When longtime broadcaster Warner Fusselle got the assignment to write a story on the song "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" for the fresh-off-the-presses 10-pound, 2,552-page epic "Total Baseball," he thought to himself, "This is going to be a short subject."
He started digging -- and digging, unearthing enough stuff so that he's seriously considering putting out a book on the subject.
Most people can probably be excused for thinking legendary baseball play-by-play man Harry Caray thought up the ditty one day on the way to the ballpark and decided to slip it in during the seventh-inning stretch. Actually, Harry didn't start the routine, during which he almost launches himself out of the broadcast booth, until he arrived to do White Sox games in Chicago in the mid-'70s. It was club owner Bill Veeck's idea (naturally).
The lyrics for "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" were written in 15 minutes on a piece of scrap paper (Abe Lincoln had laid claim to using the back of an envelope) by vaudevillian and songwriter Jack Norworth, who was inspired by a poster advertising something called baseball on a New York City subway he was riding.
A pal of his, Albert Von Tilzer, put the words to music and his place of employment, the York Music Co., published it. Neither Norworth nor Von Tilzer had ever witnessed a game to that point, but as Jack was to explain many times, "A friend of mine, Harry Williams, wrote 'In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree,' and he never saw an apple tree."
The song wasn't an immediate hit, the tempo being better suited to ballads. It caught on mainly due to the fact the old movie houses called "Nickolodeons" were always looking for music that could be easily illustrated with slides. Anyone gray at the temples with failed eyesight, replacement teeth or troublesome feet can tell you about words being scrolled across the bottom of a screen for sing-alongs.
The year was 1908 and, as luck would have it, there were terrific pennant races in both leagues, Chicago (99-55), New York (98-56) and Pittsburgh (98-56) vying for the gonfalon in the National and Detroit (90-63), Cleveland (90-64) and Chicago (88-64) doing likewise in the Junior Circuit. Folks were humming it to themselves as they pored over the morning box scores.
Norworth, who went on to write 2,500 songs, including "Shine On, Harvest Moon," attempted numerous other songs dealing with the Grand Old Game but without great success. Still, he reminded of his initial effort, "It kept me eating for 50 years."
Van Tilzer also attempted sequels, but his "Did He Run?" -- the famed bonehead play of Fred Merkle duing the '08 pennant race -- didn't get off the ground.
The famed George M. Cohan got into the act, coming out with "Take Your Game To The Ballgame," but he complained, "I didn't write mine soon enough."
To which Jack Norworth answered, "Or good enough."
John Philip Sousa's "The National Game March" moves in typical Sousa fashion, but never made it among his most popular dozen marches. Irving Berlin tried "Jake! Jake! The Yiddish Ball Player" and "I Know A Foul Ball" before deciding he was better off in other areas.
There's some question as to when Norworth got around to witnessing his first ballgame, the guesses ranging from 1916 to 1940, but it's generally conceded that he was as big a fan of the Brooklyn Robins as Hilda Chester was of the latter-day Brooklyn Dodgers, only in absentia.
While "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" ranks third behind "Happy Birthday" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the most frequently sung song in the United States, it turns out that it's simply the chorus of Norworth's original effort.
He wrote a couple of verses, starting out with, "Katie Casey was baseball mad/Had the fever and had it bad. Just to root for the hometown crew/Every sou Katie blew. On a Saturday, her young beau/Called to see if she'd like to go. To See a show but Miss Katie said/'No, I'll tell you what you can do.' Take me out to the ballgame, etc."
Later, Norworth, who died at age 80 in 1959, changed "Katie Casey" to "Nelly Kelly," but chances are only Harry Caray knows that.
Those with good memories might recall a song entitled "I Love Mickey [Mantle]," sung by Teresa Brewer in the '50s. It went over like the baseball strike. Terry Cashman's recent efforts like "Talkin' Baseball . . . Kluszewski, Campanella, The Man and Bobby Feller" have certainly been a step in the right direction.