradition is only the chorus of the original song?

   Norworth wrote the song on a scrap of paper on a train ride to Manhattan, NY. Supposedly, he was inspired when he saw a sign that read "Baseball Today - Polo Grounds." Albert Von Tilzer composed the song that was published by York Publishing Company and soon became a hit. Norworth was a vaudeville entertainer and songwriter that scrawled the lyrics in 15 minutes. This is the original version:

Katie Casey was base ball mad.

Had the fever and had it bad;

Just to root for the hometown crew,

Ev'ry sou Katie blew.

On a Saturday, her young beau

Called to see if she'd like to go,

To se a show but Miss Kate said,

"No, I'll tell you what you can do."

 

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.

 

Katie Casey saw all the games,

Knew the players by their first names;

Told the umpire he was wrong,

All along good and strong.

When the score was just two to two,

Katie Casey knew what to do,

Just to cheer up the boys she knew,

She made the gang sing this song:

 

CHORUS

   The term "sou" is a coin of French origin, which at the time was slang for a lesser value coin. The expression "sans le sou" is a French expression that means "penniless." In Ken Burns's 1994 baseball documentary on baseball singer Carly Simon's version read, "Ev'ry cent-Katie spent."

   The song was first sung by Norworth's wife at the time, Nora Bayes, and repeated in other vaudeville acts. The song was played for the first known time at a baseball game in 1934 at a high school in Los Angeles. Later that year it was played during the fourth game of the World Series.

   Norworth is credited with writing over 2,500 songs the most famous, "Shine On, Harvest Moon." Norworth didn't attend his first major league game until 1940 a Brooklyn Dodgers victory over the Cubs, 5-4. On the 50th anniversary of the song Major League Baseball presented Norworth with a gold lifetime pass. Norworth died the next year in 1959, and is buried in Anaheim, CA near Angels Stadium home of the Los Angeles Angels.

   In 1949, MGM made the movie "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with actors Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. The movie is about the double-play combination "O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg."

   In 1927, Norworth created another version of the song with the same popular chorus:

Nelly Kelly love baseball games,

Knew the players, knew all their names,

You could see her there ev'ry day,

Shout "Hurray," when they'd play.

Her boy friend by the name of Joe

Said, "To Coney Isle, dear, let's go,"

Then Nelly started to fret and pout,

And to him I heard her shout.

 

CHORUS

Nelly Kelly was sure some fan,

She would root just like any man,

Told the umpire he was wrong,

All along, good and strong.

When the score was just two to two,

Nelly Kelly knew what to do.

Just to cheer up the boys she knew,

She made the gang sing this song.

 

CHORUS

   Of course, the most famous place to sing the song is in the bottom of the seventh inning in Chicago's Wrigley Field at a Cubs game.

   Baseball Almanac reports: "Harry Carey, who is credited with singing it first at a ball game in 1971, once said, 'I would always sing it, because it's the only song I knew the words to!' On Opening Day in 1976 Bill Veeck noticed the fans were singing along with Carey so a secret microphone was placed in the broadcast booth the following day to allow ALL the fans to hear him.

   "Veeck explained to Carey, 'Harry, anybody in the ballpark hearing you sing 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' knows that he can sing as well as you can. Probably better than you can. So he or she sings along. Hell, if you had a good singing voice you'd intimidate them, and nobody would join in!'"

   In First Tennessee Park for 2017, the Nashville Sounds will celebrate their 40th anniversary. New manager Ryan Christenson works to repeat last year's success as the PCL's American Southern Division champions. The Sounds have attracted over 15.5 million fans since 1978. The 16th million fan is expected to pass through the gates of First Tennessee Park this season.

   I am in my 14th season writing Nashville baseball history for "Looking Back." More stories will be on the old Nashville Vols (1901-62, 1963), 19th century baseball in the city, black baseball heritage, interviews and Sounds history.

   Please be on the lookout by June 1st for the book "Nashville Baseball History: From Sulphur Dell to the Sounds." The paperback book includes the earliest documentation of Nashville baseball (1857 and 1860), 19th century teams, the Southern Association Vols, the Sounds (1978 through First Tennessee Park) and Nashville's black baseball heritage. There are many previously unpublished vintage photographs with 223 pages, 33 chapters with 86 illustrations. Future "Looking Back" stories will include excerpts from the book.

   If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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