Tonight is the 2009 Opening Night for Major League Baseball. At long last. In the seventh inning of tonight's Philles-Braves game, fans will rise in the middle of the seventh to stretch and sing Take me out to the ball game, a tradition that took hold with Harry Caray in Chicago and has grown in popularity far beyond what vaudeville songwriter Jack Norworth could have imagined back in 1908. (In Seattle, fans follow Take Me Out with the 1960s hit Louie Louie by the Kingsmen, apparently because it was recorded here in the Northwest.)
I will confess to you that I don't like singing any of those songs before, during or after a game. I am not one of those romantics who believes baseball is a metaphor for life, and so on. In the middle of the seventh, if I don't need to hurry up to the bathroom then I am just eager to see the pitcher warm up. I find the singing a nuissance (bah-humbug).
And so when I received an email from author Amy Whorf McGuiggan promoting her new book, Take Me Out to the Ball Game: the story of the sensational baseball song (Nebraska), I will also confess that I was not immediately excited. But the book arrived nonetheless about a month ago, and I've just finished reading it.
Amy, who apparently reads our site and lives in Hingham, Mass., has researched and written a gem of a book that even a grinch like me enjoyed -- a lot. The author has painstakingly researched the confluence of baseball and vaudeville at the turn of the last century and produced a story that weaves together culture, immigration, history and our national pasttime.
There is reason for Cape fans to take notice. The Cape League started play in 1885, according to another gem of a book this year The Dickson Baseball Dictionary Third Edition. Casey at the Bat, the great baseball poem, was published in 1888, and then along comes Take Me Out to the Ball Game in 1908. These were the songs and cultural references that were the backdrop to the early days of the Cape League.
These were also troubling times when people were moving from a rural America to the cities in search of a better life.
But vaudeville and baseball were more than just entertainment, more than just business. The vaudville theater and teh baseball field were social laboratories where the great melting pot experiment was conducted...and where a sense of community was fostered within what seemed to be a fractured America.
The illustrations, particularly the gorgeous color collection in the book's middle-section, make Take Me Out a valuable investment for the baseball historian.
The sensational song is now a sensational read about a song and a country.