Sometimes the greatest, or our most cherished art, comes to us...rather than us to it. Whether it be paintings, photographs, sculptures, or songs. These pieces of art, timestamps of history, are often not premeditated but instead they are the results of an immediate inspiration. Maybe it’s something the artist hears from the conversation of a passerby that he or she determines would make a great story. Maybe it’s bombs exploding like fireworks overhead during a time where the artist wasn’t even sure they would make it out alive. Or Maybe, just maybe, it’s an advertisement for a ballgame at the Polo Grounds.
Jack Norworth was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania on January 5th, 1879. He was a stage comedian, singer, actor, & writer that really grew into a bit of a household name during the vaudeville stages of history. He was famous for things like Ziegfield Follies, which he performed with his wife Nora in 1908. That same year, Norworth would go on to write one of the most prolific songs in United States history.
Jack Norworth had never in his life been to a baseball game, and in fact when he wrote the infamous words to Take Me Out To The Ballgame, odds are he was just going off of what he had heard about... and more importantly what had been advertised to him on his train rides and in his newspapers. Newspapers that likely talked about the new Boston “Red Sox”, who up until that year had been known as the Boston Americans. On April 14th they debut’d new thick canvas cotton jersey’s, and their new name against the Washington Senators who later on that year would go on to lose an American League record 29 games via the shutout. The Red Sox won that day won by a score of 3-1 at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds. The paper also would have headlined Honus Wagner announcing that he would be retiring at the end of the season. Nobody seemed to tell him however because he went on to play in 151 games, and led the league in just about every offensive category imaginable. Somewhere in the back pages of the paper would have been the story of Abner Doubleday, who despite overwhelming controversial evidence, was accredited with creating the game of Baseball in Cooperstown, New York in 1839. Nearly 80 years later and a little over a three hour drive to the south of Baseball’s Birthplace in Cooperstown was Jack Norworth, and his train car which held an advertisement for that day’s ballgame at the Polo Grounds. Located in Coogan’s Hollow, a small area of Harlem, was one of the most beautiful stadiums in all of baseball.
By the time the song had been written, the double decker stadium housed the New York Giants, who played daily for a little over 16,000 fans. By 1911 it could host 31,000 fans which was easily the most in baseball at that time. However still, Jack Norworth had never been to a game when he wrote down on a piece of paper the words to a song he surely hoped would turn into some sort of commercial or advertisement itself with the words
(words to take me out to the ballgame)
Jack Norworth would end up teaming up with Albert Von Tilzer who wrote the melody, and really turned it into a song in 1908, or so the story goes. But despite its fame and popularity of the song, Jack Norworth himself wouldn’t ever find himself in a hot summer seat enjoying cracker jacks, or a New York hot dog at the Polo Grounds, because it burnt down to the ground 3 years after he wrote the song. In fact, from what I can tell he didn’t find himself at a baseball game at all, until he attended for the first time in his life a Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs game in 1940, 32 years later. Of course Brooklyn came away with the win at that ole ball game. To this day, I’m not sure if it was artistry, or inspiration, or an entertainer looking for his next big break that drove Jack Norworth to write Take Me Out To The Ballgame. Whatever it was, I’m thankful for it. I think we all are.
In 1958, on the 50th anniversary of the song Norworth was honored by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Jack Norworth Day. He died a year later in 1959, just a couple months after a fiery plane crash in early february took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper.
Take Me Out to The Ballgame would go on to be a staple in the 7th inning of baseball games all throughout the country. Harey Carey made it even more famous in Chicago early in the 1970’s after he started singing it in the broadcast booth. The story there goes that a secret microphone was placed into the booth so that the fans could hear him sing the famed song, and because it was so bad, no fan was too intimidated to sing along.