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Documenting Baseball History and a Feminist Revolution Through Music

Katie Casey breaks up the boys club (National Baseball Library)

by David C. Barnett

After playing to a draw on the North Coast, the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs take their World Series fight to the Windy City, this weekend.  When it comes to baseball battles, music has played a big part in lifting team spirit, for over a century.  Bands, organ players and popular recordings have helped inspire both fans and players of America’s Pastime.  

Some fans show their sports pride by wearing team jackets and caps.   Others go as far as painting their faces.  And still others just sing.

Daniel Goldmark has dozens of sports songs in his voluminous collection of sheet music.  As director of the Center for Popular Music Studies, and as a professor at Case Western Reserve University, Goldmark and his students explore how cultural trends are reflected in music  

As baseball became more popular in the early 1900s, a fad for team songs started to develop.  Goldmark says, music publishers jumped on the trend, carefully hedging their bets on what would sell:

"The smart songwriter knows that if the Indians don’t end up in first place, maybe we can put in the name of another team and then you’ll sell more copies, once you’ve reprinted it with that team’s name."

As a graduate student in Case’s music department, Erin Smith researched another early 1900s social trend with a baseball connection --- the “New Woman Movement”.

"The 'New Woman' happened to just become the catch-all term for women who were getting outside of the home, who were working," she says.  "These were women who wanted to go to college, who were suffragists --- so, it was like women who were getting out of the prescribed sphere."

Smith says many of these “new women” gravitated to baseball, discovering the ballpark as a place where they could root for and shout at the players.  Newspaper editorials condemned this un-lady-like behavior.  The controversy inspired vaudeville performer Ray Cox, who recorded a comic monolgue in 1909, playing a vociferous baseball fan.  During the sketch, she heaps invective on the umpire and players.  When one of those players hits a home run, she can't contain her enthusiasm:

Oh! Look at him saying his prayers on second! Prayin’ on second! Come on in! Come on! You’re not going to heaven this year! All around! All around!! [rising higher in pitch and breathiness] Come home, ya rummy! Come home! Great! […] Home run! Ahhhhhh What do you think of that?...ohhhhh that’s amazing…” [sighing and languorous tones as she comes down from her excitement.] 

A musical artifact of the New Woman movement is the 1908 song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.   Baseball fans know it as soundtrack of the seventh-inning stretch in almost every professional ballpark in the U.S..  What most modern listeners probably don’t realize is that the familiar tune is actually about a forward-thinking young woman, named Katie Casey, who longed to visit a ball park where she was free to be herself, unbound by cultural expectations of the era: 

Katie Casey saw all the games,
Knew the players by their first names.
Told the umpire he was wrong,
All along,
Good and strong.
When the score was just two to two,
Katie Casey knew what to do,
Just to cheer up the boys she knew,
She made the gang sing this song:

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.

Erin Smith says that message of empowerment was reinforced by the marketing of the song.  Before radio and widespread ownership of record players, music publishers sent musicians to perform the new product small theaters across the country.  A singer and piano player were accompanied by a series of projected slides, illustrating the songs.  In this case, Katie Casey can be seen as a lone cheering female in a crowd of men

"She’s standing in a part of the park where women weren’t normally allowed to be," says Smith.  "That shows she’s this kind of baseball-mad, New Woman-type figure that’s really getting out of bounds of where a typical woman would sit at a baseball game."

Over the years, this early feminist ballad became much more mainstream, and musicians have reinterpreted it in a number of ways.  But, this weekend, as the Cubs and the Indians continue their championship battle, both teams and their fans will pause for a few minutes during the seventh inning and  share a song with deep roots.  A song that connects them to the beginnings of modern baseball. 

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.