Saturday, July 19, 2014

Breaking The Color Barrier and "Take Me Out To The Ballgame"/West Palm Beach to Jacksonville: Spring Training Part 2

This is part of a multi-part post: West Palm Beach to Jacksonville Spring Training 

Hello and welcome back to Old Highway Notes. The last time we touched down, we looked at the early history of Spring Break In Florida in the years before World War II. The war had curtailed travel to such an extant that Major League Baseball Teams had stopped going to Florida for Spring Training during the duration of the war.

In 1946,, the war was over and Baseball returned to Florida. Eleven teams would make their return to the Citrus State to warm up and prepare for the season.


American League

Athletics-West Palm Beach, FL/Wright Field
Indians-Clearwater, FL
Red Sox-Sarasota, FL
Senators-Orlando, FL/Tinker Field
Tigers-Lakeland, FL/Henley Field

National League

Braves-Fort Lauderdale, FL
Cardinals-Saint Petersburg, FL/Waterfront Park, Al Lang Field
Dodgers-Daytona Beach, FL
Giants-Miami, FL
Phillies-Miami Beach, FL/Flamingo Park
Reds-Tampa, FL/Plant Field

The most interesting story of the 1946 season was not what was happening in the Major Clubs, but instead what was happening in the Minors. The Dodgers AAA team the Montreal Royals were making history in Daytona Beach.In November of 1945 The Dodgers, general manager Branch Rickey had announced the signing of a versatile star from UCLA. He was black man and Major League Baseball had excluded black players since 1868 making the signing quite controversial.The player was named Jackie Robinson.

Jackie Robinson as a Montreal Royal (
Jackie Robinson was well aware of the impact of being the first black player signed to a Major League Baseball club in nearly a hundred years. Like many blacks from that era, he recognized the hypocrisy of a nation allowing blacks to serve as soldiers fighting for the country that excluded them systematically. He had the courage in his belief to make him the man to break the color barrier. Rather than taking the bus from Los Angeles to Florida, he decided to fly there with his wife Rachel. He felt that flying would emphasize his success as a professional and represent his race well. He was delayed at a layover in New Orleans where he couldn't even find a restaurant to serve his wife and himself. In Pensacola, he was ordered off the plane to give the seats to white passengers.Desperate he bought a bus ticket in Jacksonville. On the bus he was told to sit in the back of the bus before arriving at the Dodgers training facilities in Sanford Florida. That where the Montreal Royals trained. He did not arrive at Spring Training until 36 hours after leaving Los Angeles making him miss the first two days of training.

Sanford was a segregationist town in 1946 with an active Ku Klux Klan chapter and strict adherence to racial division. Branch Rickey had intended to have Robinson as well as another black player, pitcher John Wright stay with the team at the Mayfair Hotel in Sanford. However local laws prohibited such desegregation.  It was arranged for Robinson and Wright to stay with local Black doctor David Brock.

After two days death threats were arriving and Robinson and Wright were warned to get out of town or they would be lynched that night, Lynchings were quite common in Florida after World War II and Rickey slipped the players out of Sanford and on to Daytona Beach where the first preseason game was scheduled, as well as far more tolerant attitude towards blacks, On St. Patricks Day, March 17th of 1946, in Daytona Beach, Jackie Robinson became the first black player to play minor league baseball in the 20th century in an exhibition game between the Royals and the Dodgers.

The next year, on April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson had been moved up to the majors and became the first back player in Major League Baseball since 1868. He would go on to be voted the MVP of the season in 1947. He spent his whole career until 1956 with the Dodgers where he played with a .311 lifetime batting average. leading the Dodgers to six pennants. Jackie Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He is still considered a heroic figure in civil rights history.

Baseball would continue struggling with segregation in the state as more and more teams eliminated the color barrier.  During the late 1940's and early 1950's there were fewer teams playing in Florida, with racial issues at least playing a part in decisions to warm up for the season elsewhere late 1950's many the teams had returned to Florida.

The smaller crowds and more informal environment are a big draw. (Flickr/CC)

Recent Challenges To Florida Spring Training

Decades went by. Many teams played in the same venues for years, In the late 1990's a phenomenon began that is ongoing and still is effecting Florida Spring Training. Phoenix has grown as a city and has made a push to be the epicenter of preseason baseball. Shorter drive times and less humid weather as well as financial incentives have caused many team to relocate into the Phoenix area. Florida is not as populous these days with baseball players in the spring, but there is still half of  the  league with 15 teams that play here.


American League

Blue Jays-Dunedin, FL/Dunedin Stadium, Grant Field
Devil Rays-Saint Petersburg, FL/Progress Energy Park at Al Lang Field
Orioles-Sarasota FL
Red Sox-Fort Myers FL
Tigers-Lakeland, FL/Joker Marchant Stadium
Twins-Fort Myers, FL/Lee County Sports Complex-Hammond Stadium
Yankees-Tampa, FL/Legends Field

National League

Astros-Kissimmee, FL/Osceola County Stadium
Braves-Kissimmee, FL/Walt Disney’s World of Sports Complex-Cracker Jacks Stadium
Cardinals-Jupiter, FL/Roger Dean Stadium
Marlin-Jupiter, FL/Roger Dean Stadium
Mets-Port Saint Lucie, FL/Saint Lucie Sports Complex-Thomas J White Stadium
Nationals-Viera, FL/Space Coast Stadium
Pirates-Bradenton, FL/Bill McKechnie Field

"Take Me Out To The Ballgame" 

This weeks for our playlist I scoured my music collection for songs about baseball. I found a nice handful for you. The set includes 4 versions of baseballs national anthem, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame".  The song was written in 1908. I'll let the Baseball Hall Of Fame tell the story:
“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was written – probably in about a half an hour – in the spring of 1908, by two gentlemen who were professional Tin Pan Alley songwriters and who professed never to have seen a big league baseball game. That claim was probably true for Albert Von Tilzer, a songwriter and publisher from Indiana who moved to Gotham to seek his fortune – and found it. He wrote more than 20 songs which sold over a million copies each and was astute enough to also start a publishing company with his brother that administered those songs. Von Tilzer was also the first to publish compositions by a couple of fellows named Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.
His collaborator on the song, Jack Norworth, hailed from Philadelphia, Pa., and was a multi-talented entertainer; he could sing, write, and act on stage, radio, television and movies. Norworth and his wife, singer-actress Nora Bayes, were as famous in early 20th century America as any celebrity couple in today’s pantheon – take Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood for example.
The story goes that Norworth penned the lyrics one day while riding one of Manhattan’s new subway trains north toward the Polo Grounds. He remembered seeing a sign advertising that day’s game and pulling out a pencil and paper to scribble down a set of lyrics, which Von Tilzer would later pair with a tune he had composed. (The original manuscript is part of the Hall of Fame Library’s collection.)
The song was huge hit by 1908 standards. The sheet music sold millions of copies. The song was adapted with slides of baseball scenes to shows as a sing-a-long segment at the nickelodeon movie theaters. Between October and December of 1908, 10 different artists released cylinder recordings of the number that went to the top 10.

Interestingly, it was not until 1934 that the song was first played during a game at a ballpark. It was played at  a world series game by the St. Louis Cardinals band during a pre-game performance. The song would get occasional play in the parks after that but it wasn't the traditional break in the game that it is today.

The break in the game in the game existed already. Called the "seventh inning stretch", from Wikipedia:

In baseball in the United States and Canada, the seventh-inning stretch is a tradition that takes place between the halves of the seventh inning of a game – in the middle of the seventh inning. Fans generally stand up and stretch out their arms and legs and sometimes walk around. It is a popular time to get a late-game snack as well; many vendors end alcohol sales at this point. The stretch also serves as a short break for the players.
The use of the song during the seventh inning stretch is a relatively recent phenomenon.  In 1976, Hall Of Fame announcer Harry Caray began singing the song into the mic during the traditional late game break at the Chicago White Sox games he was announcing at the time. It was sort of his signature thing. In 1982 he moved across town to become the announcer of the Chicago Cubs. He would naturally take the song with him.  Due to the Cubs nationwide cable TV contract the song as a part of the seventh inning game break would spread like wildfire throughout the league.

Times change and so do traditions. Some kids that are growing up today will have other songs that they consider the traditional "seventh inning stretch". Again, from Wikipedia:
Following September 11, 2001, the song "God Bless America" became common during the seventh-inning stretch, sometimes in addition to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and sometimes replacing it entirely. Some stadiums play "God Bless America" only on Sundays. At Yankee Stadium the song is now played at every game, in addition to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".
Since 2002, "God Bless America" has been performed at all Major League Baseball All-Star Games and playoff games, often with a celebrity recording artist ("Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is sometimes done afterwards with a recording of Harry Caray), as well as Opening Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, September 11, and many post-season games
During the deciding Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series, Lauren Hart (the daughter of Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Gene Hart) appeared at Citizens Bank Park to sing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch as she had become a fixture at Philadelphia Flyers games singing that song in duet with Kate Smith as the Flyers' good-luck charm before important games, with the hope that Hart would also bring that luck to the Philadelphia Phillies as well.[9]

For more on "God Bless America" you can read my post from my Highway 101 Crossing The Border series HERE. Back to "Take Me Out To The Ballgame".  My collection barely scratch the surface of versions of this classic that has been played by over 500 recording artists and used in television and the movies over 1,200 times not to mention all the times it was song by the lusty crowd at a ballgame during the 7th inning stretch. But I have some other baseball songs as well to share with you.

Playlist Additions

Lets get into the music, my first version of "take Me Out To The Ballgame" is a ragtime arrangement from Rod Miller, the pianist at Disneyland's Coke Corner for decades. Next is a a fairly simple, almost player piano-esque version from an album called 26 Happy Honky Tonk Memories that features pre-prohibition hits in that same style.

  • Take Me Out To The Ballgame     Four-Hand Piano     Rod Miller and Alan Thompson     2:31
  • Take Me Out To The Ballgame      26 Happy Honky Tonk Memories     Dave Jasen     2:21
Next we have Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam at Chicago's Wrigley Field  During the 7th inning stretch. This is an appropriate tie in to the close of beer sales during a game as Mr. Vedder sounds like he has had enough.
  • Take Me Out To The Ballgame (Live at Wrigley Field)     Eddie Vedder     0:56

The story of Spring Training and Major league baseball is the story of of adults playing a children's game for entertainment. Peter, Paul and Mary take us back to those childhood days of summer, where a little luck can make everything different. 

Some folks play the game until adulthood closes in and leaves them with nothing but memories of those "Glory Days".

But these posts are indeed about professional baseball. Woody Guthrie wrote a song about baseball that he never recorded. Around 50 years later, Billy Bragg was given permission to collaborate with Wilco in recording a collection of lost Guthrie songs called Mermaid Avenue.  Vol.1 and Vol.2 The song was "Joe Dimaggio Done It Again".

Woody Guthrie dropped names in that song, but perhaps the most well known name dropping song is Terry Cashman's  "Willie, Mickey, and the Duke (Talkin' Baseball)".

Some baseball fans get too carried away. And when the collector bugs collides with sports mania, things can get weird like this song from Rhino Records The World's Worst Records collection, "Baseball Card Lover" by Rockin' Richie Ray.

A much bigger hit, and a better, less weird song is "Cheap Seats" by Alabama that celebrates the joys of an afternoon at the ballpark for the casual fan.

We bring it back home with the classics. Steve Goodman is a Chicago folk artist we will be talking about in more detail  as we explore Chicago on Route 66. Goodman is a Cubs fan and it shows in his music. We have a trio of his songs to share here. His "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" is a snappy rendition of the classic rag. While his "Go Cubs Go!" has been used by the team for promotions, and "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request" is perhaps the greatest lament from a die hard yet disappointed fan ever written. It somehow usually leaves me with a smile on face, a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. It's an excellent song!

To close out  we have a clip of one the most famous comedy routines of all time. Abbot and Costello perform "Who's On First", a conversation of hilarious confusion involving strange nicknames and the game of baseball. The video features a response skit from Jimmy Fallon featuring a who's who' of legendary comedians.

Well that does it for this weeks Old Highway Notes. Sorry for the delay while I took a short summer vacation. We should be back on schedule now returning to Chicago next week to continue to explore the blues and Muddy Waters on Route 66. Two weeks will take us back to San Diego for more adventures on Highway 101. In just three short weeks we return to I-95 in Florida for more baseball and along the Central Coast.  Join us for more adventure along the great highways of America, won't you? And until we speak again, all I can say is "I don't know!""Third Base!!"

Mileage Stats

Route 66: 0 Miles/1 State/602 Tracks/126 Videos/25 Posts
Highway 101: 16  Miles/1 State/503 Tracks/181 Videos/18 Posts
Interstate 95: 77 Miles/1 State/24 Tracks/60 Videos/8 Posts

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