It is perhaps the most mundane, yet physically rewarding moment of every baseball game. A few precious minutes in which the hours of excruciating stress and anticipation is momentarily lifted for a well-deserved break. It is a time to stand, to dance, to sing and to take care of "nature's calling." It is the Seventh-Inning Stretch and it has become as important a tradition in America's Pastime as the National Anthem and the first pitch.
Even today, the origins of the Seventh-Inning Stretch are less historical in their theories and more of an urban legend. Over the years, one has been traced back to one of America's forgotten leaders. Recently, another hypothesis has emerged after documentation was discovered that may or may not provide the answer to the question, "Who invented the Seventh-Inning Stretch and Why?" In order to "answer" that question, let us look at two of the more popular theories.
The first (and more popular) retort that has been presented by countless baseball historians gives sole credit to the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft. One of America's less memorable leaders, Taft was an obese man, tipping the scales at over 300 pounds, and probably spent more fervor on following his favorite game of baseball than he did on running the country. Also credited with being the first U.S. President to throw out the first pitch, Taft attended the Opening Day game against the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Athletics on April 14, 1910 at Griffith Stadium.
According to reports, as the game continued to drag on, the six-foot-two president grew increasingly uncomfortable in the small wooden chair that was no doubt weaning under the weight of its presidential patron. By the middle of the seventh-inning, Taft was unable to bear the pain any longer and stood up to stretch his aching legs. In those days, the leader of the free world commanded a tremendous amount of reverence and as his fellow spectators noticed him rising, they followed his lead as a sign of respect. A few minutes later, Taft returned to his seat and the game resumed.
Thus the Seventh-Inning Stretch was born! True? Maybe - maybe not. As often happens with the constant research and rewriting of history, experts sometimes come upon less romantic tales that may be more accurate, but ultimately less entertaining.
Take for instance a manuscript dated 1869 that was discovered by historians. In it Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings describes a break in the play of a ballgame that sounds very familiar. He wrote, "The spectators all arise between halves of the seventh inning, extend their legs and arms and sometimes walk about. In so doing they enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a long posture upon hard benches."
One of the most celebrated events of the Seventh-Inning Stretch is the traditional singing of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame". It was written by a very successful songwriter named Jack Norworth who scribbled the lyrics on a scrap piece of paper while riding the train to Manhattan in New York. For decades both real singers and celebrity "wannabe's" have belted out the tune with thousands of fans in the bleachers providing backup.
Following the attack on America on September 11th, Major League Baseball rose to the occasion as part of the healing process and added "God Bless America" to its song list. After taking center stage with patriotic tributes throughout the remainder of the regular season, the national pastime returned to the Big Apple to host the World Series. With the city's emotions running high and the American flag pulled from the wreckage of the World Trade Center flying overhead, President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch symbolizing the unwavering strength of America. In the seventh, world-renowned Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan stepped forward to sing, as a giant American Flag was unfurled on the field. In that instant, the mysterious and "meaningless stretch" of a baseball game became a symbolic vigil for all.
Today, the Seventh-Inning Stretch has returned in part to a fun and carefree event that features blaring "jock jam" music, hot dog races, team mascots shooting t-shirts into the crowd and the opportunity to grab a fresh beer, some nachos and "hit the can."
Was it an overweight president or simply a group of fans looking for a break? Nobody knows for sure. Still, despite the debate over its origin, we can all agree that it always feels good to get up and "stretch."