One game to go before the baseball season is over alas. And one more game to go before we don't have to listen to the maudlin, faux-patriotic Seventh Inning Stretch performances of "God Bless America."
This is something Major League Baseball started doing after 9/11, and while I understood for the time at that moment, I hate that it's still going on. For a while, a few ballclubs were doing it during the season, but most don't anymore, except maybe on special occasions. But MLB makes sure it's performed during every game in the post-season. Because the post-season is Special. And so we must be uber-patriotic.
Well...we are uber-patriotic. We stand and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before every game. It's the National Anthem, after all. Fair enough.
But "God Bless America" is a pop tune. It's a patriotic pop tune. It's a very good patriotic pop tune. And it's wonderful for stirring the patriotic heart. Well-done, Irviing Berlin. But it's still a pop tune, and singing it is one thing, but then to ask people to "Please rise and honor America" is ridiculous. It's faux-patriotic. Standing up to sing a pop song is not honoring America. It's making a mockery of patriotism. Even if it's accompanied by military guard.
If MLB wants to honor the military, great! Let that same officer sing the National Anthem before the game, rather than the pop star promoting their latest album. "The Star Spangled Banner" was written to honor a battle victory at war, after all. It's a perfect fit.
They don't sing "God Bless America" at the half-time of football games. Or after the third quarter of basketball games. Or following the second period of hockey games. Or halt tennis matches after the second set to rise and honor honor America. Or stop golf tournaments. Or after a NASCAR race, or the Kentucky Derby. But for some reason, Major League Baseball thinks that during the post-season, instead of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and celebrating the actual event everyone is at, we should "rise to honor America" (which everyone has already just done before the game) and sing a pop tune.
And ultimately, that's not what the Seventh Inning Stretch is for. It's...to stretch. Literally. It's a break from sitting for two hours, to "stretch" your legs, not to renew your patriotism, which you just declared only seven innings earlier. The Seventh Inning Stretch is a time for fun, for raising the roof and "root, root, root for the home team" as the game goes into its final turn -- because if they don't win it's a shame. In Chicago at Wrigley Field, the Cubs have made it a baseball celebration with guest conductors who lead the roaring crowd. And crowds, not just in Chicago but throughout the country actually look forward to singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," I believe. Because it's great fun. And a chance to root, root for their home team.
But almost worse is how they present "God Bless America" at ballgames. If they're going to insist on singing it, for goodness sake...then sing it right!!! When MLB drags out "God Bless America" in the middle of their Important Games, they bring onstage someone in military uniform to push the patriotic button and make sure they sing the song like a dirge, dragging out every...last...freaking...note like it was a heart-breaking aria in a death scene by Giuseppe Verdi, extending each...last...syllable so slowly that a turtle could beat it plodding around the bases, trying desperately to rip...at..our...heartstrings by over-emoting in a way so maudlin and bathetic it would bring tears pouring out a rock.
In fact, "God Bless America" is intended to be sung in a rousing way which is what stirs our souls -- and what makes it such a great, moving song. This is how it was intended to be sung. And subjective as that may sound, it's actually It's easy to know it because here is the very first public performance of it ever, by Kate Smith on Armistice Day, November 10, 1938.
This is how "God Bless America" is supposed to be sung. Far more stirring than any version you heard during the post-season.
Okay, so maybe Kate Smith singing God Bless America for the first time isn't proof enough for some of you. Fine. I get it. Here then is Irving Berlin himself on The Ed Sullivan Show singing the song, for which you may recall he gave all the royalties to the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.
Even at age 80 (this show was celebrating his birthday), he knew -- because he wrote the thing -- that you let the melody pull you on, not haltingly stop at every break to bare your soul. But he really knew was how to rouse every person listen, and get them to want to sing the song with him at the top of their lungs.
But wait, there's more! Here's a bonus for you.
In the 1970s, the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, competing in the Birthplace of Liberty, decided that every once in a while they would play an audio recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" before their games, rather than always the National Anthem. What the team noticed is that they seemed to do very well when they played that old recording of Kate Smith, so it became a good luck charm, and they kept playing it more and more often. Eventually, the Flyers had a won-loss (and tie) record of 36-3-1 in games when the games began with a recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America."
And in 1974, the team was spurred on enough to make the Stanley Cup. The finals!
And then, without telling anyone, as a big secret before one of Philadelphia's home games during the Stanley Cup, they make a change. They decided not to play a recording of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" -- no, instead they brought the 67-year-old singer herself to center ice in front of a shocked and mad-crazy roaring crowd to sing the song live, that she had introduced 36 years earlier.
Not only does she get the entire stadium singing along with her, once they stop cheering (because of the recording it's hard to hear the crowed, but if you listen closely around the 2:35 mark, you can tell) -- rather than just sedately sitting back to watch someone else perform, but when it's all over even opposing Boston players come over to shake her hand -- the hand, keep in mind, of Philadelphia's good luck charm
Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup.
And here's that moment. And here again is how the song is supposed to be sung. Just joy and enthusiasm flowing out of every pore. Even if you're only wearing your best house dress.
Wait, wait! No, there's more. Just because you're so special.
The Philadelphia Flyers kept winning with the song, so they kept playing Kate Smith's recording before the games. They won the Stanley Cup again in 1975, and kept winning in 1976 and continued to play the recording -- and made it to their third straight Stanley Cup. And once again brought out Kate Smith to sing it live, in another rousing and very enthusiastic and emotional performance with the crowd singing along in loud voice. (I won't embed that -- even I have my limits -- but for those who want to see it, you can find the video here.)
The team didn't win the championship that year, but by then the song because a Flyers' tradition. They kept playing Kate Smith's old recording of "God Bless America" -- but eventually moved on. Not from the song, no, they kept using that, but instead had other solo singers performing it live. And one of them, Lauren Hart, became a team standby.
And in 2009, Philadelphia was in the playoffs again. And Lauren Hart was there to sing it again. And so, too -- to the explosive joy of the totally unsuspecting fans -- with a bit of wondrous electronic magic was Kate Smith herself once more from that famous 1974 appearance singing along in a glorious duet.
It's beautifully done. (The best part is at the 53-second mark when Ms. Hart knows what's coming and knows the crowd doesn't, and can't help peeking a look up at the jumbo screen in giddy anticipation.) And this once more is how it's supposed to be done.
If you're going to sing "God Bless America," then you do it at the beginning of the game to get the crowed roaring. But whenever you decide to sing, you blast it out. Like it was intended.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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