Sev­enth-in­ning spe­cial: They’re still belt­ing out his 102-year-old hit

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Mike An­ton

Dur­ing the sev­enth in­ning of tonight’s Ma­jor League Base­ball All-Star game, some 45,000 fans at Ana­heim Sta­dium will en­gage in a mass dis­play of Pavlo­vian con­di­tion­ing as they stand, stretch and sing a few lines of a 102-year-old song writ­ten by a man few of them, if any, could name.

Take me out to the ball game. Take me out with the crowd …

And then they will sit down not know­ing that Jack Nor­worth, the vaudeville song­writer who in 1908 penned the lyrics to what has long been the na­tional an­them of base­ball, is buried nearby at Mel­rose Abbey Me­mo­rial Park in Ana­heim.

Hardly any­one does. When Orange County author and base­ball his­to­rian Chris Ept­ing re­cently went to find Nor­worth’s grave, he was sur­prised the ceme­tery’s staff didn’t know they had more celebri­ties in res­i­dence than they re­al­ized.

“They said, ‘Carolyn Jones from the (orig­i­nal) ‘Ad­dams Fam­ily’ is here,’ ” Ept­ing said. “I have noth­ing against Carolyn Jones, but, c’mon, Jack Nor­worth wrote a clas­sic. I guess it says a lot about the peck­ing or­der of pop cul­ture.”

What re­ally both­ered Ept- ing, how­ever, was Nor­worth’s grave­stone. The flat gran­ite marker didn’t note Nor­worth’s place in base­ball his­tory and was so badly worn you could barely read the man’s name. It didn’t speak well for a sport that cher­ishes tra­di­tion.

“It’s a great piece of base­ball his­tory — of Amer­i­can his­tory,” Ept­ing said. “But it’s re­ally in bad shape.”

On Sun­day, a new 5-foot-tall black gran­ite mon­u­ment was in­stalled at the ceme­tery to honor Nor­worth’s con­tri­bu­tion to base­ball. Only Nor­worth doesn’t lie un­der­neath it.

It’s a long story — as is the story of how “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” be­came an Amer­i­can sta­ple.

Nor­worth had never seen a base­ball game when he wrote the song’s lyrics. He was rid­ing the sub­way in New York when he saw a bill­board for the Polo Grounds, the le­gendary ball­park where San Fran­cisco’s Giants once played. He pulled out a pen­cil and paper and dashed out the lyrics.

The song was a big hit for the pro­lific Nor­worth, who fol­lowed it up later that year with an­other: “Shine On, Har­vest Moon.”

Nor­worth didn’t see his first base­ball game un­til 1940. And the first time he heard his song per­formed at a game was in 1958, when the Dodgers, newly ar­rived from Brook­lyn, hon­ored him at the Coli­seum dur­ing the tune’s 50th an­niver­sary. The mak­ers of Cracker Jack pre­sented him with a tro­phy.

That the song is played at ev­ery pro­fes­sional base­ball game is a rel­a­tively re­cent phe­nom­e­non. The Base­ball Hall of Fame dates it to the mid-1970s, when Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck, ever the showman, en­cour­aged an­nouncer Harry Caray to ser­e­nade the crowd dur­ing the sev­enth-in­ning stretch. A tra­di­tion was born.

Nor­worth died in 1959 at the age of 80.

“His song is part of Amer­i­can cul­ture. It’s right up there with ‘Happy Birth­day’,’’ said JP My­ers, a 47-year-old courier who re­cently learned about Nor­worth’s grave.

My­ers went to see the faded head­stone. “I thought, this is ridicu­lous. Some­thing has to be done.” He cre­ated a Face­book page seek­ing sup­port to erect a new mon­u­ment to the all-but-for­got­ten Nor­worth.

He got the sup­port, but there was only one prob­lem: The ceme­tery re­quired that any changes to Nor­worth’s grave be ap­proved by his fam­ily. None could be found. So, with do­na­tions from two lo­cal busi­nesses, an empty grave site was pur­chased for $5,000.

Now, Nor­worth has a mon­u­ment be­fit­ting his place in his­tory.

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