“More important than winning is the World Series. That’s the max that anyone could ask for.”
— Dennis Eckersley
“We’ll play; for the sake of the wounded sailors and soldiers who are in the grandstands.”
— Harry Hooper
Red Sox Outfielder
My interest in baseball was rekindled in the late 1980s as a teenager growing up in Buffalo, New York. I hadn’t played the sports for years, but had gotten a summer job as a Little League umpire. Buffalo hadn’t had a major league team since the Federal League of 1914-15 and so I had to find a team to root for.
The Yankees were in state, but just too easy. The Blue Jays were closest, but in another country. As a lover of the underdog, the Cleveland Indians were both reasonably close and really, really awful. And so I became a Tribe fan.
Little did I know that within a decade, I would be living in the Cleveland area to attend college, would fall in love with a girl from the Cleveland suburbs, and would get to see two World Series. Fast forward nearly twenty years and my son and I were sitting at game one of the American League Division Series. It was nearly 80 degrees at game time and Progressive Field was, of course, sold out.
Frequently, at sporting events, there is a tiny smattering of voices singing the words to our national anthem. Often this is because there is a professional singer performing, but it remains true even when the rendition is purely instrumental. But on this night, the crowd heartily sang along with the Star Spangled Banner and even more loudly belted out God Bless America when an instrumental version of the Irving Berlin tune played during the 7th inning stretch.
Watching the Indians win that game, that series and then the ALCS to get back to the World Series, reminded me of the origins of the playing of the Star Spangled Banner at baseball games- even more pointedly because Cleveland’s opponent is the Chicago Cubs.
Major League Baseball was still reeling from the Black Sox scandal of 1917 when the Boston Red Sox and the Cubs met for the 1918 World Series. World War I was winding to a close (the Armistice was just two months away) and many American veterans had returned home and were in attendance at Fenway Park in Boston and Comiskey Park in Chicago (Wrigley Field was deemed too small and so the Cubs’ home World Series games were played at Comiskey).
During the 7th inning stretch of Game 1 in Chicago, the stadium band launched into a performance of the Star Spangled Banner in order to honor the veterans in attendance. It is the first recorded playing of the song at a ball game and happened some 13 years before the song would become the nation’s official national anthem. It was later in the series, however (and for less pure reasons) that the tradition of playing the song before games would begin.
Fifty-five years before the advent of free agency in baseball, the players played for what the owners would offer them. Seeing the large crowds at the stadiums for the series, and aware that the owners would bringing in a healthy sum at the ticket gate, Red Sox outfielder Harry Hooper rallied his teammates to take a stand for a larger share of the World Series income. The
starting time of game five came and went without the players taking the field. Negotiations continued for more than an hour before Hooper agreed that they shouldn’t keep the war veterans waiting any longer and the players agreed to play.
Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, remembering the performance in Chicago in game one, instructed the band in Boston to play the anthem. The 15,238 in the crowd rose to their feet, removed their caps and joined in singing. The Cubs won that game, but the Red Sox were victorious the following day to finish off their last World Series championship for 86 years.
On Sept. 11, 1918, the New York Times story about game five was headlined, “National Anthem Opens the Affray” and began with the line, “The Band played the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ while the players and spectators stood with bared heads.” A tradition was born that continues to this day. So when Cleveland and Chicago play (at Wrigley this time) tonight in Game 3, it will be nearly 98 years to the day since this patriotic tradition was born.