Love af­fair with song at sports events dates to 1918 World Series

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Don Babwin

CHICAGO » Tues­day af­ter­noon, the fans at Wrigley Field will be asked to stand, re­minded to re­move their caps for the play­ing of “The Star-Spangled Ban­ner.” Fans who can re­cite the words as eas­ily as the al­pha­bet will sing or lis­ten to the story of a flag that continued to wave through­out one of the most fa­mous bat­tles in Amer­i­can his­tory.

What the fans may not know is that Fran­cis Scott Key, ap­par­ently bet­ter at lyrics than melody, put his description of the bat­tle of Fort McHenry to an old English tune that had a lot less to do with pa­tri­o­tism than it did with booze and women. Or that this year marks the 100th sea­son since the song was played for the first time at a World Series game — an event that helped ce­ment it in the na­tional con­scious­ness and be­come the na­tional an­them that is now sim­ply as­sumed to be part of game day in Amer­i­can sports, from Lit­tle League to the Su­per Bowl to medal cer­e­monies at the Olympics.

“Cer­tainly the out­pour­ing of sen­ti­ment, en­thu­si­asm, and pa­tri­o­tism at the 1918 World Series went a long way to mak­ing the (song) the na­tional an­them,” said John Thorn, Ma­jor League Base­ball’s of­fi­cial his­to­rian.

News­pa­pers on Sept. 5, 1918, were dom­i­nated by news of World War I, in­clud­ing the lat­est Amer­i­can dead. In Chicago, one of the head­lines stated: “Chicagoans on the List.” And it was a par­tic­u­larly har­row­ing mo­ment in the city for an­other rea­son: Some­one, pos­si­bly self­pro­claimed an­ar­chists and la­bor ac­tivists, had the day be­fore tossed a bomb into a down­town fed­eral build­ing and post of­fice, killing four peo­ple and in­jur­ing dozens more.

The World Series was in town, with the Cubs host­ing Babe Ruth and the Bos­ton Red Sox. The Chicago games were played at Comiskey Park, the home of the White Sox, in­stead of their new home at Wrigley Field, what was called Weegh­man Park at the time, be­cause it held more fans. But in a city jit­tery over the bomb­ing and weary from the war, Game 1 that day at­tracted fewer than 20,000 fans, the small­est World Series crowd in years.

When the fans got there, they didn’t make much noise, though that could have had some­thing to do with the 1-0 mas­ter­piece Ruth was pitch­ing — yes, pitch­ing — for the Red Sox.

“There was no cheer­ing dur­ing the con­test, nor was there any­thing like the usual um­pire bait­ing,” re­ported one Bos­ton news­pa­per.

Then, in the sev­enth in­ning, a band from the Navy train­ing sta­tion north of Chicago started to play “The Star-Spangled Ban­ner.”

The song had been played be­fore at ma­jor­league games, from at least 1862 and on open­ing day in 1897, in Philadel­phia, Thorn said. But this time, re­ported The New York Times, some­thing hap­pened that was “far dif­fer­ent from any in­ci­dent that has ever oc­curred in the his­tory of base­ball.”

Play­ers took off their caps as they faced a flag that flut­tered atop a pole in right field as the 12piece band be­gan to play.

All of them ex­cept Red Sox in­fielder Fred Thomas.

Thomas was in the Navy dur­ing the Series — he played on the team fielded by the Great Lakes sta­tion that was also home to the band — but was granted fur­lough so he could play. When the Wis­con­sin na­tive heard the mu­sic, “he turned to­ward the flag, kept his hat on and gave a mil­i­tary sa­lute,” said Jim Leeke, au­thor of “From the Dugouts to the Trenches: Base­ball Dur­ing the Great War.”

A few fans be­gan to sing. Then oth­ers joined in “and when the fi­nal notes came, a great vol­ume of melody rolled across the field,” The Times re­ported. And when it ended, “on­look­ers ex­ploded into thun­der­ous ap­plause.”

John Leyba, Den­ver Post file

Sec­ond base­man DJ LeMahieu, pitcher Jon Gray and out­fielder Ian Des­mond stand at at­ten­tion for the play­ing of the na­tional an­them be­fore the Rock­ies’ home game against the In­di­ans on June 7.

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