In this first line, songwriter Jack Norworth introduces the star of his song. It’s interesting that he named her Katie Casey and not Belladonna Rossi or Halina Lubinski.
Jack Norworth never explained why he named his heroin Katie Casey. While sportswriter Frank Deford later constructed a mythical background for Casey, linking her to the “Might Casey” of Ernest Thayer’s 1888 poem, Norworth never acknowledged this baseball classic as his inspiration.
Nor did Norworth explain why, when he revised the song in 1927, he substituted Nelly Kelly for Katie Casey. It’s striking that both names he chose were Irish, though. Norworth was not Irish; his real name, John Godfrey Knauff, suggests he was of German ancestry. His decision to make his female fan Irish, therefore, may say something about Norworth’s class and gender biases.
To be a “baseball mad” young woman was not consistent with models of early 19th-century femininity. Sports were considered a male pastime; in fact, some physicians considered participation dangerous. Most theories of female physiology centered on women’s reproductive organs, as any activity believed to place these under stress was considered “unnatural.” Norworth may have decided that he was less likely to offend genteel sensibilities if he gave his baseball-mad heroine a blue-collar, immigrant background.
In order to maintain his rhyme scheme, Jack Norworth had to use some slang with French and Latin roots.
“Sou” was turn-of-the-century slang term for a small coin, essentially a penny. It was derived from French and is still used today in certain French expressions—to be “sans le sou” is to be broke (literally “without a penny). But the word’s more ancient origin is the Latin word solidus, which means solid, used to describe the gold coins circulated among the Romans.
In order to avoiding using what was deemed to be an outdated term, some later versions of the song include the line, “Every cent Katie spent,” instead.
Jack Norworth gave an ambitions popcorn vendor a lot of free advertising with this line.
Cracker Jack was not made for the ballpark; in fact, the iconic snack was introduced at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. Cooked up by a popcorn vendor named Frederick William Rueckheim, the popcorn/peanut/molasses concoction—cleverly called "Candied Popcorn and Peanuts”—was such a huge hit that Rueckheim and his brother decided to mass produce the stuff.
By 1896, “Cracker Jack” was on the market. Jack Norworth gave the product a marketing boost when he wrote it into his song in 1908. The Rueckheims added a marketing gimmick of their own in 1912 when they started inserting little prizes in each box.
The Cracker Jack story, however, is not all baseball and candy. The little sailor boy on the box was modeled after Frederick Rueckheim’s grandson Robert. Sadly, the eight-year old died of pneumonia shortly after his picture was put on the box in 1918.
Had Jack Norworth written this song in 1887, he would have had to change this line.
In 1887, baseball officials decided that it would take four, not three, strikes to strike out. The innovation lasted only a year, but this was not the only time that this most fundamental aspect of the game—strikes and balls—was changed. For example, until 1863, umpires did not have to call strikes; a batter did not receive a strike until he actually swung at and missed a pitch. In addition, foul balls were not counted as strikes until 1901 in the National League and 1903 in the American League. Even crazier: for a time, a batter walked only after receiving nine balls. The rule was changed in 1889, reducing a walk to four balls.
Booing the umpire is a tradition as old as the game itself.
Early on, professional baseball teams decided that they needed to hire professional, impartial umpires. So in 1878 the National League ordered the home team to pay umpires a stipend of $5 per game, and the next year the league compiled a list of 20 approved umpires to call all games.
While not officially recorded, the first instance of a fan booing an umpire most likely occurred in one of those very first games.