When the National Anthem Was First Played at a Baseball Game.

Dick Heller, the famous and resourceful reporter, provides us with this wonderful story:

MAGIC MOMENTS / Dick Heller
 ‘Oh, say, can you see . . . ‘
   Trick question: When was the national anthem first played at a major league baseball game?
   Straight answer: Thirteen years before it became the national anthem.
   Technically, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was just another tune when the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs opened the 1918 World Series at Wrigley Field. The Sox were leading 1-0 in the middle of the seventh inning as a military band unexpectedly broke into Francis Scott Key’s rousing number.
   The United States was embroiled in the Great War, as it was then called, and this was a patriotic time. On the mound, a slender 23-year-old Boston left-hander named George Herman Ruth doffed his cap and held it over his heart. So did all the other players and most of the derby-hatted men and umbrella-toting women in the crowd of 30,511. Many sang or spoke the words as the band played on.
   The date was Sept. 5, and the Series had started nearly a month early following a shortened regular season resulting from Secretary of War Newton D. Baker’s “work or fight” decree. Before Game 1, players had marched in military formations with bats over their shoulder — a frequent scene in  ballparks during 1917 and 1918.
   The tune, adopted by Francis Scott Key in 1814 from an old English drinking song, did not become the national anthem until President Herbert Hoover signed an executive order to that effect in 1931. Nonetheless, a precedent had been set. When the 1918 Series moved to Fenway Park on Sept. 9, another band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the start of Game 4.
   Until the United States entered World War II in December 1941, “The Star-Spangled Banner” usually preceded only special sporting events, such as Opening Day in baseball. During the second war, renditions became standard before most professional and college games, and thus it has remained.
     Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford once observed that many fans think the last two words of the anthem are “play ball!” If we attended a sports event and didn’t hear it, we might think we were in another country. At all games of the Toronto Blue Jays (and the Montreal Expos before they moved to Washington in 2005), both the U.S. and Canadian anthems are played.
   The question remains whether fans take the anthem seriously or whether repetition has dulled its impact. In Baltimore, of course, fans screech “O!” as it nears an end with the line, “O, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave?” At Nationals Park in Washington, within sight of the Capitol dome, most observers stand at attention — even journalists working on deadline in the press box. Yet some younger fans can be seen resting on their rumps and/or failing to take off their caps — whether because of disrespect or ignorance, who knows?
   In my case, I stand for standing and for removing any headgear I might be wearing. That’s the way I was brought up — to honor the country and the flag. It’s sort of like respecting the president of the United States even if you didn’t vote for him. (Oh wait a minute, some folks don’t do that anymore either.)
   Back in the 1950s, a more-or-less musical aggregation called Goldman’s Band performed the anthem every Opening Day at Griffith Stadium before the Senators embarked on another losing season. Usually the president — Truman or Eisenhower — would toss the first ball into a gaggle of players gathered near his box. Miraculously perhaps, the ensuing scrambles never resulted in injuries.
   And when the Redskins played at Griffith, the anthem culminated a dramatic musical prelude to games. The team band, founded in 1938, would march down the field playing “Hail to the Redskins” and segue into “Dixie”  as the multitudes cheered. Then the bandleader would hop onto a little stand at the 50-yard-line and wave his baton to start “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In that simpler era, this was stirring stuff indeed.
   At most stadiums nowadays,, a recording of the anthem is used. The Nationals and Orioles often invite local singers or groups to do it, a nice touch. “But they warned us not to be thrown off when the fans yell ‘O!’ ” said Marilyn Levitt of Chevy Chase, Md., who has warbled with the Capital Accord Chorus at Camden Yards. At some venues, “God Bless America” has been played during the seventh-inning stretch (along with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game“ since September 11).
   As nearly everybody knows, the national anthem is difficult to sing  properly -= and often isn’t. Baritone George London once told Time magazine the song is “impossible to sing if you’re sober” because its high notes are too high and its low notes too low.
   Then there’s the problem of remembering the words. Country singer Johnny Paycheck, attempting it at an Atlanta Falcons game, offered this addled version: “Oh, say, can you see, it’s cloudy at night/what so loudly we sang as the daylight’s last cleaning.”
   An immigrant opera singer from Hungary included the Father of Our Country thusly: “Bombs bursting in air, George Washington was there.” A former Miss Bloomington (Minn.) doing the number at a Twins game got so confused that she muttered “aw nuts” into the microphone and gave up on the spot.
   Other singers have offered intentionally unorthodox versions. Folkie Jose Feliciano caused a furor when he did a slow, bluesy number before a game of the 1968 World Series in Detroit. Motown icon Marvin Gaye tried a “soul and funky” interpretation at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles. And Roseanne Barr, the often smutty comedian, was painfully off key at a San Diego Padres game in 1990.
   But when the anthem is sung well and traditionally, it can be beautiful and inspiring. Metropolitan Opera star Robert Merrill’s version used to be a fixture at Yankee Stadium before big games. (Ronan Tynan, formerly of the Irish Tenors, often does the gentler “God Bless America,”  which some think should be the anthem, during the seventh inning at the new Bronx ballyard.)
   So take note when the P.A. announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise . . . ” Possibly forevermore, the national anthem is a familiar and welcome part of our national pastime and other games people play
   Dick Heller is copy chief of The National Pastime Baseball Museum

Obamacare’s Dismal Debut from “The Onion”

The Onion announces the launch of Obamare’s program on 35 floppy discs for a computer with at least 8mb of free Ram and a monitor with 320X200 resolution, “Or the program will not display well.” The government assured users, saysThe Onion,that the program could be loaded within 4 to 5 hours and if there was a problem users could just hit F1 for Help.

A link to the story is here and is a moment of humor derived from a stupendous government failure that has the potential to damage tens of millions, if not all, Americans.

Democrats have been instructed to stop using the term “Obamacare” and refer to the failed program as “the Affordable Care Act” so as not to besmirch Obama’s name by conjoining it to “the Affordable Care Act,” that, as the few people who have signed up have discovered, is not affordable.

This should help those people who still believe that Obamacare is about providing healthcare and who haven’t recognized that Obamacare is about controlling healthcare, while rationing its use. Stay well, as they say.

Red Sox Triumphant as Tigers Fail, Move to World Series Against Cardinals

Today I will discuss last night’s Tigers’ failure against the triumphant Red Sox who they used the grandslam to punctuate the Tigers failure. Last Sunday, Tiger closer Benoit, threw a nothing-get-it-over-fastball-first-pitch to David Ortiz who hit a grand slam in Fenway to win that critical game that kept the series at 1-1 and not 2-0 Tigers. Last night, reliever Veras, on an 0-2 pitch to Red Sox outfielder Victorino, threw the ball high and inside so that VIctorino could hit it over the Green Monster for a winning grandslam. That a pitcher threw such a pitch at that time indicates a serious lack of intelligence, in fact, it is just plain dumb. Just as Benoit’s pitch to Ortiz was just plain dumb.  These were, “here, beat me” pitches.

During the final week of the season, I was sitting with a Cubs scout at Target Field, We were discussing the coming playoffs and I said,”I don’t think the Tigers relievers can hold the Red Sox.” This was based on instinct and turned out to be dead on. I wonder at Manager Leyland’s decision to remove Max Scherzer, who is better than Tiger relievers under any circumstance. However, the Tigers made errors as well. Prince Fielder ran into a double play in the sixth inning, when, with runners on first and third, (Fielder was on third), the ball was hit to second and Fielder, instead of running hard to score, or returning to third, went half way. This allowed Pedroia, the second baseman to tag the runner and throw home to trap Fielder. This gaffe cost the Tigers a run, or, at least ended the rally. Then in the seventh, Iglesias, the shortstop, after catching the ball in his glove, dropped it and blew a double play that would have ended that inning, preserved the lead and possibly allowed the Tigers to win. This gafffe set the stage for Victorino’s grandslam. As has been written on this blog for sometime, “it is hard to play with one hand on your throat,(choke).”

We are off to the World Series, Torii Hunter won’t be there and will spend his life dreaming of catching David Ortiz’s Grandslam, but the Red Sox earned it in direct contrast to the way the Tigers failed at it. Baseball is a hard game, what a team wishes is that when they lose, they get beat by a better team, not that they lose or give it away. Here, the Red Sox were given victories by the Tigers who just couldn’t get it done.

Cardinals WIn The Pennant

The St. Louis Cardinals won its 19th National League Pennant last night with a resounding defeat of the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-0. This was a story of rookies beating the veteran, very expensive, Dodgers. The Cardinal rookies, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal,  are pitchers who throw very hard. Wacha beat Dodger star Clayton Kershaw twice in the League Championship Series and Rosenthal, a closer, just beat everyone. They are off to the World Series in their first Major League season.  Wacha has given up one run in 21 innings of Postseason play. Magnificent.

The Cardinals are lead by Carlos Beltran a thirty-six year old outfielder who went three for four, drove in two runs, including the first one which was the only one the Cardinals needed, and made a leaping catch to douse Dodger hopes. Beltran is going to the World Series for the first time in his 16 year career.

The Cardinals are the second winningest baseball franchise, second to the Yankees. The Cardinals lead in the combination of modern player analysis and ancient baseball culture. For Cardinals people, it is all baseball, all the time.  I keep thinking of a time in Atlanta when I was sitting with a bunch of baseball scouts and mentioned that I wanted to drive out to see the Kennesaw Mountain  battlefield. A Cardinal scout offered me his truck; I took it. The truck came with a rifle, a can for tobacco juice, a box of maps so he could find every baseball field in the southeast, a box of batting practice balls, just in case you wanted to work-out some prospect, and a collection of bats in the back. There was a worn baseball golve on the right front seart.  This was a baseball scouts truck, a Cardinals’ scouts truck.

These are the Cardinals of the Gashouse Gang, Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. A magnificent baseball team off again to a well deserved World Series. They just missed last year, and make up for it now. No mattter who they play against, Red Sox or Tigers, there will be history there and a wonderful World Series.

So, now we have to pay attention to the Red Sox v. Tigers games this weekend, I just hope that series goes to seven games. 

Unending Playoffs Continue; Red Sox/Tigers Tied In The AL;Cardinals lead LAD 3-2.

Today is another day in the seemingly endless MLB Playoff Scheme that started with a playoff to see who was the second wild card, that little twist that was added to increase interest in the postseason, but actually will reduce interest in the World Series that starts some time later this month. Nevertheless, the League Championship Series continues with the Red Sox and Tigers tied at 2-2, with one game left at Tiger Stadium, and the Cardinals leading the Dodgers 3-2 as that series moves back to St. Louis.

Yesterday’s games were just normal baseball games where one team just beats the other. The Tigers, for example, beat the Red Sox 7-3, scoring five in the second inning as the Red Sox blew a possible double play, but the Sox weren’t going to win this one, anyway.  Doug Fister started for the Tigers, and I’ve been a Fister Fan for some time, (he once struck out nine straight batters,) as he pitched six innings giving up one run. He just seems to get it done when it counts.  For the Red Sox, Jake Peavey just got hammered as he gave up seven runs in three innings. He allowed just five hits, but his three walks hurt his chances, as did Dustin Pedroia’s bobbled double play ball that would have gotten him out of the second inning. But that’s baseball and this was not the Red Sox game.

The Dodgers hit four solo homeruns in beating the Cardinals who lead this series 3-2. The Dodgers pitched Zach Greinke in this critical game and he won, while pitching seven innings, giving up two runs. The Dodgers will start Kershaw in game six. When the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead, Dodger Manager Mattingly mentioned that he was confident with Greinke and Kershaw starting the next two games, a sensible position. Mattingly also said that he thought the Cardinal fans would like to see a seventh game! Wrong, Don, the Cardinals will want to beat Kershaw Friday night.  I will be driving back from Milwaukee during that game and will be searching for the game on a variety of Wisconsin stations.

After these games are over, the World Series will start on October 23 (not a typo). I am starting to think we have sacrificed the World Series for the additional wild card that was played over in the first week of month.  More on this later, but the games are great anyway.  

Red Sox Win 1-0; Cardinals Win For 3-1 Series Lead

Mike Napoli hit a Justin Verlander fastball into the left field stands in the seventh inning of the game in Detroit for the only run in the game. The Sox lead the series 2-1. The critical moment in this game came in the bottom of th eighth when Austin Jackson walked with one out and Torii Hunter singled to right moving Jackson to third. So, two on, one out, Miguel Cabrera at bat.  In fifth game theory, familiar to readers of this blog, says that fifth games come down to moments like this where a pitch is made, a player hits it or not and the game is over. Here, Junichi Tazawa struck Cabrera out as did Koji Uehara against Prince Fielder a minute later. 
Of note in this game, Detroit Manager Leyland did bring in lefthander Phil Coke to pitch against Ortiz and got him to ground out. This is the match up he should have had Sunday night.  Also, Napoli’s first ML at bat was vs. Verlander in Detroit and he homered then, too.

The Cardinals just beat the Dodgers 4-2 in LA. The Cardinals hit well with two homeruns, pitched well and the defense was superb.
Even though they lead the series 3-1, the Cards have to get past Greinke and Kershaw to win. We’ll see. 

Dodgers Win Game LCS Game Three With A Little Help From The Cardinals

The Dodgers beat the Cardinals 3-0 last night, and it wasn’t that close. The Dodgers scored two in the fourth when Mark Ellis doubled with the help of the Cardinal outfield, and then scored on an Adrian Gonzalez double. Gonzalez then scored on a Yasiel Puig triple.

The third Cardinal run scored in the 8th when Carl Crawford scored from second on a ball hit just over second baseman Kolten Wong’s head. Wong was late throwing the ball home and Crawford was barely safe, but safe non the less. 

Dodger pitcher Ryu gave up three hits in seven innings, as the Cardinals continue their batting woes, but still lead in the best of seven series, 2-1. For highlights of this game look here.