Jack Norworth had never been to a baseball game in 1908, not one. He was a vaudeville performer married to a beautiful woman and pretty darned successful. Then he saw the sign.
According to legend, Norworth was riding the New York subway when he saw a sign announcing “Baseball today-Polo Grounds”. It was 1908, the year of a particularly wonderful set of pennant races. In the American League the Tigers won the pennant late, and the Cubs had to defeat the Giants in a replay of the famous “Merkle Boner” game to take the pennant on the last day of the season. It was to be the Cubs last World Series victory as they topped Detroit and Ty Cobb.
But Norworth was the big winner that year. Seeing the sign got him to thinking and he subsequently wrote a little ditty about a girl named Katie Casey. He went to a colleague, Albert Von Tilzer, with the poem, which Von Tilzer set to music. The song debuted in vaudeville sung by Norworth’s wife, Nora Bayes and was an instant hit. You know it too, at least the chorus. It starts “Take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd.” It is baseball’s unofficial anthem and the most popular sports song ever written. The US Postal Service even did a stamp honoring the song in 2008.
Ironically, Von Tilzer who was born in 1878 and died in 1956 had also never seen a baseball game. He finally got to one in 1928. Norworth, who was born in 1879 and died in 1959, finally saw his first game in 1940. Not bad for two guys who’d never seen a game.