“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”: The Story of Katie Casey and Our National Pastime

Figure 8a. Digital reproduction courtesy of Michael Rothstein.George Boziwick contributed this splendid article to the journal Base Ball, which could neither accommodate nor print in color all his wonderful accompanying illustrations. Here at last is the piece the way it might ideally have been published; it is reprinted through courtesy of the journal’s publisher, McFarland and Company. Boziwick is Chief of the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. He is also a composer, performer, and co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble, created with the mission to make archives and special collections come alive through research and performance.  

Every summer, in ballparks across the country, a familiar refrain is heard during the seventh inning of every game: 
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.
Although this memorable chorus of peanuts and Cracker Jack is part of our national consciousness, the song’s little-known verses tell a deeper story, about a woman and her desire to be part of the rooting crowd. Her name was Katie Casey, and in 1908 she was affirmably baseball’s biggest fan. 

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:[1]Figure 2. Take me out to the ball game postcard, 1910

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was Katie’s well known reply, but in 1908, a woman at the ballpark rooting and cheering was neither a common sight, nor was it fully accepted. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” advertises just the opposite: that a woman’s place was indeed in the grandstand at the ballpark and not just safe at home.

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”

At the turn of the 20th century, as more women gained access to higher education, participation in the general workforce, and political activism, an “emergent ideal” of the “New Woman” began to take hold that “imbued a women’s activity in the public domain with a new sense of female self, a woman who was independent, athletic, sexual, and modern.”[2] According to the song’s second verse, the fictional Katie Casey had all those qualities, and expressed them fully through her passion for the game of baseball.

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:

Song slide, 1908.

Song slide, 1908.

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” made its appearance at a time in the spring and summer of 1908 when everyone was talking about baseball’s hotly contested pennant race—a three-way National League extravaganza between John McGraw’s mighty New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates with their star Honus Wagner, and the reigning world champion Chicago Cubs. All this excitement “surely” inspired vaudevillian Jack Norworth to write his “sensational baseball song,” as it was billed by the publisher and appeared on the sheet music. But the story behind “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” waited some fifty years before the song’s lyricist explained to the press how his famous words came to be written. By that time the song’s composer, Albert Von Tilzer, dead for two years, was unable to corroborate.[3] 

Norworth recounted that in the spring of 1908 he was riding a New York City elevated subway train when he spotted a sign that called out “Ball Game Today – Polo Grounds.”  Norworth claimed he had never been to an actual game but that he needed a song for his act at the Amphion Theater in Brooklyn. According to Norworth, he thought the time was right for a baseball song and an idea struck him that he “thought was pretty good.” Before the subway ride was finished, baseball’s biggest female fan and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had come to life.[4] He brought the lyrics to composer Albert Von Tilzer, who set them to music.

Later that fall, when the first sound recordings of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” were issued, the National Recording Company reviewed the Edison cylinder recording sung by Edward Meeker in its September 1908 catalog. 

The base-ball hit of the season – a home run at least. Katie Casey is a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool base-ball ‘fan,’ and can give her big brothers pointers on ‘rooting’ for the home team. She’d rather munch peanuts on the bleacheries than caramels at a matinee – which is saying a good deal for a girl. Meeker must have taken Katie to a game or two, judging from the interest he takes in singing about her. The tune is a jolly, infectious one and you can get every word.[5]  

The focus of the Edison recording review is clearly on the character of Katie Casey and the song’s verse, not simply a trip to the ballpark with its chorus of “peanuts and Cracker Jack,” as we know it today.That musical “branding” would come long after female fans had melded into the crowds coming through the turnstiles, and the awareness of gender in the song’s forgotten verses had long since disappeared from memory.

Song slide, 1908.

Song slide, 1908.

To increase the song’s reach and visibility, Albert Von Tilzer had his publishing house, the York Music Company, commission a set of hand-painted glass lantern slides that were customarily used to accompany singalongs led by “song pluggers” between acts or reels in vaudeville and movie houses.[6] These “illustrated song slides” were manufactured by master lantern-slide-maker DeWitt C. Wheeler, who shot them onsite at the Polo Grounds in May 1908. Using actors or models to depict the fictional Katie Casey and her beau, these slides undoubtedly encouraged the acceptance of women at games. They portrayed Katie Casey not as someone to sit idly taking in the game, but a woman who was fully engaged in the activity, surrounded by men. [7]

Song slide, 1908.

Song slide, 1908.

The presence of women at the ballpark in 1908 was not new, but it was still considered unusual.  The increase in female attendance altered the informal, exclusive social club atmosphere, and elicited considerable resentment from many men. Despite this, ballclub owners eagerly exploited the idea of women at games, as it was commonly thought that their presence purified the game’s nastier elements and would increase attendance by men who simply wanted an opportunity to be where women were.[8] “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” certainly promoted the idea of women attending games. The song was indeed “infectious,” and you could “get every word.” But while the public may have been receptive to that idea in a song, in reality getting every word would take some time.

Ring Lardner’s book You Know Me Al, published in 1916, eight years after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” offers some evidence that the perception of baseball as an exclusively male domain was gradually yielding to the idea of women as knowledgeable and enthusiastic fans. Lardner’s fictitious ballplayer Jack Keefe describes his new wife and her love of baseball, as he writes to his friend Al: “Florence knows a lot about baseball for a girl. You would be surprised to hear her talk. She says I am the best pitcher in the league and she has saw them all.”[9]

“Take me out with the crowd”

In the decades prior to the turn of the 20th century, the importance of recreational activities such as baseball was embraced by an emerging philosophy that young people would benefit from spending their leisure time pursuing the social, psychological, and physical benefits of organized outdoor activities.[10] A growing number of social activists on both sides of the Atlantic realized that team sports had inherent values that, once instilled on the field of play, were readily transferable to the everyday lives of young men entering adulthood as productive citizens in the professional workforce.[11] By 1908, baseball’s popularity had found resonance in both the playground movement of the 1890s and the subsequent Progressive Era that flourished under the watchful eye of Theodore Roosevelt, a great promoter of strenuous outdoor activity. Even the urban landscape saw a sharpening focus on the need for team-based outdoor activities for young people. Organizations such as the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL), founded in New York City in 1903, began to take root.[12] The efforts of the PSAL were enormously successful in its outreach to the youth of New York City. Baseball as both a participatory and spectator sport was taking hold. By 1906 there were 106 PSAL baseball teams for boys throughout the New York City public school system. That year they held their final baseball contest in front of an audience of 1,500 enthusiastic spectators at the Polo Grounds, home to the New York Giants.[13] 

Song slide, Polo Grounds 1908.

Song slide, Polo Grounds 1908.

With the construction of new ballparks, the establishment of a stable and competitive American League, and the reintroduction in 1903 of an annual World Series,[14] baseball was becoming an enduring commodity to a fan base already acclimated to a game that they themselves often played as children. Also, in 1908, the report of the Mills Commission on the origins of baseball had just been released. Despite the fact that the commission had determined on questionable evidence that baseball was a uniquely American game invented in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 by Civil War veteran Abner Doubleday, America’s pastime was now official, and in the minds of many, as American as apple pie.[15] Even though Jack Norworth’s recounting of the song’s creation came 50 years after the fact, he may have been prophetic in claiming that he thought it was time for a baseball song. Regardless, he could not have realized that his baseball song would attain recognition as a signifier for the passion, the values, and the inclusiveness that Americans found in their national game.  “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”

Jack Norworth

Jack Norworth

According to Norworth, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had a modest reception, but almost immediately other performers began incorporating his song into their acts and its popularity grew. There are at least thirty known variants of the sheet-music cover of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” issued by the publisher in 1908.[16] Clearly the song was gaining in popularity, and so too was Norworth. His story about the origins of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” may or may not have been accurate, but looking closely at his activities at the time of the song’s writing provides evidence for what I believe to be the real story that Norworth never told about his “sensational base ball song.”  By late 1906, Norworth (then married to actress Louise Dresser) had become infatuated with a fellow vaudevillian, Trixie Friganza. Norworth and Friganza began a heated affair while working together during 1907. By October the affair had become public, and Dresser announced to the press that Norworth was seeking a divorce so that he and Friganza could marry.[17]

Trixie Friganza

Trixie Friganza

Even as Friganza sang her popular number “No Wedding Bells for Me” from the show The Orchid, neither she nor Norworth would have predicted that by the summer of 1908, their romance would suddenly falter, but it did. On June 15, the day of his divorce from Louise Dresser, Norworth began starring in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 and on June 21, in Long Branch, New Jersey, he unexpectedly married his Follies partner, vaudeville superstar Nora Bayes.[18] Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were Broadway’s most sensational couple. They worked and wrote songs together, including the baseball song “Let’s Get the Umpire’s Goat,” and their best-known song, “Shine On Harvest Moon.” Although there are no extant recordings of Bayes or Norworth singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” both are represented on individual covers of the sheet music. As part of their act, Bayes and Norworth held song-request contests that often included by popular demand performances of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”[19]

 Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes in the Follies of 1908.

Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes in the Follies of 1908.

The lack of a Norworth/Bayes recording of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is not surprising given the fact that as part of his marital agreement with Bayes, Norworth severed his collaboration with composer Albert Von Tilzer and wrote songs exclusively with his new wife.[20] From then on, many of the songs Norworth and Bayes either co-wrote or performed together favored entertaining Irish or other ethnic parodies.[21] This was a world in which Norworth’s fictional Katie Casey of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” chose not to participate. She was more than willing to pass up a show for something more exciting, something American. She wanted baseball, and according to the song’s lyrics, her identity with the game was a proven fact.

“I don’t care if I never get back”

Who was the fictional Katie Casey in Jack Norworth’s song? By her name, she was likely Irish American. In 1908 she would have been at least second generation, already well assimilated to American culture and in her case, baseball. Assimilation for her and other Irish meant Americanizing without eradicating one’s cultural and religious “Irishness,” despite the fact that many Irish immigrants consciously turned their backs on a homeland that was still reeling from the effects of a catastrophic famine, poverty, and massive emigration. In their adopted homeland, the Irish would create their own infrastructure of community and culture, manifested in the building of Catholic schools and hospitals, and in the formation of service and fraternal organizations.

Song slide, 1908

Song slide, 1908

In Ireland, many young women found themselves without adequate means of marital support or inheritance, making emigration their only route of survival. These circumstances made the first generation of single Irish female immigrants more likely to answer the call for live-in domestic servants as a means of gaining a sure foothold in America. The growing demand for domestics in well-to-do Protestant households during the Victorian era was easily filled by young single Irish Catholic women often referred to ubiquitously as Kates, Katies, Noras, or Bridgets by their employers, who barely tolerated their “Hibernian” temperaments or their peculiar religious devotions. For the young Irish immigrant servant, the benefits of domestic employment went well beyond that of a steady income. Full-time residence in a prosperous middle class Protestant home afforded the Irish domestic a view of American life from the inside out. This “lace curtain” perspective greatly accelerated the Americanization process. Women were able to save money not otherwise spent on room and board and outfit themselves with the trappings and persona of upward mobility. This swift process of acculturation guaranteed that subsequent generations would soon begin filling the growing ranks of teachers or nurses, professions that mirrored the dominance, assertiveness, and control that Irish mothers and daughters often had over their households, husbands, and families.[22] With independence and mobility as byproducts of her Irish cultural, social, and religious upbringing, Katie Casey was likely to be single, working, and self-sufficient. Her desire to get to the ballgame and assimilate to the rooting crowd is recognizable as part of the very cloth of her Irish American feminine identity.  

Joining in the process of ethnic identity and assimilation, the Tin Pan Alley music industry manufactured its own form of entertainment that catered to enthusiastic Irish audiences, offering up song parodies and satires of the Irish experience from the beautiful and sentimental view of the homeland, to caricatures in the New World of cops, hard drinkers, and politicians. Songs about ethnic stereotyping, cultural identity, and the Americanization of young women were plentiful both in song and in the visual-art form of the sheet-music cover, particularly in the creation of the famous Gibson girl, the idealized American female image made famous by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. While Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes were writing entertaining songs and being lauded as the most celebrated couple on the Broadway stage, Norworth’s “sensational baseball song” began playing to a very different kind of audience, thanks to his affair with the almost Mrs. Norworth, Trixie Friganza. 

Trixie Friganza in large white-hat leaving a suffrage rally, October 28, 1908.

Trixie Friganza in large white- at leaving a suffrage rally, October 28, 1908.

Friganza had been cited in the local papers as a suffragist who marched for her rights in the very year that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was written. Her suffrage activities at the time were supported publicly by her employers, George M. Cohan and Sam Harris, in whose production of The American Idea Friganza was costarring with actress Stella Hammerstein.[23] It is my belief that Friganza’s relationship with Norworth and her activities on behalf of women’s rights were the catalysts for Norworth’s inspiration and were fictionalized in Katie Casey’s explicit and affirming response to her beau to take her to the ballgame. This opinion is supported by the fact that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was officially registered for copyright on May 2, 1908,[24] likely coinciding with the peak of Norworth’s affair with Friganza and their near marriage. 

Another indicator of Friganza’s likely identity as the inspiration behind the fictional Katie Casey is the fact that out of all the known covers of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” released by the publisher, she appears twice in two different poses. Like Casey, Friganza (whose real name was Delia O’Callahan) was known to be outspoken and independent, drawing large crowds to both the theater and the suffrage rallies at which she was often a key speaker.

As an independent young woman and knowledgeable fan, Katie Casey was perfectly capable and qualified in leading the rooting charge, or telling the umpire, in a voice “good and strong,” that his call was wrong. The baseball park was her proving ground. Her boisterous behavior, although in 1908 it may have been considered inappropriate to her gender, provided the necessary lyric—the verse that she needed in order to participate in the chorus of assimilation and solidarity to “root, root, root for the home team.”

Song slide, 1908.

Song slide, 1908.

This same desire for solidarity and assimilation was already being observed in the behaviors of immigrant groups of young lower-class women in the crowded factory workrooms of New York and other urban centers. The image of the modest sequestered young woman at work was far from reality. Since these women, largely adolescent, had little or no opportunities for advancement in that milieu, the women’s work group became the dominant form of socialization. This gave rise to an adolescent counterculture that allowed them to thrive in the bleak, deafening atmosphere in which they spent their long days. These young girls were observed to be a cohesive, boisterous group, using the workspace to experiment with profanity, slang, and other careless or loud behaviors. This was part of a young working girl’s rite of passage. As social historian Leslie Tentler reminds us, “initiation into the heady world of adolescent independence was necessary for an urban working-class girl in the early twentieth century, because it was the adolescent peer group, and not parents, that provided suitors and ultimately, mates.”[25] 

These were the Katie Caseys of the factories who eventually took to the streets in search of better working conditions and higher pay. The tune that these women were singing was also an “infectious” one, and society would have to “get every word.” Women wanted empowerment, and Katie Casey’s fictionalized declaration for a female presence in the grandstand was a reverberation of these workers’ demands for equality. Once they reached their own chorus of assimilation, they too could never go back.

Indeed, these ladies did not go back. They eventually went on strike. The uprising of the 20,000 began in New York on November 23, 1909, and lasted for many weeks. Newspaper reports described in detail the worker’s strikes, including an account of one woman’s determined behavior on the field of battle: a real baseball-inspired story.

A striker [by the name of] Lena, threw an egg at the foreman of her factory and missed. The foreman made scornful remarks about her throwing abilities. Lena again began to throw eggs but this time, she did not miss. In a moment Grossman [her foreman] looked like an animated omelet. He rushed at the line and the pair clinched, half of the omelet being transferred to Lena.[26]

With each successive worker’s march or suffrage parade, a growing number of groups and organizations both male and female were becoming affiliated with the broad cause of empowerment for women. No longer was it just for the shop girls, clerks, or garment workers. Nor was it simply Society’s latest fashionable cause.[27] However, many began to realize that “if suffrage was made fashionable, victory would be assured.”[28] The best way to ensure this victory was to sharpen the focus of empowerment on a single issue that would create a unified chorus of assimilation. That chorus became the “franchise” or the right to vote. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” employed a parallel platform, conveying the single message that empowerment, solidarity, and equality, not dominance, was bringing men and women together at the ballpark to root “good and strong” for the team. Since this inclusive support and focus on a single issue was the thing that would virtually guarantee the success of the suffrage movement, why not the same formula of success for the message of a baseball song?

“Let me root, root, root for the home team”

While Trixie Friganza may have given Jack Norworth an idea, actress Stella Hammerstein personified it. Hammerstein, and indeed all of Broadway, went out to the ballgames in 1908 where the New York Giants were baseball’s biggest attraction. The Giants players (some of whom also played the vaudeville stage) fraternized regularly with the acting crowd of Broadway. George M. Cohan even had his own amateur baseball team.[29]

The George M. Cohan baseball team_1. Frank Fay. 2. Willie Pincus. 3. Abe Thalheimer. 4. Tommy Ross. 5. Abe Erlanger. 6. Jack Gleason. 7. George M. Cohan. 8. Joe Humphrey[s]. 9. Sam A. Scribner, 10. Terry McGovern. 11. Jack Welch. 12. Jules Hurtig. 13. DeWolf Hopper. 14. George Beban. 15. Sammy Levy. 16. James J. Morton. 17. Charlie Murray. Polo Grounds, August 19, 1910. The Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

The George M. Cohan baseball team, Polo Grounds, August 19, 1910. Click to enlarge image for individual identifications. The Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

The unique message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was significant enough for Cohan himself to introduce his own baseball song, “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.” While both the Cohan and Norworth songs were advertised in the same May 2, 1908, issue of Variety, Cohan’s was registered for copyright on May 8, six days after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Lantern slides for Cohan’s song followed one month after those of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” They were shot (also by DeWitt C. Wheeler) at the American League ballpark in upper Manhattan.[30] The trade publications advertised both songs as sensational hits, and in the case of Cohan’s song, the “novelty summer waltz song and a home run hit.” Not only were the titles nearly identical, there was an unmistakable similarity in the opening phrases of both choruses. Although the trade publications remarked on the peculiar similarities of the two song titles, neither publisher seemed to have made an issue over the similarity of the refrains.[31] In his later interviews, Norworth was quick to point out that he knew he had the better song, but there is no evidence that he ever challenged the powerful “Yankee Doodle Boy.” The two songs could not have been more different in tone, message, and prosody. Cohan’s refrain is passive, like a lovely afternoon at the ballpark, whereas “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has you on your feet with its opening octave jump. Norworth has no reservations about Katie Casey’s qualifications as a diehard and knowledgeable fan of the game, even leading the rooters in the song’s “infectious” chorus. Contrast that with Cohan’s opening verse, in which he advises the rooters around him that undignified behavior should be put aside so that an appropriate place might be made for a woman, who then could gently and lovingly be taught the rules of baseball when you “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.” 

Verse 1

Coney Island’s all right,

It’s a fine place at night,

But the place that’s the money to me,

Is the park where they play,

Classy ball every day,

Talk of sport,

It’s the big Jubilee!

At the shout of “Play Ball”

I’m just daffy that’s all,

As I sit with my queen like a king,

With her score card in hand,

Mamie looks more than grand,

To the rooters around me I sing:  

Chorus

Take you girl to the ball game,

Any old afternoon.

That’s the spot to propose to Mame,

The spot for a sunshiny spoon.

Make a fan of your steady girl,

If you lose her I’ll take all the blame.

In the stand, It’s just grand,

As she squeezes your hand,

At the base ball game.

George M. Cohan, “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game."

George M. Cohan, “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game.”

Though Cohan’s song is typical of the genre of songs that would follow, he did two important things that allowed the message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to go forward. He publicly approved the suffrage activities of Trixie Friganza (represented in the fictional Katie Casey, who independently chooses to go to a ballgame instead of a show). And, he published his own song, whose title is the necessary signifier of approval that gives currency and validation to Norworth’s message of enfranchisement. Taking your girl to a ballgame had now become fashionable.

As a result, both songs helped unleash a great swath of copycat songs from publishing houses across New York’s Tin Pan Alley and beyond, many of them about taking your girl to a ballgame, and many (like those of Norworth and Cohan) composed in a simple waltz meter of three-four.[32] One of these songs, “I’ve Been Making a Grand Stand Play for You,” offers the following opening lyric:

Way down front,

hand in hand,

In the baseball grandstand,

Is my girl and myself ev’ry day;

She’s a regular fan,

Like a regular man,

Know just what to do, what to say.

While these copycat songs certainly contributed to the positive message put in motion by “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” they did not convey the same anthem of equality and empowerment offered by Katie Casey. Cohan uses the ballpark as a romanticized teachable moment for his girl’s benefit, who is presumed to know nothing about baseball. The message of these songs is to inculcate your best girl into the rituals of baseball as a male-oriented pursuit in which she could now participate if she just played along by a new set of rules where a home run, a hit, or a grandstand play were creating a new language of courtship, love, and romance.

“If they don’t win it’s a shame”

The message of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” stands alone when set in relief against these easily forgotten songs. It is the only song that asserts the unique message that a woman’s presence and participation at the ballpark gives momentum towards a relationship of equality with those around her. That relationship is legitimized in the stands when (as told in the second verse) Katie Casey leads her fellow fans in the song’s final chorus. No other baseball song places a woman in a position of leadership, which more than fulfills her need and desire to be part of the franchise, which, in this case, was the rooting crowd.

Song slide, 1908.

Song slide, 1908.

Thus the question often asked by many baseball fans can now be answered: “Why do we sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ when we are already at the game?” The answer is hidden in plain sight in the song’s second verse that we never sing. The very first time that “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was ever sung at the ballpark was when Katie Casey sang it. What was once fiction has, over time, become reality. Katie Casey by her actions establishes both the progressive momentum of participation for the “new woman” and, at the same time, effectively sets the song on its future course of greatness. Someday a woman will indeed be able to lead the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the ballpark, and the momentum to achieve that had just been put in place.

The momentum to sustain Katie Casey’s victory in the grandstand was generated by continued performances of the song—not at the ballpark or in movie houses or vaudeville theaters but in millions of parlors across the country. As was the continued custom, mothers taught music to their children. In the process they became eager consumers of sheet music, sharing the delights of songs such as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” around the family piano.[33] These re-creations of the ballpark experience at home singalongs and other social gatherings sustained interest in the song’s “jolly, infectious” chorus and its resonant message. Over time and across generations, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” would fulfill its message of inclusive empowerment, ensuring its continued popularity and eventual crowning as baseball’s popular anthem.

“For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out”

Jack Norworth himself helped to keep his song in proper step with the changing times. Women had won the right to vote in 1920, and in 1927 Norworth revised the verses of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He modernized the song’s language and changed Katie Casey’s name to Nelly Kelly.[34]

Verse 1

Nelly Kelly loved 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.

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” had another reason to gain a new lease on life: 1927 was the year that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. With baseball’s popularity soaring, perhaps Norworth was hoping that younger audiences eager for baseball would make an old song new again. More likely, with a fresh copyright on his baseball song, Norworth was rooting for his royalty checks to continue for at least another half-century. 

Sometime after the 1949 release of the movie “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” when electronic organs were being introduced into many ballparks, the song gradually found its own opportunities for integration into the baseball experience. Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, the song’s chorus was catching on with organists, who began playing it with some regularity as part of the pregame entertainment.[35] Over time, the omission of the opening verse eliminated the song’s critical narrative from our collective memory.

By the late 1960s and early ’70s, many organists gave the song an increased presence at the ballpark; and while Norworth certainly envisioned hundreds of people singing the song during intermissions in theaters and movie houses, he could not possibly have imagined that his simple chorus of “root, root, root for the home team” would be given additional momentum by someone not in the theatrical world, but rather a baseball impresario who had a flair for the ridiculous and whose simple idea would propel Norworth’s tune into baseball immortality.[36] 

U.S. postal stamp, 2008, with odd 1880s graphics

U.S. postal stamp, 2008, with odd 1880s graphics

Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, like his father before him, always looked for opportunities to inject some crowd-pleasing novelty entertainment into his games. In 1977, after hearing White Sox broadcaster Harry Caray singing the tune badly to himself in the broadcast booth as organist Nancy Faust played the song, Veeck persuaded Caray to turn on the microphone and lead the crowd in singing the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch of every game.[37] That grand experiment was not only a hit, a home run, and a grandstand play with the fans; it has become iconic, sung today in all major league ballparks across the country during the game’s customary intermission. The song’s chorus, originally resonant for Katie Casey, now resonates with the sustained message that baseball is for everyone, regardless of class, gender, or generation. This inclusiveness has allowed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to achieve a lasting and cherished position of popularity, alongside “Happy Birthday” and the “Star Spangled Banner.[38]

“At the old ball game”

When you can get away to the carefree atmosphere of the ballpark, the experience of singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch creates a magic of participation and belonging as memorable as the ballgame itself. Jack Norworth’s “sensational base ball song” unites players and fans, young and old, male and female, who still seek that common bond and restless urge, like generations before them and the fictional Katie Casey, to be part of the rooting crowd. Knowing what we now know about “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” imagine that tangible moment that Katie Casey must have felt back in 1908, walking into the ballpark for the first time, taking in the atmosphere and thinking to herself, “I don’t care if I never get back.”

Acknowledgment

This article was derived from an exhibit curated by George Boziwick at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts celebrating the 100th anniversary of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in 2008. A paper version of this article was presented at the 2009 Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. A lecture/performance version of this article was presented by the Red Skies Music Ensemble in 2012 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. George Boziwick would like to thank Jacqueline Z. Davis, the Dorothy and Louis B. Cullman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and staff member Tema Hecht. He also thanks Trudy Williams, co-founder of the Red Skies Music Ensemble for her contributions, and gives special thanks to Stephanie Doba.

Notes

1. Figure 1. Norworth, Jack and Albert von Tilzer. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The York Publishing Co., 1908, first edition. Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
2. Peiss, K. 1986. Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the Century New York, p. 7.
3. Strasberg, A., B. Thompson, and T. Wiles. 2008. Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, p. 19.
4. Rosenthal, H. 1958. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game Written on Subway in ’08,” The Sporting News: Mar. 16. Baseball and Music Clipping File, Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
5. The New Phonogram, (Orange, New Jersey: The National Phonograph Company, vol. 5, no. 3, September, 1908). The Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
6. Strasberg, Thompson, and Wiles 2008, pp. 26–28.
7. According to Margaret Bergh (The Marnan Collection, Minneapolis), it is thought that actress Marie Murray (1882–1967) posed as Katie Casey for these lantern-slide photos in 1908. Pers. comm, Apr. 25, 2012.
8. Seymour, H., and D. Seymour. 1960. Baseball: The Early Years, p. 328. Ardell, J. 2005. Breaking Into Baseball: Women and the National Pastime, pp. 28–31.
9. Lardner, R. c. 1916. You Know Me Al: A Busher’s Letters, p. 37.
10. Lawyer Clarence Darrow reflected in his autobiography on the profound effect that baseball had on him as a child growing up in rural Ohio around 1868. He learned to play the game in his district school. Years later as a young law student teaching in a country school, Darrow would integrate sports into his daily curriculum. To the consternation of his parents, he lengthened both the recess period and the school day, to allow the children needed time for outdoor activities such as baseball in which he often participated. Darrow. C. 1996 (reprint). The Story of My Life, pp. 17, 28. Hanon. M. (n.d.) “Clarence Darrow: Timeline of His Life and Legal Career,” University of Minnesota Law Library Diss., pp. 4–5.
11. Howell. C. 1995. Northern Sandlots: A Social History of Maritime Baseball, pp. 5, 102–103, 112.
12. The PSAL philosophy that exercise was vital for both sexes had growing support, and some, such as actress Mrs. Leslie Carter, strongly advocated that baseball, for its unique qualities as “a form of exercise and amusement combined,” should be made available to young women. Mrs. Leslie Carter, “Exercise – The Fountain of Youth,” Baseball Magazine 3.1, May 1909, pp. 21  23. Seymour, H., and D. Seymour.  Baseball: The People’s Game, pp. 45–66. Lord. W. 1960. The Good Years: From 1900 to the First World War, pp. 87–90.
13. Wingate. G. 1908. “The Public Schools Athletic League,” Outing Magazine 52.
14. During the last two decades of the 19th century several World Series–type contests were played between the National League and the short-lived American Association (1884–1890). In 1894 Pittsburgh Pirates owner William C. Temple offered his “Temple Cup” to the winner of a seven-game series between the first- and second-place teams in the National League.
15. Thorn, J. 2011. Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, pp. 273–296.
16. This was a common practice among music publishers. Each cover featured a picture of those who either sang or promoted the song. It also created opportunities for consumers to identify with a particular performer they may have seen in the theater or to simply collect the various covers of their favorite songs.
17. “Louise Dresser Declares Husband Will Endeavor to Obtain Divorce So He May Wed Trixie Friganza,” Washington Times: Oct. 23, 1907. “Louise Dresser Has Got Her Divorce,” The New York Times: June 15, 1908.
18.  Whorf McGuiggan, A. 2009. Take Me Out to the Ball Game: The Story of the Sensational Base Ball Song, pp. 33–37. Jack Norworth Clipping File. Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. “Scully’s Scrapbook,” Variety: May 21, 1952. Trixie Friganza Clipping File, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
19. Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth: Together and Alone. Archeophone Records, 5007, 2004. Debus, A. 1957. “Celebrity Corner: The Records of Jack Norworth,” Hobbies, Sept. 1957, pp. 34–35. Baseball and Music Clipping File, Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
20. “Three years ago, on June 28 [sic], 1908, he married dainty Nora Baues [sic] and thereupon severed his association with Mr. Von Tilzer, as one of his contract martial [sic] clauses runs to the effect that his wife was to write the music for all his future songs.” Undated newspaper clipping, Jack Norworth Clipping File. The Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
21. These songs include “How Can They Tell That Oi’m Irish,” “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly,” “When Old Bill Bailey Plays the Ukalele [sic],” “When Miss Patricia Salome Did Her Funny Little Oo-La-Pa-Lome.”
22. Lynch-Brennan. M. 2006. “Ubiquitous Bridget: Irish Immigrant Women in Domestic Service in America, 1840–1930,” Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States, ed. J. Lee and M. Casey, pp. 332–353. Diner, H. 1983. Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century, pp. 66, 94.
23. “We will encourage her by substantial contributions to the cause, but no performer under our management can make stump speeches during a performance. We have arranged to have her address a meeting at the City Hall and have advertised it. Miss Stella Hammerstein, daughter of the impresario [Oscar Hammerstein] is associated with Miss Friganza in the planning of a [suffrage] campaign to be waged between now and Election Day.” “Miss Friganza a Suffragette: Miss Hammerstein to Help Actress in Campaign for Women’s Rights,” The New York Tribune: Oct. 15, 1908.
24. Library of Congress Performing Arts Encyclopedia: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200153239/default.html. Accessed Mar. 30, 2009.
25. Woodcock Tentler, L. 1979. Wage-Earning Women: Industrial Work and Family Life in the United States, 1900–1930, pp. 66–67.
26. Enstad, N. 1999. Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Working Women, Popular Culture, and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, p. 153.
27. Lord 1960,  pp. 254–268.
28. “Maxim Tells Women How They May Vote,” The New York Times: Mar. 25, 1908. “Hudson Maxim of smokeless powder fame told the members of the William Lloyd Garrison Equal Suffrage Association how to get woman suffrage without waste of noise…. ‘Make it fashionable,’ said Mr. Maxim. ‘It is the duty of every woman to try to make woman [sic] suffrage fashionable, and then victory will be assured.’”
29. New York Giants players Rube Marquard (with his wife Blossom Seeley) and first baseman Mike Donlin (who teamed up with his wife Mabel Hite) frequented the Broadway stage. Babe Ruth often worked Vaudeville making as much as $3,000 per week in the offseason. See: Seymour, H., and D. Seymour. 1971. Baseball: The Golden Age, pp. 392, 446. Other players included Charles Dooin, Joe Tinker, Johnny Kling, Christy Mathewson, Chief Meyers, Captain Adrian C. “Pop” Anson, Waite Hoyt, Ty Cobb, and Frank Frisch. See: Laurie, J. 1955. Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace, pp. 124–128. See also: Photograph of George M. Cohan’s base ball team. Cohan, “C” picture file, The Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. See also: Ardell 2005, 33–34.
30. Hilltop Park or “the American League ballpark” was the home of the New York Highlanders. The Highlanders played in New York from 1903 until the start of the 1913 season when, no longer playing in Washington Heights, they moved to the Polo Grounds and officially changed the team name to the Yankees. See: Appel. M. 2012. Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss, pp. 61–65.
31. Whorf McGuiggan 2009, 70–71.
32. “Come On Play Ball With Me Dearie,” words by Ed. Madden, music by Gus. Edwards. New York: Gus Edwards Music Pub. Co., 1909; “I Want to Go to the Ball Game,” words by C.P. McDonald, music by Al. W. Brown. New York: Victor Kremer Co., 1909; “Back to the Bleachers for Mine,” words by Harry Breen, music by Albert von Tilzer. New York: The York Music Co., 1910; “You’ve Made a Homerun With Me,” words by Thomas J. Gray, music by Edna Williams. New York: Jos. W. Stern & Co., 1911; “I’ve Been Making A Grand Stand Play For You,” words by Wm. Farmer, music by Jos. McCarthy. New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co., 1911; “That Marquard Glide,” words by Rube Marquard and Thos. J. Gray, music by Blossom Seeley and W. Ray Walker. New York: Jerome H. Remick & Co., 1912. Stuart B. Stone, “The Imp Interferes,” Baseball Magazine 2.2, December 1908, pp. 33–38. This is a story about matchmaking in the bleachers, where the girl gets the game’s star player.
33. Amateur home music-making was taking place as early as the 1820s and was particularly favored by those who were unable (or unwilling) to attend live concert or theater performances. It was believed by many “that music could be made more respectably, regularly, and easily in the privacy of one’s home, as a pleasant pastime among friends and family.” Cavicchi, D. 2011. Listening and Longing: Music Lovers in the Age of Barnum, p. 20.
34. Norworth, Jack, and Albert von Tilzer. “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” (New York: Broadway Music Corp., 1600 Broadway, N.Y., 1927). On the cover: “Based upon ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’ copr. MCMVIII, by York Music Co.” Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
35. Rosenthal 1958. Rosenthal states that in 1958 the Yankees were playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” before every home game.
36. Strasberg, Thompson, and Wiles 2008, 40–45, 58, 62–65.
37. Veeck, B., with E. Linn. 2001 (reprint) Veeck—as in Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck, p. 387.
38. Strasberg, Thompson, and Wiles 2008, 10.

 

4 Comments

The best women are baseball fans. Great to know all the background and story.

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Would like to add that I have catalogued 29 different variations to the song (and have copies) and along with Trixie Franganza, Sam Williams and Henry Fink also have 2 different variations (photo inserts). Not to disparage Norworth and his superb anthem to MLBB, but I’m of the belief that Jack was a bit of a “carnie” and it was written that he contradicted himself down the road and may have attended a ML game prior to writing. In no way does this denigrate his accomplishment but rather provides insight into his motive for hyping the song.

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