Saturday, September 3, 2016

President Taft, Governor McKinley and the “Lucky Seventh” Inning – the History and Origins of the Ceremonial “First Pitch” and the “Seventh Inning Stretch”

William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States, is remembered as America’s biggest President (340 lbs) and America’s biggest baseball fan.  He is generally (but mistakenly) credited with helping initiate two long-standing American baseball traditions, the ceremonial first ball and the seventh inning stretch; both on the same day. (He was also nearby when “Happy Hour” was invented)

President Taft's First Pitch Ball, 1910.  Cincinnati Enquirer, April 25, 1910, page 8.

On April 14, 1910, President Taft threw out the first ball of the the Washington Senators’ opening day game with the Philadelphia Athletics, inaugurating the tradition of American Presidents throwing "first pitches" at Major League baseball games:

Catcher Street stood at the home plate ready to receive the ball, but the President knew the pitcher was the man who usually began business operations with it, so he threw it straight to Pitcher Walter Johnson.  The throw was a little low, but the pitcher struck out his long arm and grabbed the ball before it hit the ground.  The ball was never actually put in play, as it is to be retained as a souvenir of the occasion.

The Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1910, page 7.

Seven innings later, the President reportedly stood up to stretch, thus spawning the traditional “seventh inning stretch,” or so it is widely believed.[i]

But Taft receives too much credit on both accounts.  Although it was in all likelihood the first "first pitch" by a sitting American President, it was not the first ceremonial “first ball” thrown at a professional baseball game; it wasn't even the first "first pitch" to by thrown by a chief executive of a country.  It was also not the first time fans made a point of standing during the seventh inning.  And, even if President Taft had inaugurated both practices, the dates are all wrong – he took part in both traditions the previous year; and even then, both traditions were already decades old.  But his widely reported and enthusiastic participation in our “National Game” may have helped cement those traditions in the collective American psyche.

President Taft and Baseball

Taft was not just any baseball fan – he was its biggest fan and its biggest cheerleader.  Presidential interest in baseball was followed particularly closely because baseball was America’s “National Game.”  It was already becoming the “National Game” when President Johnson broke his promise to attend a game in 1865:

The New York Base Ball Club, the Atlantic, and several other clubs which are holding friendly matches in Washington, visited the President on Wednesday and were very cordially received.  The President promised, if possible, to be present at the game of base-ball that would take place at Washington in September, on the occasion of the visit of the Excelsior Club of Brooklyn, the players being anxious to obtain his endorsement of what is fast becoming a national game.

The Cleveland Leader, September 5, 1865, page 3.

President Taft, on the other hand, was a man of his word – or at least a man of conviction – and his conviction was baseball.  He is known to have attended at least a dozen games during his presidency,[ii] and was the first sitting President to take in a professional baseball game outside the friendly confines of Washington DC, attending games in Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis and his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.  His interest in the game gave it a certain gravitas:

The Evening Statesman (Walla Walla, Washington), September 25, 1909, page 3.
 The prestige which baseball gains by numbering among its admirers a president of the United States who has graced three major league diamonds during the current season is inestimable.  President Taft’s presence at the Washington baseball park, at Forbes field, Pittsburg’s new ball plant, and recently at the Chicago’s National league grounds means to the American public that its leading citizen, blessed with a clear mind and a great one, approves of its favorite pastime. . . .
President Taft is not a baseball fan because it is the popular pastime, but because he is one and because he not only likes the game, but knows it.

The Evening Statesman (Walla Walla, Washington), September 25, 1909, page 3.

Los Angeles Herald, June 19, 1910, page 8.

Taft may have had other reasons to take an interest in the game – it was a family business.  The President’s brother Charles, a newspaper editor in Cincinnati, had close business ties to the Chicago Cubs: [iii]

Before the 1906 season:

C. P. Taft was also dragged into the National League’s net when he was induced to pay $100,000 for the controlling interest in the Chicago club . . .  His club is in the hands of Charles W. Murphy, a former Cincinnati newspaper man, who at present is making things hum in the Windy City.

The Sun (New York), February 25, 1906, page 34.

Taft and Murphy turned the Cubs’ fortunes around.  They won the National League pennant that year, behind the fielding of Tinker, Evers and Chance (but lost the World Series to their cross-town rivals, the White Sox).

Charles Taft’s wife even helped put the nail in the coffin of former Cub (earlier the “White Stocking”) Hall of Famer, Cap Anson’s billiard parlor business:

The troubles of Cap Anson, which made Charles P. Taft, brother of the Republican candidate for President, a baseball promoter, Charles W. Murphy a magnate, and the Cubs pennant winners, culminated to-day, when Mrs. Anna S. Taft, wife of the nominee’s brother, was given a judgement for possession of premises occupied by A. C. Anson & Co. as a billiard hall at 135-141 Madison street.

Washington Herald, September 3, 1909, page 38.

Charles Taft’s interests in baseball did not end with the Cubs.  In 1910, he purchased the Phillies’ stadium (without taking any shares in the team); making him one of the most powerful men in baseball at the time:
The Jasper Weekly Courier (Jasper, Indiana), January 14, 1910, page 7.

Despite his rooting interests in the game, President Taft does not appear to have played organized baseball.  But he could hit; as he demonstrated in a friendly game between his campaign staff and the press corps during a break on his presidential campaign of 1908 (can you imagine Hilary or The Donald playing baseball with the press?). 

Candidate Taft entered the game in the bottom of the 8th, with no outs, the bases loaded and the score tied.  Despite being put out (by his son), he knocked in the deciding run:

. . . Mr. Taft drew back, swung his bat, hitting the ball fairly and sending it, rather a hot one, straight into the hands of his son Charley, who was the shortstop of the correspondents.  Charley held fast to it and put his distinguished father out. . . . As Judge Taft hit the ball Senator Beveridge started for second base and, of course, was put out, Charley thus figuring in a double play.  In the mix-up that followed one run scored and the “Steam Rollers” [(Taft’s team)]were encouraged to renewed efforts. 

The Cincinnati Enquirer, July 7, 1908, page 6.

His team won by three runs.

The ceremonial “first ball” President Taft threw at the Senator’s opening day game in 1910 may have been the first-ever Presidential “first pitch,” but it was not the first-ever ceremonial “first pitch” – it was not even President Taft’s first ceremonial “first pitch” as President.  Nor was his “seventh inning stretch” that day his first. 

On May 29, 1909, President Taft threw out the first pitch at a baseball game in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  Several hours later, he enjoyed what we now call a “seventh inning stretch” at a Pirates-Cubs game.

Well, to be fair, he threw out the first two pitches – his first pitch was no good – and the second one wasn’t much better.  It was not a professional game; it was a Yale alumni game (Taft went to Yale):

Not Much of a Pitcher.

President Taft With the Yale Men at Pittsburg.

Early in the afternoon President Taft grasped a bat as he started to the big ball field where the Yale alumni were choosing up sides.

“I will pitch,” said Mr. Taft as he dropped the bat and strode toward a big burdock leaf which did duty as a pitcher’s box.  A yell of delight went up from the thousands as they saw him poise in “the box.”  He gave a mighty heave.  The ball plunked into the grass about 50 feet short of the plate.

“William,” snorted Charles Taft, the real baseball end of the Taft family, in deepest disgust, while President Taft glared after the ball and glanced about as if he would make trouble.
“Some one greased the ball,” suggested United States Secretary of State Knox as soon as he could get his voice.
President Taft made one more effort, but it was worse than the first.  He clapped his hand to his shoulder as if he had injured it and walked lopsided off the burdock leaf smiling a real Taft smile.  The crowd of a few thousand simply roared in joy. – Pittsburg Dispatch to Cincinnati Enquirer.

The Barre Daily Times (Barre, Vermont), June 19, 1909, page 2.

In the game between two teams made up of Yale graduates at Pittsburg on Saturday.

A few hours (and a few more appearances) later, the President was whisked off to watch his brother’s Cubs play the Pittsburg Pirates Forbes’ Field.  It was the first time a sitting President attended a professional baseball game outside of Washington DC.  He did not throw out the first pitch – but he did stand up during the seventh inning:

In the seventh inning Mr. Taft stood up in his seat to bring luck to the home team, just as the loyal Pittsburg fans did.

The Sun, May 30, 1909, page 1.

Ceremonial First Pitches

No one knows who threw out the first ceremonial “first ball” or “first pitch” at a baseball game, but it is clear that it was not President Taft.  Taft was not even the first person to serve as President to throw out a ceremonial “first ball.”  President (then Governor) McKinley beat him to the punch by nearly twenty years:

Governor McKinley Started It.

Columbus, O., April 16. – The Western championship season opened here today under favorable auspices in spite of the cold and threatening weather.  There was a parade of the Columbus and Toledo clubs, with a band concert before the game, and Governor McKinley threw the ball into the diamond.

Omaha Daily Bee, April 17, 1892, page 2.

McKinley may have started that game, but even he did not start the tradition.  He may, however, have been one of the earliest.  I could only find one earlier example; at a double-header between Canton, Ohio and Wheeling, West Virginia of the Tri-State League:

The mayor of Wheeling pitched the first ball, and it was a very good one.

Pittsburg Dispatch, May 1, 1890, page 6.

Beginning in about 1895, however, numerous references to similar “first balls” appeared in newspapers in all corners of the United States:

New York City:

At the opening championship game of baseball at the polo grounds there were 20,000 persons present.  Mayor Strong threw a new ball from the upper tier of the grand stand to Umpire Lynch, and when the word came to play ball, the season of 1895 was formally opened.

The Evening Herald (Shenandoah, Pennsylvania), April 19, 1895, page 3.

Louisville, Kentucky:

With the weather all that could be desired, and a crowd numbering over 8,000 people, the opening of the season at Louisville was successful.  Mayor Tyler, escorted by President Stuckey, received an ovation as he walked out to the home plate and drove the sphere over the rubber.

The Roanoke Times, April 19, 1895, page 1.

Topeka, Kansas:

Governor Morrill will throw the first ball at the opening game of the season on the Topeka grounds May 16.

The Topeka State Journal (Kansas), April 24, 1895, page 5.

Bayonne, New Jersey:

There may be a brass band and, in all probability the newly-elected Mayor of Bayonne will throw the ball in for the opening game.

The Evening World, April 25, 1895, page 7.

Wheeling, West, Virginia:

When the mayor concluded, he threw the Reach [(a brand name)] ball into the diamond, Umpire McNierney in a fog-horn tone called “play ball” . . . .

The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, May 3, 1895, page 7.

In 1903, the Helena, Montana baseball team invited President Roosevelt, who was in the neighborhood visiting Yellowstone, to throw out the "first ball" of their season:

The Pioneer Express, April 3, 1903, page 7.

Although he apparently declined, he may have helped arrange for the Prime Minister of Japan to throw out the "first ball" of an American baseball tour of Japan in 1908:

The Hawaiian Star (Honolulu), August 18, 1908, page 6.
Whether the President had a hand in it or not, a former Prime Minister of Japan did throw out the "first ball" at the Reach All-American Club's first game in Japan; making Count Okuma in all likelihood the first Chief Executive (or former chief executive) of any country to throw out a ceremonial "first pitch":

Los Angeles Herald, November 23, 1908, page 6.

The practice of bringing in local politicians or VIPs appears to have been limited, for the most part, to opening day.  All of these early examples, and all of the numerous examples I browsed through, spanning the next two decades, were clustered in and around the months of March, April and May, the traditional starting dates for baseball seasons.

These early “first ball” proceedings could take on any number of forms.  Sometimes the VIP threw the ball in from the stands; on other occasions, the VIP took the pitcher’s mound; in some cases, an opposing batter stood in the batter’s box; and in some instances, multiple VIPs played several positions:

Lincoln. Neb., April 28. – The Lincoln Western league baseball club has secured the services of a distinguished battery for the local season’s opening on May 10.  William J. Bryan is to mount the pine slab and pitch the first ball, while Governor A. C.Shallenberger is to don the windpad behind the slab.  Mayor Don L. Love, of Lincoln, armed with a bat, will endeavor to knock Bryan out of the box.

The Mitchell Capital (Mitchell, South Dakota), April 28, 1910, page 2.

Mayor William A. Magee then entered into the festivities by tossing out the ball from his box in the balcony.  The mayor showed speed and accuracy in his throw to Director Morin, who stood on the first base line.  Morin, not to be outdone, gathered in the ball in a style that made everyone sit up and take notice . . . .  The Pirates took their position in the field with Gibson behind the bat.  Huggins, second baseman for St. Louis, the first batter up, faced Director Morin.  Then he jumped about three feet into the air.  Director Morin had pitched a hot inshoot that went straight for Huggins’ legs.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 22, 1910, page 11.

As long-lived as the tradition of the ceremonial “first ball” is, the tradition of the “Lucky Seventh” inning, the precursor to the “seventh inning stretch,” is much older.

“Lucky Seventh” Inning

The “seventh inning stretch” is a time-honored baseball tradition in which nearly everyone in the stadium stands up at their seat before the home team bats in the bottom of the seventh inning to sing the song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”  For Americans who grew up with the tradition, it is a beautiful, shared communal experience.   

The earliest example of the expression, “the seventh inning stretch” (that I could find), dates to 1903.  The discussion of the stretch suggests that the practice was not universal, even if practiced widely elsewhere:
Oregon Daily Journal, June 29, 1903, page 3.

The suggestion appears to have found fertile ground:

Oregon Daily Journal, June 30, 1903, page 3.

The expression was common by 1913, although it was also called “the stand up inning” on occasion.  All of the elements of the modern “seventh inning stretch” – the standing and (on occasion) singing – were firmly entrenched, under one name or the other, before 1910. 

The ritual singing of singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” however, dates to only about 1940.  The song itself, however, has been a popular staple of baseball games since its debut in  about June 1908.  Although there are numerous accounts of the song being sung before or during games in 1908 and afterwards, none of them unambiguously suggest its having been sung during the “seventh inning stretch.”

The modern “seventh inning stretch” grew out of an old-timey baseball superstition, the “Lucky Seventh” inning.  The “Lucky Seventh” was generally considered to be the second half of the seventh inning, when the home team came up to bat.  It was the moment in the game when the home team was expected (or hoped) to experience a string of good luck.  To encourage the team’s good fortunes, fans sometimes rose, sang, cheered, and otherwise "rooted" the team on, with the hope (or expectation) that their exertions would somehow transfer to the team.  It didn’t always work.

“Everybody up.”
“All stretch.”
“The lucky seventh.”
“This is when we win.”

Every baseball fan in the country knows what those remarks mean.

For years the seventh inning of a baseball game has been known as the “lucky seventh” and all sorts of mascotic influences are fondly imagined to be focused right in that particular period.  The home club is supposed to be the one on whom the smiles of Dame Fortune fall, but it makes no difference if the home team is put out in that inning and the visiting players clout the ball for keeps, it is still the same old “lucky seventh” the next day.

In New York at both polo grounds and American league park it is the custom in the interval between the sixth and seventh inning for all the spectators to stand up even if they do not stretch themselves.  The mere act of rising is sufficient, according to the fan code of ethics to show one is rooting for the home team.  The same custom prevails on nearly every baseball grounds in the country, and recently in Chicago on a very hot day when every spectator of the over 20,0000 at the National league park was either coatless or white shirt waisted, as the immense assemblage rose to its feet it resembled a mammoth bank of snow moving restlessly as if preparing for an avalanche of the “beautiful.”  It was as a spectacle a pretty sight, but the sentiment behind the move of unity showed a loyalty of feeling to the home players that was even prettier than the mere scene.

El Paso Herald, July 23, 1910, page 22.

The same article recounts “Cap” Anson’s tall-story about the tradition’s origins.  His story, however, is demonstrably false:

In the early ‘70s the Athletics, of Philadelphia, and the Boston Red Stockings were playing a very important series of games in the Quaker City, on the result of which the championship of that year depended.
. . .

Ever since that great game the seventh inning has been called the ‘lucky seventh.’

El Paso Herald, July 23, 1910, page 22.

To make a long story short, he claims to have hit his seventh home run of the season, in the seventh inning, scoring the team’s seventh run, their pitcher was the seventh son of a seventh son, their mascot was seven years old, and they won their seventh game in a row, to capture the title.  It makes a good story, but in 1871, the only season of the 1870s in which the Athletics finished in first place, they finished the season with a four-game winning streak, not seven – and their longest streak of the season was only six games – not seven.[iv] It seems likely that their pitcher was not the seventh son of a seventh son either.

Another source gives a more plausible account of the origin of the “Lucky Seventh”; one supported by contemporary accounts of the game.

In 1860, before the age of professional baseball, two New York City powerhouse baseball clubs, Atlantic and Excelsior, faced off in a highly anticipated, closely watched series of three games.[v]  In the first game, the defending champion Atlantics were embarrassed 23-4.  They were looking for revenge when they faced off in the second game of the series on August 9, 1860.  But after falling behind 8 runs to 0 after three innings, and finding themselves down 12-6 after six, the Atlantics needed a miracle – or some luck – to pull out the win.  They found it in the “Lucky Seventh” inning:

Atlantics Start “Lucky Seventh,”

That seventh inning, which was thereafter called “the lucky seventh,” was a memorable one in the annals of the Atlantics’ career, for a finer display of batting was never before seen in this vicinity. . . . 

The result of this inning decided the game, the Atlantics making 9 runs and bringing their total up to 15.  The Excelsiors just missed tieing the score, and that was all they could do, so brilliantly did the Atlantics play in the field.

The Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York), December 25, 1910, page 45.

This story at least jibes with contemporary accounts of the game:

[T]hen commenced their 7th innings, which will hereafter be spoken of as an event in the annals of their career, for a finer display of batting was never seen on a ball ground, this notable innings being marked, too, by one of the greatest instances of fielding ever witnessed in this country, Russell’s catch of the ball sent by Price to left field being one of the finest ever made. 

“Grand Base Ball Match, the Atlantics Victorious,” The New York Clipper, August 18, 1860, page 139.

New York Daily Tribune, August 10, 1860, page 8.

The third game ended in a disputed draw before even reaching the seventh inning.  The two teams never played again. [vi]

The claim that this game was the origin of the “Lucky Seventh” was made fifty years after the fact, so perhaps we should take it with a grain of salt.  The number seven, after all, had long been considered lucky.  It is possible that any number of teams, at any number of times, experienced good fortune in the seventh inning and could have called it lucky for that reason. 

But the fact that this particular seventh inning took place in a high-profile rematch of the two highest profile teams of their day, and at the dawn of baseball-mania in the United States, makes it at least plausible that could have inspired the expression.    If it did, the sportswriter of 1860 was right; the collective memory of the game lives on today in the “seventh inning stretch” – despite our collective ignorance as to why.

 The earliest evidence of a crowd standing up during the “Lucky Seventh” inning dates to the late 1860s.  Whether it was related to the “Lucky Seventh” superstition or merely reflected the need to stretch legs late in a long game is unclear.  In 1869, Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings wrote:

The spectators all arise between halves of the seventh inning, extend their legs and arms and sometimes walk about.  In so doing they enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a long posture upon hard benches.”

Twenty years later, the “Lucky Seventh” was a widespread baseball superstition and custom.

In Indianapolis in 1885:

The Lucky Seventh.

The fact that the seventh is the home team's lucky inning was again demonstrated at the Seventh Street Park yesterday afternoon . . . .

The Indianapolis Sentinel, May 29, 1885, page 5.

In Washington DC in in 1887:

Beaten By Detroit.

The rain that began to fall during the seventh inning of the Washington-Detroit game yesterday, and which eventually caused the game to be called before the home nine had a chance to try their side of the proverbial "lucky seventh," undoubtedly prevented the heavy-hitting Wolverines from adding some large figures to their batting record.

Evening Star (Washington DC), August 23, 1887, page 4.

In Chicago in 1888:

The black-hosed men [(Indianapolis Hoosiers)] made a rally in the heretofore lucky seventh.

The Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), July 26, 1888, page 6.

In Omaha in 1888:

Chicago Once More Shut Out By the Home Team.
. . .
[In the top of the seventh] For Chicago, Dwyer, Long and Crogan went out, just as easy as the pleurisy.

The lucky seventh was now reached, and in this the Omahogs clinched their victory by adding two more tallies to their score.

Omaha Daily Bee (Nebraska), May 11, 1888, page 2.

In New York in 1889:

New York, May 29. – The New York and Indianapolis teams played their second game together at St. George, Staten island, to-day, before about the smallest crowd of the season – 866 half-frozen mortals. . . .

In the Giants’ lucky seventh inning the champions scored three runs and took the lead.

The Indianapolis Journal, May 30, 1889, page 3.

The earliest example unambiguously combining the practice of standing up with the "Lucky Seventh" superstition comes from game one of the 1889 World Series:

As the seventh opened somebody cried, 'Stretch for luck!' And the vast throng on the grand stand rose gradually and then settled down, just as long grass bends to the breath of the zephyr.

"A Pause that Refreshes," Bruce Anderson,  Sports Illustrated, April 16, 1990 (citing The Sporting News' contemporary report of the game).

The Washington Senators' fans "stretched for good luck" in 1896 - but it didn't always help:

The Giants' Rally.

Everybody on the bleachers arose in the seventh and stretched for good luck, but it all went to the Giants.  

Evening Star (Washington DC), April 17, 1896, page 8.

Curiously, in 1899, there was a reference to a "between innings stretch" at a "Fireman's Tournament":

A large grand stand will be erected near the track, besides several bleachers and once more we will hear the old familiar, between inning's "stretch." . . . The grand stand will be erected near the plug. . . . [O]ur boys do not intend to have the fault . . . of having the races too far from the grand stand.

The Pittsburg Daily Headlight (Pittsburg, Kansas), April 27, 1899, page 4.
In 1903, the “Lucky Seventh” even worked when only one person dared to stand up for a lost cause:

In the “lucky” seventh the locals won the game. . . .

. . . Only one “rooter” at the park yesterday had the nerve to stand up for luck in the seventh inning, but he was the mascot, just the same, and started the fun.

Evening Star (Washington DC), September 17, 1903, page 9.             

College baseball fans respected the powers of the “Lucky Seventh” inning in 1903:

With the score 9 to 5 at the end of Illinois’s half of the seventh, the Michigan supporters had given up all hopes of a victory, but in the proverbial “lucky seventh” Michigan came within one of tying the score, and the addition of five in the next inning made the game secure.

The Michigan Alumnus, Volume 9, Number 84, May 1903, page 371.

At Yale in 1906, invoking the “Lucky Seventh” involved standing up and singing, not unlike the modern sing-along format.  In a home game against Harvard:

The best batters of Yale, leading the batting list, are up.  It is the seventh inning – the “lucky seventh.” As the surface of the Yale stands rises suddenly and sways in rhythm with the blue flags breaking out higher above it, at first you seem to see rather than hear that the “Elis” are singing. 

“In the Winning of the Game,” Edward Balmer, American Magazine, Volume 62, Number 1, May 1906, page 84. 

When the Chicago White Sox visited the Los Angeles Angels (of the Pacific League) during spring training before the 1908 season[vii], the Angels fans unleashed a new secret weapon – the “Lucky Seventh.”  Down by five runs going into the bottom of the seventh, they turned things around.  They lost the game, but only after forcing five extra innings:

Up to the lucky seventh, which the Angels have adopted for their rabbit foot this year, even the dyed-in-the-wool rooter would have bet his grandmother’s false teeth that his price of admission was gone to the wildcat investment society and he couldn’t have been blamed for the opinion.

Los Angeles Herald, March 15, 1908, page 21.

The New York Giants and the Chicago Cubs faced each other on the last day of the 1908 regular season; both two teams sitting atop the National League standings with identical records.  Playing in New York City, and trailing 4-1 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Giants looked to the “Lucky Seventh” to turn the tide:

Agony was piled upon agony when New York came up for the seventh time.  With the crowd shrieking for the “lucky seventh” to work its spell, Devlin faced Brown and drove out as pretty a single as was ever made.

New York Tribune, October 9, 1908, page 5. 

The Giants put two more men on base, to load the bases with no outs.  The “Lucky Seventh” appeared to be living up to its name.  The manager sent in a pinch-hitter for Christy Mathewson.  The pinch hitter had not played for several weeks following an injury, so the stage was set for a Kirk Gibson-like miracle.  But alas; although he hit a sacrifice fly to score one run, they were quickly put out, and went scoreless for the rest of the game. 

The “Lucky Seventh” came up short (although one might argue, that just getting the bases loaded with no outs was all the luck they needed – so perhaps it was human error – not a failure of the seventh inning’s mojo).  Two people died at the game, although it is unclear whether it was during scramble for a good view before the game or the melee after the game, when fans mobbed the field and attacked the retreating Cubs with pop bottles.[viii]  The “Lucky Seventh” did not help them.

In 1909, the Winston-Salem, North Carolina paper reprinted an account of a poor outing by a favorite son who was pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers:

When everything was as unrumpled as a freshly ironed shirt and Dodger rooters were settling down after a seventh inning stretch, something gruesome happened to the pitching importation, Mr. Dent, from Winston-Salem, N. C.  Four hits, including home runs by Mitchell and Egan . . . .

Twin-City Daily Sentinal (Winston-Salem, North Carolina), September 3, 1909, page 6. 

Two weeks later, President Taft was involved in a “Lucky Seventh” in Chicago, where he watched the Cubs play the New York Giants:

Mr. Taft received many hearty cheers from the base ball enthusiasts when he stood up with the rest of the “fans” at the beginning of the “lucky seventh.”

The Burlington Free Press (Burlington, Vermont), September 17, 1909, page 1.

When asked whether he supported Chicago or New York, the politician responded, “I’m for Cincinnati.”

By 1924, the tradition and rituals of the “seventh inning stretch,” by that name, were so entrenched in the game that Ty Cobb and the King of England got in trouble for failing to stand up and stretch. 

When the Yankees and the Detroit Tigers missed the World Series in 1924, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth attended the games as journalists.  Ty Cobb, who played for the American League Tigers, was expected to stand up and root for the home team Washington Senators.  I guess he was too busy to stand – or unwilling to root for a team that beat his team out for the pennant:

Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth occupied seats in the rear of the seats of the press stand where they jotted down notes from which to write or dictate their special .

In Sunday’s game when the seventh inning stretch came, Ty sat still and yells came from various sections for him to get up.  However, he held his ground, pulling his hat over eyes and resting his head in his hands and got a lot of boos.

The Morning Herald (Uniontown, Pennsylvania), October 7, 1924, page 11.

In November of 1924, the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants played a series of exhibition games in England.  When the King did not immediately stand up for the “seventh inning stretch” the fans were not amused (or maybe they were):

Then came the seventh inning and the question arose, how far would royalty observe baseball tradition?  Some one at the back of the stand shouted, “All up.”  The spectators rose, but the King looked puzzled.  The [American] Ambassador took off his hat and bending to the Queen, began to explain.  The Prince knew what the trouble was and came to the rescue.  He explained to his parents, and they stood up wondering, evidently, what it all meant.

But they did not stretch.  No King has ever yet yawned in public and would not today.  The royal pair just stood still.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 7, 1924, page 1.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Although music appears to have been a regular feature of some “Lucky Seventh” rituals even before 1908, the song itself could not have become part of the tradition until it was released in 1908.

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” words by Jack Norworth, music by Albert Von Tilzer, was filed with the United States Copyright on May 2, 1908.  By the end of June, it was popular everywhere. 
The song was certainly sung at baseball games within days or weeks of its debut. 

One of the earliest accounts of the song mentions that players from the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers enjoyed it:

Detroit Free Press, June 3, 1908, page 9.

Other early reports show that it was sung in all corners of the country, on stage or accompanying baseball films or slide shows.  The lyricist’s wife, Nora Bayes, a singer who helped popularize the song, played in a celebrity baseball game that summer.  I can’t imagine that she would not have sung the song there:

Among those who will be seen on the diamond in costume, are: . . . Josephine Cohan, Nora Bayes . . . Cora Livingston, the female wrestler; the Custer girls, from “The Yankee Prince,” and scores of others as well known.

The Evening Statesman, (Walla Walla, Washington),  July 16, 1908. page 4.

Lyricist Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes.

The song lyrics lent themselves perfectly to a women’s baseball game.  The lyrics of the chorus, which are sung during a "seventh inning stretch," are familiar to nearly everyone who has attended a baseball game.  The verses are less well known, but they put the chorus into context:

Katie Casey was baseball 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 . . . .

“Take me out to a ball game . . .

The song was so popular that George M. Cohan[ix] ( of “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” fame) quickly released the more forgettable “Take Your Girl to the Ball Game,” with a copycat theme, copycat melody and a copycat chorus.

This advertisement for Ladies’ Day in Spokane, Washington in 1909 played off the song's lyrics and suggests that the song may have been sung at the game:

The Spokane Press, May 12, 1909.
In October, 1908, as the last glimmer of hope faded on the Pittsburg Pirates’ season, their fans, watching the progress of the last game of the season through telegraphic updates at a public bulletin board, sang the song during the seventh inning – but to no avail.  Interestingly, they sang the song exactly as it might be sung today, with an emphasis on the “root, root, root,” and substituting the team’s name for the words, “home team” in the lyrics:

[W]hen Pittsburg tied the score hats went up in the air and a yell like that of an election crowd began to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” giving particular stress to the line, “Root, root, root for the Pirates,” until it was taken up all along the line.

With each announcement of another run to Chicago’s credit after this the groans came as though from a thousand dentists’ chairs, every one containing a patient with an offending molar.  Finally when the eighth inning had been announced, and it appeared nothing but an earthquake could lose the game for Chicago, the crowd became silent and still.  It was all over in a few moments.

The Daily Republican (Monongahela, Pennsylvania), October 5, 1908, page 1.

Given the popularity of the song, it may be safe to assume that it was sung at many baseball games that year and the next, despite the paucity of specific references detailing the fact.  Fans of the Syracuse football team even sang a revised version of the song before its game against Carlisle, played in Buffalo, New York in October 1908:

Tune: "Take me out to the ball game."

Come with us to Olympic Park,
Join this Syracuse crowd,
We've got a team that's crackerjack,
Carlisle will wish that we never came back;
We will root, root, root for Syracuse, 
And fill Carlisle with shame,
With touchdowns 5 or 6 times at the foot-ball game.

The Buffalo Commercial, October 10, 1908, page 8.

But the song didn't help.  Carlisle won the game by a score of 12-0, with three of their field goals kicked by Jim Thorpe, in his second season with the team.

One year later, fans in Pittsburg enjoyed a minstrel show version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” before a double-header with the Cubs:

The long wait for the battle to start was made enjoyable by the presence of Lew Dockstader’s band.  The minstrel men played tune after tune and when “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and other appropriate selections were rendered, the throng showed appreciation by clapping vigorously.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 7, 1909, page 1.

The song was so popular that one writer quipped that it might soon be the national anthem:

Pittsburg Press, April 11, 1909, page 21.

The song’s initial period of popularity waned, but the song was not forgotten.  In 1933, for example, the commissioners of both leagues reportedly designated it as the official theme song of Major League Baseball:

Pittsburg Press, April 25, 1933, page 24.
One prescient sportswriter wondered what the new designation would mean:

Just what specific part of the official yodel will play in the conduct of the game is not clear.  Perhaps the customers will be expected to sing the chorus while standing during the seventh inning stretch.  This will call for cheer leaders and music directors.

Setting the game to words and music is liable to lead to new confusions.  Even now the customers stand and bare their heads in patriotic reverence for any piece ranging from “Old Man River” to “Eadie Was a Lady.”  To them anything played in a ball park is a national anthem.

Pittsburg Press, April 25, 1933, page 24.

But despite the prediction, they were still singing the song before games in Pittsburgh in 1943:

Pittsburg Post Gazette, June 17, 1943, page 9.

But in Seattle, things were different.  They initiated the seventh-inning group sing-along in 1940.

Emil Sick, a Canadian beer brewing magnate, entered the American beer market when Prohibition ended in 1933.  In 1934, he purchased the Northwest distribution rights to Rainier Beer.   In 1938, perhaps looking for a place where he could sell a lot of beer, he purchased Seattle’s dying baseball franchise, the Seattle Indians.  He renamed the team after one of his beer brands, Rainier Beer, threw in a bit of showmanship, and turned the team’s fortunes around.[x]

“Wayback Machine: A Fire That Changed Our Sports,” David Eskenazi,

Early in the 1940 season, a sportswriter for the Oakland (California) Tribune who was in town to cover the Oakland Oaks admired a novel element of Rainiers’ games – a sing-along during the “seventh inning stretch”:

One thing sort of chummy-like about the crowds at these ball games – and they’ve been big ones – is the community sing they hold during the seventh-inning stretch.  Prompted by a young sprout in the announcer’s booth, the spectators chime in with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and sing it at the top of their lungs.

Oakland Tribune, May 25, 1940, page 13.

Later that season, the same newspaper encouraged other teams of the Pacific League to adopt the practice:

The community singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” by Seattle fans, among the most rabid in the country, during the seventh inning stretch is a pleasant custom which should be practiced in other cities on the Pacific Coast League circuit.

Oakland Tribune, September 24, 1940, page 26.

Four years later, the local custom received some national attention in Jim Hutcheson’s syndicated column, The Clubhouse:

Emil Sick, whose regime brought a flair of showmanship to Seattle’s Pacific Coast League park, assures that he would want nothing introduced which would cheapen the game or put it on a vaudeville level, but:

“The turnstile success of the Dodgers in recent years has proved that baseball needs something in addition to the game to provide entertainment for the fans who might not be interested in the technical phases of the game.

“Looking at the diamond picture with less technical eyes, I believe that baseball is primarily a show.  We can use more special nights, more bands, more hoopla to add to the excitement.  And as far as I am concerned, Seattle will have that kind of baseball entertainment from now on.”

. . . Seattle believes it is the only ball town where they have group singing at the games.  The stadium echoes to “take me out to the ball game” during the seventh inning stretch.

That’s just a little addition to the color out at Sick’s place, along with special nights for the manager, for Al Schacht comedy or for a favorite player.  Eastern visitors often have praised these special nights.

The Evening Independent,Massillon Ohio, February 3, 1944, page 14.

The custom traveled down the coast to Salem, Oregon, where they appear to have sung the song during the 1948 season.  In an opinion piece encouraging fans to make some noise to encourage improvements to the stadium parking lot:

Come on, you fans – I know there are many of you who can sing this song with much more enthusiasm than you sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch.”

Daily Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon), June 16, 1948, page 4.

And by the 1950s, teams across the country had adopted the new tradition:

Coffee and blankets were standard equipment in the stands, and the Red Wing players used the same.  Betzel wouldn’t allow the Java in the Syracuse dugout . . . “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was p.a.’d during the seventh inning stretch.  It will become standard operating procedure.

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), May 12, 1950, page 42.


history origin "first pitch" "ceremonial first pitch" "seventh inning stretch" "lucky seventh" Taft
history origin "first pitch" "ceremonial first pitch" "seventh inning stretch" "lucky seventh" Taft
history origin "first pitch" "ceremonial first pitch" "seventh inning stretch" "lucky seventh" Taft
history origin "first pitch" "ceremonial first pitch" "seventh inning stretch" "lucky seventh" Taft
history origin "first pitch" "ceremonial first pitch" "seventh inning stretch" "lucky seventh" Taft
history origin "first pitch" "ceremonial first pitch" "seventh inning stretch" "lucky seventh" Taft

[iii] The Cubs’ official history lists Charles Taft as the “owner” from 1914 through 1916; and as the financier behind Charles Murphy’s purchase of the Cubs in 1905.  Contemporary accounts variously describe Taft as the “owner” or “promoter” during and after 1906.  One item from late-1906 asserts that Taft transferred his shares to Murphy in some sort of power move designed to gain complete control of the team. Salt Lake Herald, November 3, 1906, page 3 (“The plot, it is related, was busted when C. P. Taft turned over his holdings to President C. W. Murphy, thus giving the latter a controlling hand in the affairs of the Cubs.”).  He was not a disinterested bystander, in any case.
[v] For a synopsis of both teams’ seasons, see, “Champions 1860-1869,”
[vii] The Chicago White Sox made regular trips to California for spring training for many years.  They were there in 1912, for example, at about the same time the word “Jazz” first appeared in print – it was used as the name of the new curve ball by an alcoholic pitcher for Portland. See, “Is Jasbo Jazz? – or just Hokum and Gravy?” Early Sports ‘n’ Pop-Culture History Blog.
[viii] The Austin Daily Herald (Austin, Minnesota), October 9, 1908, page 1.
[ix] George M. Cohan also wrote the sketch comedy, “The Wise Guys,” the sequel to which introduced the word, “Bozo” to the language.  See, What Came First, “Bozo” or “bozo”? – an Etymology of Bozo.

NOTE: Edited November 21, 2018, to include a reference to a football version of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" sung at the Syracuse-Carlisle football game in October 1908.
NOTE: Edited January 14, 2019, to add the photo of Taft's first pitch ball, and minor edits to introductory paragraphs.

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