What Is the Seventh Inning Stretch?
In a sport filled to the brim with traditions, one of the most enduring and universal in baseball is the seventh inning stretch. In between the top and bottom halves of the seventh inning, all the normal mid-inning routines are put on hold. Instead of heading out into the concourse for concessions or a bathroom break, fans rise to their feet and sing.
The seventh inning stretch is intended to serve as a chance for fans to “stretch” their legs after watching 7 ½ innings. It is also a tradition that promotes camaraderie among both fans and players. And who doesn’t want a chance to sing loud in public and have everyone be totally okay with it?
Traditionally, along with singing the national anthem before games, every ballpark in Major League Baseball has played “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch, with the crowd encouraged to sing along. Post-9/11, however, some parks have switched to “God Bless America”, and some actually play both.
But where did this all start? Why do we have a seventh inning stretch? Who started the seventh inning stretch tradition?
President William Howard Taft?
The most popular and romantic story, although almost certainly not true (more on that later), attributes the ritual of the seventh inning stretch to the 27th President of the United States. In fact, President Taft is actually credited with starting two major traditions at the same game.
On opening day, April 14, 1910, the hometown Washington Senators took on the visiting Philadelphia Athletics at Griffith Stadium (then called Boundary Field). President Taft was offered the opportunity to throw out the first pitch of the season, which he did. It was this act that actually began a tradition of presidents throwing out the first pitch that continued for years after.
Later that same game, President Taft, who was by all accounts a large man, reputedly needed to get up to stretch his legs. At nearly 6 feet tall and somewhere in the range of 300 pounds, can you really blame him? Apparently, once he rose, the entire crowd, either out of respect or because they thought he was leaving, also got up out of their seats. And the seventh inning stretch was born.
But What About Brother Jasper?
A native of Ireland, Brother Jasper of Mary is well-known for bringing baseball to Manhattan College in the early 1880’s (they are still known as the Manhattan College Jaspers), where he served as the head of resident students.
Brother Jasper was notoriously strict about fans – mostly his students – remaining still and polite during baseball games. But apparently, on one particularly hot and muggy day in 1882, during a game against the semi-pro New York Metropolitans, the heat seemed to be too much for spectators. According to legend, he decided to stop the game for a few minutes to give everyone the chance for a short break. And the seventh inning stretch was born.
Not So Fast. What About Harry Wright?
While nobody really claims Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings invented the seventh inning stretch, he is quoted talking about it as early as 1869. In a letter to a friend, Harry described the scene:
“The spectators all rise between halves of the seventh, extend their arms and legs and sometimes walk about. They enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a long posture upon the benches.”
And the seventh inning stretch was… well, I guess it just sort of appeared one day.
Evolution of the Seventh Inning Stretch
In all serious, it is hard to pinpoint the exact origins of the seventh inning stretch, though as we’ve seen, theories abound.
The first record of the exact phrase, “seventh inning stretch”, doesn’t appear until 1920. But ever since then, it has been the official title of the tradition.
As for “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, most attribute this aspect of the seventh inning stretch to the late Harry Caray, former announcer for the Chicago White Sox and Cubs. As the story goes, during Sox games in 1976, Caray developed the habit of singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” off-mic during the seventh inning stretch. At some point, it was suggested that he sing into the mic, which he did, and the crowd enthusiastically joined in, starting the tradition we all know and love today.
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