As the tale is most often told, the practice of performing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in American professional sports supposedly began as a tribute to a nation at war during the first game of the 1918 World Series which pitted the Chicago Cubs against the Boston Red Sox.
First reported by The New York Times the very same day (September 5, 1918), the story goes like this:
Far different from any incident that has ever occurred in the history of baseball was the great moment of the first world’s series game between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, which came at Comiskey Park this afternoon during the seventh-inning stretch. As the crowd of 19,274 spectators—the smallest that has witnessed the diamond classic in many years — stood up to take their afternoon yawn, that has been the privilege and custom of baseball fans for many generations, the band broke forth to the strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The yawn was checked and heads were bared as the ball players turned quickly about and faced the music. Jackie Fred Thomas of the U.S. Navy was at attention, as he stood erect with his eyes set on the flag fluttering at the top of the lofty pole in right field. 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.
The only problem is that this tale is false.
At least, it connects the innovation to the wrong war…
The first time “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed before, during, or after a baseball game is likely May 15, 1862 in Brooklyn, New York. On this day—during the American Civil War—”The Star-Spangled Banner” was played for the first time in baseball. The song was part of a pre-game celebration of the opening of a new stadium, at least according to Harold Seymour’s 1960 history Baseball: The Early Years. The day marks another milestone as the new field was the first baseball park to be enclosed by a fence—an innovation envisioned by promoter William H. Cammeyer to keep out freeloaders and thus welcome another baseball first—the admission ticket.