Naturally, they hoped it would become popular. But they could never have imagined that it would go on to become one of America’s three most frequently-played songs, along with “Happy Birthday” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Norworth wrote the lyrics for the song while riding on a subway train in New York. Von Tilzer wrote the music.
They took the title from a line in the chorus: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
According to Norworth’s account, the inspiration for the song came to him while riding the subway in Manhattan. At one of the stops, he saw a sign advertising that day’s baseball game at the Polo Grounds, where the New York Giants played.
At the time, Norworth was a popular performer for the Ziegfeld Follies and an ambitious lyricist. He wasn’t a baseball fan and had never been to a major league game.
However, he knew baseball fans were excited that year about the pennant race between the Giants, the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
When he saw the sign advertising the game at the Polo Grounds, he suddenly realized that it might be good timing for a song about baseball.
While still on the train, Norworth took out a pencil and a piece of paper and rapidly scribbled the lyrics that came to his mind. (That piece of paper is now part of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Library’s collection.)
Norworth took his lyrics to Tin Pan Alley music publisher and songwriter Albert Von Tilzer. Von Tilzer set the lyrics to a waltz tune he’d been writing and on May 2, 1908, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was copyrighted by Von Tilzer’s York Music Company.
That year, several versions of the song were recorded, including one by Norworth and his wife, singer and actress Nora Bayes.
The best selling version was by Billy Murray and the Haydn Quartet. It became a huge hit (the biggest of Murray’s career) and gave the song its initial nationwide fame.
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” remained a highly popular song for the next several decades, but its even wider modern fame began in the 1970s, when the beloved baseball sportscaster Harry Caray made it a tradition to sing the song during the seventh inning stretch.
Today, most Americans know the chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” even if they’re not baseball fans:
“Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.”
If you’re not familiar with the verses of the song, you may not know that the story they tell is about a female baseball fan who insists on having her boyfriend take to her a ball game on their weekend date.
In the 1908 version, Norworth named this “baseball mad” bachelorette Katie Casey. Here’s the original first verse:
“Katie Casey was baseball mad,
Had the fever and had it bad.
Just to root for the home town crew,
Ev’ry sou [sou is an old slang term for a coin]
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…’” [which she explains in the famous chorus]
In 1927, Norworth updated the lyrics of the song and renamed the young lady Nelly Kelley.
You can see the full lyrics of the 1908 and 1927 versions side-by-side in the Baseball Wiki entry about “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
If you want to know all the facts and trivia about this grand old song, there’s a book for that. In fact, there are two: Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (2008), by Andy Strasberg, Robert Thompson and Tim Wiles and Take Me Out to the Ball Game: The Story of the Sensational Baseball Song (2009), by Amy Whorf McGuiggan.
There are also several books for children that feature the song, including one by Carly Simon that includes a CD album of classic baseball songs
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