The Story of the U.S. National Anthem

… and how it became part of the national pastime


chicago-cubs-national-anthemIn the fall of 1918, America was in the depths of wartime – this time, World War I. World War I had begun four years earlier and after the bloody violent struggle, it finally seemed that America (and it’s allies) would be victorious. Patriotism during this time was at an all-time high.  Major sporting events particularly became venues for public displays of patriotism and unity, as they still are to some extent today.


The Star-Spangled Banner had been played during sporting events dating all the way back to the late 1800s, but the song cemented itself in the sporting world during the fall classic of America’s pastime… the 1918 World Series.


The 1918 World Series was significant for a number of reasons. It featured a matchup between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, two of the best teams of the era. Of course, after this World Series, neither of these teams would win a World Series for a combined 181 years.


The Red Sox had a star pitcher on their roster by the name of Babe Ruth, who, of course, turned out to be a better hitter than pitcher, which was saying something given his pitching skills. The war had forced the government to draft ball players into service during the summer and, under the “Work or Fight” order, baseball was told to end their season prior to Labor Day. Therefore, the 1918 World Series became the first (and to this day, only) to be played entirely in September. In addition, a bomb – the act of the anti-capitalist union “Industrial Workers of the World” — had blown up the Chicago Federal Building only days earlier, killing four and injuring thirty.


Game one of the series was played in Chicago. Some fans, due to fear and solemnness over the bombing, stayed away from the ballpark. Only 19,000 of the available 30,000 seats were filled. The ballpark was decked out in red, white, and blue, the Cubs’ brass trying everything to make fans forget the violence of war, both here and abroad.


As Babe Ruth pitched a masterpiece against their Cubbies, fans remained silent and subdued in their seats.  With the Sox leading one to nothing going into the bottom of the seventh inning, Chicago’s ownership had arranged for a military band to play the Star-Spangled Banner during the seventh inning stretch.


As the first notes played, fans began to hum and, then, sing along. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas, a Navy man himself, stood silent and gave a military salute, prompting other ballplayers to do the same. Finally, the crowd came alive. A cheer erupted from the stands at the conclusion of the song. The Cubs would lose the game, but the media all wrote about how the fans excitement rose with the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner.


First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.


For the next two games in Chicago, the Cubs management had the military band again play the Star-Spangled Banner during the seventh inning stretch. The crowds were delighted and fans began showing up to the games, wanting to be part of the patriotic display. The World Series moved to Boston and the Red Sox brass, refusing to be outdone, moved the Banner to before the game and used it to welcome wounded veterans onto the the field who had received free tickets to the game. With that, a sports tradition was born.


The Red Sox would go on to the win the World Series four games to two and would not be victorious for another 86 years – until 2004. In 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a law that declared that the Star-Spangled Banner would forever also be known as the National Anthem. But it was the fall of 1918 that the Star-Spangled Banner and America’s pastime became forever linked.


The 2017 World Series is slated to begin on Tuesday, Oct. 24 and end on Wednesday, Nov. 1.


It’s obviously too early to know which teams are playing, but the annual Fall Classic will be the 113th World Series as the National and American League champs square off. Last year, the Cubs ended their World Series drought by coming back from down 3–1 in the series against the Indians.



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