One of the most common sports jokes is "What are the last two words of the American national anthem? Play ball!" Historians don't agree on precisely when the sports-anthem tie began, but everyone acknowledges that it started with baseball. Some say that baseball itself was responsible for helping Francis Scott Key's stirring song to be officially ordained as our National Anthem in 1931. Performed at games regularly as early as Opening Day 1897, it was during Game 1 of the 1918 World Series that the two became forever intertwined.
|1814 copy of "The Star-Spangled Banner,"|
the first print edition to include both music and lyrics.
Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
On Sept. 4, the day before the first game of the Series, a bomb had ripped through the Chicago Federal Building, killing four people and injuring 30. The Industrial Workers of the World were thought to be behind the attack, retaliating for the conviction of several IWW members on federal sedition charges. Domestic terrorism didn't exactly generate interest in a lighthearted day at the ballpark. For the opener at Comiskey, newspapers optimistically predicted a sellout crowd. When barely 19,000 showed up, a Chicago Herald-Examiner headline proclaimed, "Scalpers Are Making No Money!" The glum crowd in the stands for Game 1 remained nearly silent through most of Babe Ruth's 1-0 shutout victory over Chicago's Hippo Vaughn. Not even the Cubs Claws, the forerunners to Wrigley's Bleacher Bums, could muster any real enthusiasm.
|General John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing|
Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
|Fred Thomas, 1918|
Credit: The Society for American Baseball Research
Not to be outdone, the Red Sox ratcheted up the pageantry when the Series relocated to Fenway Park for games four through six. Boston moved "The Star-Spangled Banner" from the seventh-inning stretch to the pregame festivities, and the team coupled the playing of the song with the introduction of wounded soldiers who had received free tickets to the day’s game. After the war, the song continued to be played at games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays and the World Series.
During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war. A 1931 Congressional resolution named the song as the official national anthem, in part due to the popularity bolstered by baseball. By the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the National Anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual and other sports leagues eventually adopted the practice as well. From then on, the National Anthem has been performed at every major league baseball game played in the United States. While sometimes a military band will play, it is also common to have hometown singers (a student choir, or a "local-gone-famous") at regular games, while often big-name American singer carry out this tribute to America during the nationally-televised playoff games.
|New York native Billy Joel singing the National Anthem |
City Field, home of the New York Mets
Game 3 of the 2015 World Series
By slgckgc [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Star-Spangled Banner has signaled the start of a baseball game for over a century. At first, it was a traditional mid-game tune, but wartime patriotism made it a staple that to this day is the cue that the game's first pitch is about to be thrown. The 1918 World Series forever ordained the inspiring hymn as Baseball's Anthem.
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