October 31, 2014

The Song Doesn’t Always Remain The Same

October 20, 2010 by · 4 Comments 

Baseball history, as far as I’m concerned, was made during Tuesday night’s 10-3 victory for the Texas Rangers over the New York Yankees in Game Four of the American League Championship Series.  In the bottom of the 7th inning actor Patrick Wilson came out to perform “God Bless America,” the singing of which has become the norm at Yankee Stadium since September 11, 2001.  But what was different is that when Mr. Wilson was announced he began singing a song I’d never heard before:

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

My father and I turned to each other and both wondered aloud what was going on.  But then, our ears were hit with the ring of the familiar:

God Bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Now that’s more like it.  I felt a little stupid that I never knew there was a whole other part to one of the most moving, patriotic and sporting songs ever sung.

A little bit of research unearthed the fact Irving Berlin originally wrote “God Bless America” during World War I when he was serving in the U.S. Army but nothing really became of it.  Twenty years later, with World War II lurking, Berlin revived it and added the first part which Wilson sang at Yankee Stadium.  There’s even a great clip on YouTube of Kate Smith singing the long version, calling it a “new song,” and then we see, who else?  Ronald Reagan, as among those appreciating it.  That clip is from the 1943 movie “This is the Army” which apparently has the songs revival as its core.

Kate Smith is the one who’s always been most associated with the song and went on to sing it at sporting events including the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals and the 1976 Rose Bowl.  Wikipedia says Smith always sang the long version but the only clip I can find of that longer version is from the Reagan movie.  Before the hockey game she sang the traditional shorter version and likely did before the Rose Bowl, too.  If the singing of the longer version of “God Bless America,” with the introductory lyrics, is common at ballparks or anywhere else it’s news to me.  I’m a bit partial to the shorter, more common version but maybe that’s just because it’s what I’m used to.

Music at ballparks has been a part of the game for a long time.   According to various sources, the first baseball song appeared back in 1858,  “The Base Ball Polka!”  Rockin’, no doubt.  Fifty years later Jack Norworth was riding a train to a ballgame in New York and jotted down the lyrics to a little song that became “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” which has caught on a little bit.  There are some doubters as to the veracity of Norworth’s account of writing the song and, in any event, historians say the song was actually more popular at movie theatres in the early 20th Century than it was at ballgames.  After all, the song is “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” which is sort of a silly thing to demand when you’re already at a game.  Moviegoers used to sing it while reels were being changed.  They had to do something.

Maybe it’s a strange bit of foreshadowing, or musical justice, that “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” appeared in 1908.  Baseball fans across the globe, and especially on Chicago’s North Side, know that 1908 was the last time the Cubs won the World Series.  “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” is associated with the Cubs and Wrigley Field more so than any other team or ballpark.  The song was sang at ballgames, before ballgames and at various other times for decades at many parks but didn’t become truly popular as a sing-a-long until Harry Caray grabbed a microphone and started singing it, and, at the behest of baseball bon vivant Bill Veeck, who owned the White Sox, urged the Comiskey Park crowds on Chicago’s South Side to sing along with him.  That was in the 1970’s.  Then, in 1981, Caray went to the North Side to announce for the Cubs and with an improving team, a gentrifying neighborhood around Wrigley Field and the explosion of cable TV coverage, Caray’s seventh inning stretch became a national attraction.  But it all started on the South Side, with Chicago’s other team and so maybe that song, which many people believe is the Cubs’ signature, is actually their curse.

When Caray started belting out “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in the 1970’s at old Comiskey Park he did so to the accompaniment of Nancy Faust on the organ.  Ms. Faust began playing the organ for the White Sox in 1970 and continued pounding the keys all the way through this season but is now hanging up the pedal board and it appears there will be pre-recorded music on the South Side from now on.  Faust’s retirement comes just a few months after another great silence, the death of former Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard.  Sheppard was the man behind the player introductions in the Bronx from 1951 to 2007, an unimaginable reign of mellifluous grace, elocution and elegance.  Sheppard would have turned 100 today, October 20th.   He was called the “Voice of God.”  He probably liked “God Bless America” in any version.  He probably liked any song that emanates from a ballpark on a crisp October night and carries out into the darkness.

Comments

4 Responses to “The Song Doesn’t Always Remain The Same”
  1. Jim Charlton says:

    Alas, history was not made at Yankee Stadium with the singing of the introductory stanza by Mr Wilson. This is the version that Irish tenor Ronan Tynan used every time he sang ‘God Bless America.’ I think Wilson was merely honoring Tynan by singing it. Mr Tynan was banished to Boston after he made an awkward joke about Jews to a perspective buyer in his apartment building. Tynan still owns an apartment in New York and I hope the Yankees bring him back.

  2. joe r. says:

    Well, of course that’s how the song begins. We were taught the song in grade school and naturally were taught the opening as just part of the song.

    As a Cub fan, I wish they’d ditch the whole celebrity-plug-driven 7th inning stretch songfest. If they REALLY feel it’s necessary, just play a tape of Harry over the sound system.

  3. stratobill says:

    I wish they would scrap the singing of “God Bless America” from baseball games completely. I wouldn’t mind if they also stopped playing the Star Spangled Banner at the start of games.

    What do these songs have to do with baseball? Nothing! I’m trying to think of how these traditions got started. I suppose it was due to “patriotic fervor” during wartime, but they’ve really turned into pretty meaningless “feel good” moments that don’t do a damn thing for anyone.

  4. Ted Leavengood says:

    Mark Twain said that he never smoked more than one cigar at a time. I cannot imagine not singing of the National Anthem to start a ball game and the tradition dates to when baseball was the National Pastime. The two just go together. It is the first cigar and quite enough. Having a second patriotic song is like trying to smoke a second cigar. It is really rather silly and unnecessary, regardless what verse you sing.

    Then of course there are the people who don’t like the song because they attribute some political or religious fervor to it that is unbecoming. Personally I remember the song as the Kate Smith anthem of the Nixon years. That whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. So when the song is song, I go for a beer to wash the taste away–an to some degree the vision of that fat broad. I prefer Bass Ale, although Newcastle, Yuengling and others will wash it away just as well.

    In Baltimore they prefer to sing the John Denver idiocy, “I’m Just a Country Boy.” There I prefer to go for a crab cake sandwich AND a beer because it just seems fitting. Either way, I am usually back to my seat before play resumes and I have something far more satisfying than anything Kate Smith ever gave anyone–let your imagination run wild.

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