After lyricist Jack Norworth wrote the words for “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” he turned to composer Albert Von Tilzer to set the words to music. Von Tilzer was a professional songwriter with an impressive resume. Over the course of his long career, he wrote several hit songs, including "Oh By Jingo!" in 1919, which, as you clearly should already know, was featured in the show Linger Longer Letty. What? You didn’t know that? Weird…
Norworth and Von Tilzer worked on Tin Pan Alley, a row of music publishers located on 28th street between 5th Avenue and Broadway in New York City. According to legend, the street drew its name from reporter Monroe Rosenfeld who said that a passerby could hear the musicians inside the buildings pounding away at their work on cheap upright pianos like they were banging on tin pans.
Tin Pan Alley emerged in the last decade of the 19th century to meet a booming demand for sheet music. After 1870, a huge market in inexpensive upright pianos emerged. They could squeeze into virtually every middle-class parlor, and they provided an affordable symbol of cultural refinement. Piano teachers were in great demand during these years, but so too was sheet music for America’s budding Chopins to play.
The performers of Vaudeville also shopped on Tin Pan Alley. They were always looking for catchy new tunes for their acts. Low profile performers had to buy their music, but big stars like Nora Bayes or Ruth Etting were given free copies of music because the publishers knew that a song sung by one of these was almost certain to be a hit. Since the real goal was to sell sheet music; this sort of advertising was golden.
We might approach the question of setting in a couple of ways. One approach would be to focus on the forms of mass entertainment that existed in American cities when the song was written in 1908. And since this song is about a young Irish woman who is an avid baseball fan, it might be argued that the song’s setting was the world of entertainment enjoyed by Irish working-class women in cities like New York.
These women were relative newcomers to New York’s nightlife. As part of the immigration wave that sent roughly four million Irish to America between 1849 and 1920, Irish women represented roughly one-sixth of all New Yorkers by 1900. During the early years of Irish immigration, Irish women found work most commonly as domestics—cooks, maids, or nannies—in more affluent New Yorkers’ homes. Around the turn of the century, though, young Irish women began to find more and more work in the booming factories of the city, especially in the garment industry.
These women, no longer isolated in their employers’ homes, built their own distinctive culture. Like their more “conventional” peers, they still planned to eventually leave the factory, get married and raise children. But while they were young and unmarried, they enjoyed a more independent life and frequented the diverse leisure-time activities of the city. They attended Vaudeville shows, went dancing in the city’s ballrooms, and took in the ball games at the Polo Grounds.
Another approach to the question of setting might be to focus on the team and the ballpark that caught songwriter Jack Norworth’s attention and inspired the song. The team was the New York Giants, and the ballpark was the Polo Grounds; in 1908, these provided the setting for one of the most dramatic pennant races in baseball history.
For most of the 1908 season, the National League featured a three-way battle for first place between the Giants, the Chicago Cubs, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Giants and the Cubs finished the season in a dead tie, forcing a one-game play-off, but it all could have been avoided had 19-year-old rookie Fred Merkle not committed a huge base running error. In late-September, the Giants hosted the Cubs in a critical series. The Cubs took the first two games, but it looked like the Giants would take game three when Al Bridwell came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game. Moose McCormick was on third and Merkle was on first when Bridwell lined a single into centerfield. McCormick flew across home plate and the fans poured onto the field. Merkle joined in the celebration, but forgot to do one small thing—touch second base. In all the excitement, he forgot that he could be forced out at second, but Cubs’ Second Baseman Johnny Evers didn’t. He retrieved the ball, which according to some accounts he had to wrestle away from a fan, and stepped on second, forcing Merkle. Since Merkle was the third out, the run did not count, and the inning ended in a tie. There were too many (now confused and furious) fans on the field to continue the game, so the decision was made to makeup the game at the end of the season.
On October 8, with the season over and the Giants and Cubs tied for first place, the makeup game was played. The Cubs beat the Giants 4-2, winning the National League Pennant and earning a trip to the World Series. In the Series, they beat the Detroit Tigers four games to one. Cub fans celebrated Johnny Evers’s quick thinking as a defining moment in the team’s championship season; Giants fans pointed to “Merkle’s Boner” as the play that robbed them of the pennant. Over time, though, the Giants got over it. The team went on to win six World Series Championships—five in New York and one in San Francisco. As of 2011, the Cubs, on the other hand, have not won the Series since Fred Merkle handed them the pennant in 1908.