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Ever hear the “Star Spangled Banner” played out loud and get the feeling you need to get somewhere rather quickly? Then think about what happens not long after arriving at a ballpark for a baseball game.
The national anthem is sung at Major League Baseball games before the first pitch ~ whether that pitch is ceremonial or real. Mostly it is performed by a singer, or singing group, though it could be played as an instrumental. The “Star Spangled Banner” has been played before baseball games consistently dating back to World War II.
The anthem’s link to the start of sporting events is with baseball, first during the Civil War. The song was played before or in the middle of major sporting events sporadically ~ until the 1918 World Series, played near the end of the Great War.
Pure and simple, the reason the national anthem is played at baseball games is patriotism. Think about it: it began in 1862 during the Civil War that dominated the minds of most Americans; gained momentum during World War I after we became involved; and settled as a tradition during World War II.
Sporting events, especially the large ones like college football games or professional baseball or boxing, were the largest leisurely gathering of Americans at the time. Sports were seen as a healthy distraction from the daily newspaper headlines. That these events featured battles between opponents made its stadiums a perfect place for playing an anthem about a war battle.
The anthem is about the battle for Baltimore during the War of 1812 with England. The lyrics support the fortitude of U.S. troops inside a fort bombarded all night long by British ships.
The patriotic tune was not an instant hit. Written in September 1814 by Francis Scott Key, it was not until 1931 that Congress made it the U.S. national anthem.
Its acceptance was boosted by the World Series in 1918, about a year after America joined what eventually became known as World War I.
Many sports fans today are unaware how prominent baseball was in American society before widespread acceptance of television. Prior to the 1960s, baseball was the top sport in the United States, followed by boxing, and horse racing. (Television helped propel basketball, and most notably football, to the forefront of Americans’ interest).
In fact, baseball was such a part of our society that famed 20th century historian Jacques Barzun, a French-American, proclaimed “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”
Linking baseball and patriotism came naturally during World War I, at the time the greatest conflict in the history of the world. The United States joined the war in 1917, and by about 17 months later, an estimated 100,000 Americans had died in battle in Europe, leading up to the 1918 World Series.
During the series’ opening contest in Chicago, between that city’s Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, a military band without premeditation broke into the tune during the 7th-inning stretch. The song was not yet the official anthem of the country, but that moment provided the spark that led to it 13 years later.
When that World Series shifted to Boston’s stadium, the Red Sox club played “Star Spangled Banner” during pregame festivities, coupling it with the introduction of soldiers wounded in the Great War.
It took many more years before baseball owners hired bands or musical talents for all games, instead of just for the World Series, Opening Day, or All Star games. It also took until the post-war years that powerful sound systems permeated each stadium, making it possible to blast the national anthem to awaiting ears.
The national anthem started being played just before baseball games beginning in the post-World War II years. That it continues in this manner is simply a matter of tradition ~ in a game filled with traditions.
Some people might prefer to skip the pomp and circumstance of honoring the nation’s flag before baseball games. Still others wonder why it has to be played to start games. Maybe during the 7th inning stretch might be more appropriate?
Officials with Major League Baseball and the various professional baseball stadiums around the country are free to choose what they do for the 7th-inning stretch ~ that time between the top and bottom of the 7th inning where fans stand up and basically take a break in unison.
Most MLB stadiums at that point go with the tune “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” with its famous lines including “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack; I don’t care if I never get back.”
However, some stadiums choose other tunes, most notably “God Bless America,” which enjoyed a period of popularity following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Yankee Stadium in particular welcomed popular singers to belt out “God Bless America” before the Yanks batted in the 7th, and maintained the tradition for some time.
But the national anthem kept its place at the start of contests, not only in baseball but other major sports including before NASCAR stock car races.
Again, this remains a matter of tradition. However, if a team or stadium wishes to conclude the event with the national anthem, a la Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock festival, they are free to do so. Most stadiums however go with fireworks, or celebratory popular music instead, to keep the crowd festive as they exit.
Question: Was there a national anthem before “Star Spangled Banner”?
Answer: Unofficially, many songs served the purpose at one time or another, including “Hail, Columbia” in the 1800s, and later “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” or “America the Beautiful.” Some argue that “Yankee Doodle Dandy” should have become the anthem, because it is about the Revolutionary War and the nation’s beginnings.
Q.: What usually happens as the national anthem is played before baseball games?
A.: Most stadium announcers ask fans to “please rise for the national anthem.” Spectators can be expected to remove hats or headgear, and remain silent in place for the song’s duration. Most of all, it is tradition for the raising or spotlighting of the Stars and Stripes flag as the song plays.