Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game (review)
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Reviewed by
Strasberg, Andy, Bob Thompson and Tim Wiles. Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. New York: Hal Leonard Books, 2008. Pp. 210. Foreword by Carly Simon. Introduction, addendum, discography, notes, bibliography, and index. $29.95.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is an inescapable song in American popular culture. This timeless tune, composed by Albert Von Tilzer with lyrics by Jack Norworth, has been part of the definitive American popular song book since its composition in 1908. Without ever attending a ballgame, they captured the excitement, emotions and flavor of the ballpark, and the public who attended or dreamed of attending a baseball game ate it up. The entertainment industry responded in kind, producing a steady stream of other (less successful) songs, a few films including a studio musical (Take Me Out to the Ball Game) and then a huge hit on Broadway (Damn Yankees), as well as various parodies over the years. It was not until the 1970s that playing and singing the song as a seventh inning stretch ritual came into practice. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" has stood the test of time, in spite of its vaudeville musical roots, as musicians of various popular genres over the past hundred years sought to make the song their own. Stemming from a period in music history that has long since been classified as old-fashioned, baseball's anthem is the third most popular song in America—taught to toddlers, sung by teenagers and revered by adults of every profession who love baseball. The power of this book lies in the complex mix of humor and reverence for the innocence America lost after the September 11, 2001, terrorists' attacks. The book maintains an easy going, fun tone and pace, even as the shadow of what 9/11 did to us as Americans, how it shut down baseball and nearly everything else for a week—if not longer—is woven throughout the book. But how much baseball means to America and ultimately how it helped people recover from the shock of the attacks is the lasting impression of this play by play look at the one-hundred-year-history of a beloved all-American tune.

Strasberg, Thompson, and Wiles have created small sections that detail the history of the song's integration into American society. In addition to clear and concise writing, the pages are filled with colorful pictures and archival documents that aid in the telling of history. The photographs include past and present ball players, other baseball personalities including announcers and ball park organists, musicians who have performed "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," original documents from the composer and lyricist, and other art work from the period, including various sheet music covers through the years. There is an official section devoted to the musical analysis of the song by Dave Headlam, a professor from the Eastman School of Music. Within the context of the chapter "What's In a [End Page 488] Song?" there is a basic analysis meant for anyone to understand outlining the main pillars of the song: the musical meter (waltz time), the memorable nature of the melody, and the power of the climactic point of the song ("ONE, TWO, THREE strikes you're out!") (p. 87). A timeline details the progressive relationship between "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and baseball on its journey from pastime in America to American pastime. In addition there are other lists included: baseball-centric songs through the years, the authors' favorite baseball songs, and a comparison of the top songs of 1908—none of which have survived the test of time in quite the same way as Tilzer and Norworth's priceless gem.

The book details the few attempts made to oust the old-fashioned "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," presenting a more modern baseball themed song to appease the masses (most notably "Baseball Is More Than a Game" and "Batter Up"): each attempt was a glorious failure (p. 96). Even after "God Bless America" briefly replaced "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the weeks following 9/11...