What are the three best known songs in America? They are ones that immediately recognized by virtually everyone who lives in every corner of this great nation.

Coming up with the names of two of the three is relatively easy.

One is the “Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem. While the song is so difficult to sing, few of us can do it well and would be wise to not even try, but most of us can stumble through the lyrics of the first verse written by Frances Scott Key. However, hardly anyone knows the other verses because few of us have ever heard them. Nevertheless, when we hear the non-original tune, most of us know to stand in respect.

The second song in the big three in “Happy Birthday,” the most frequently sung song in the nation. It is sung at virtually every birthday gathering in the country, with only the name of the honoree changing.

However, the third well-known song in the exclusive list is one that does not immediately come to mind, or at least it didn’t to me, a huge baseball fan. It is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a song sung during the “seventh-inning stretch” of every Major League game and one for which most of us sing the chorus:

“Take me out to the ball game; take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don’t care if I ever get back. 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!”

I am willing to bet that even people who have zero interest in baseball and have never been to a game, can sing those lyrics

Well, guess what? Jack Norworth. who penned those lyrics in 1908, had never seen a baseball game at that time. But his words sure captured the spirit of those of us who love the game.

The song was a smash hit in the days before radio, recorded songs and other means of turning an unknown song into a standard. According to an excellent podcast by the Smithsonian Institute called “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” popular songs in the days before radio and other forms of mass media were introduced by live performers in vaudeville.

New songs in that era were popularized by the sale of sheet music stores, which were much more plentiful than they are today. Most music stores had a larger selection of sheet music available that shoppers could either play on a nearby piano or find someone who could play it. The largest music stores had an ample number or pianists on hand to boost the sale of sheet music, the Smithsonian podcast said.

More than six million copies of sheet music for “Take Me Out of the Ballgame” were sold in 1908 alone. Its popularity sparked a rash of other songs about baseball, including one by George M Cohen. You can hear some of them on podcast at si.edu sidedoor.

I thank my oldest granddaughter who lives and works in Washington, D.C., for sending me the link to the “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” podcast. She not only got her PeePaw hooked on that podcast but others in the series.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was an immediate hit. It was more than 20 years before it was ever sung at a baseball game, much later than that before it became part of the seventh-inning stretch. The late Harry Caray began leading fans in singing the song during the middle of the seventh inning when he was a broadcaster for first the Chicago White Sox and later the crosstown Cubs.

I always join in the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” when attending a Reds game. While it looks like we will be able to watch the Reds and other teams on television before the end of the month, whether fans like me will be on hand to sing loudly if not well during the seventh inning remains to be seen.

I hope so because it won’t seem like baseball with no cheering fans in the stands in the stands. I’m hoping that sometime in 2020, having someone take me out to a Reds game will be an option, even if I don’t go.

Reach JOHN CANNON at johnboycannon@gmail.com.

Recommended for you