Cover the Bases Interview with Tim Wiles

by on December 11, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ballgame is the third most frequently heard tune in the U.S. behind Happy Birthday and the Star Spangled Banner.  It evokes instant images of green grass, sunshine, the crack of a bat, and as Warner Fusselle is quoted as saying “it’s the happiest minute in sports”.  Our guest on this episode of Cover the Bases is Tim Wiles, the author of Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  We are fortunate to have such a renowned expert on the subject of baseball and popular culture join us on the program.  Tim is the Director of Research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.

Baseballs Greatest Hit | Tim Wiles | Baseballisms.comAlthough he was hesitant at first to take on the project of writing this book, we are glad that he was persuaded by one of his co-authors, Bob Thompson, to pursue this historical song.  As Tim tells in the podcast, his one condition for getting involved with the book was to include his friend and collector of all things related to Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Andy Strasberg.

The trio did what all good baseball fans would do and ventured to a ballpark,  Citizen’s Bank Park in this case, to discuss the project and set off on a course to present the song in a beautiful literary package.

They also had the good fortune of working with a talented graphics designer named Damien Castaneda. He was able to take the comprehensive elements of the research that the authors conducted, and put them in a visually appealing format that will speak to any baseball fan.

We get some great insight from Tim about the co-authors of the song Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer.  These two very different personalities crossed paths on Tin Pan Alley back in the early 1900’s, partnered on a few hits prior to 1908 but then hit a homerun on this collaboration.  Interestingly it is the last song that they did together.  Tim has since discovered after publishing the book that this had much to do with Jack Norworth’s equally famous wife, Nora Bayes.

A challenge for any researcher is to determine what information is fact and what information is embellished (this will continue to get more difficult as everyone can now easily publish content, it is no longer required to have printing presses or broadcast facilities).  After Von Tilzer’s death, the great marketer Jack Norworth went on to use various anecdotes to help promote the song’s popularity.  Tim and his co-authors examine many of the claims to get to the true story of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

The book contains a prologue about the death of Albert Von Tilzer as written by Nancy Kriplen.  It represents some of the magical qualities surrounding the game of baseball, and just reinforces our belief that everyone is touched by the game, and has their own unique story to tell about baseball in their lives.

After examining the background of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, we get to enjoy some versions that are represented on the CD that accompanies the book:

Musicians we hear are:

Dr. John and his unmistakable New Orleans swamp boogie version.  Tim loves Dr. John’s swing style, and in fact as he tells it on the podcast, when asked to sign a copy of the book will use “Swing Away!”  in the salutation.  We also discuss the fact that Cracker Jack is mentioned famously in the song.  It might be the best product placement of all time, but we suspect that it was just happenstance to the benefit of the product.

Fred Lambert, from 1908, is the earliest recording presented in the collection, accompanied by what we suspect is a calliope.  We hear the entire version of the song which includes two verses to accompany the chorus that we all know.  Tim is lobbying to have all Baseballisms.com fans tell WGN that he will perform the song at Wrigley only if he gets to perform ALL of the lyrics to the song! Let’s do it!

Tim, who performs the classic baseball poem Casey at the Bat each year at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, has deduced that our Katie Casey, who’s point of view the song is written, must be the daughter of mighty Casey of Mudville.

Mighty Casey | Tim Wiles | Baseballisms.com

Tim Wiles performs Casey At the Bat

Bruce Springstone is the parody character created by a journalist from Baltimore. He recorded a Springsteen tribute record that needed a b-side. So prior to release, a cut of Take Me Out to the Ballgame ws recorded and it became a regional hit. Subsequently, there is an actual Springsteen version on a live album to track down as well.

We cannot complete a conversation about Take Me Out to the Ballgame without discussing Harry Caray and the great tradition at Wrigley Field when the seventh inning stretch comes around.  The book does get into the actual beginnings of this tradition for Harry and informs Cubs fans that it was actually while with the White Sox that owner Bill Veeck persuades Harry to lead the crowd.

After Harry’s rendition, Tim points out appropriately that it is Gary Pressy on the organ with the accompaniment.

To get to know more about Tim’s work or to get in touch with him about a baseball related question, he can be reached at twiles@baseballhalloffame<dot>org and his direct number is 607.547.0332.  He has graciously offered to autograph copies for anyone who contacts him directly!

As promised, here is a little video that I recorded so that you can get a sense of what the book looks like. It’s a beautiful collection that any baseball fan would be proud to own.

We express our gratitude to Tim Wiles for taking the time to appear on Cover the Bases with us, and look forward to keeping up with more of his works, and visiting him some day at the Hall of Fame.

Follow this link to pick up a copy of Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ballgame today. Hopefully you will connect with your own baseball passions through the words of Tim, Andy Strasberg and Bob Thompson.

Amazon Kindle | Baseball Books | Baseballisms.comIf you like the baseball books we profile on Cover the Bases, it might be time for you to pick up a Kindle from Amazon so that you can take all the best Baseball Books with you no matter which stadiums you visit.

Let us know in the comments what you think about the Cover the Bases podcast. We would love to hear from you. Send a Tweet to @baseballisms with a quick message, send us an email or visit our Upload page with a video message.  We look forward to growing a community of fans interested in the poetry of the game of baseball!

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  • Umpireplb

    Tim Wiles took a song whose entirety most people don't even know – it's only the refrain that gets sung during the seventh inning stretch of baseball games, never the stanzas – and somehow turned it into a fascinating study of a lot more than the song itself. It takes real talent to extract so much from so little, but he and his co-authors have created a totally fun and absorbing book. The inclusion of the CD with the book was a brilliant idea; my personal favorite rendition of TMOTTB is the Johnny Gaurnieri piano version, which amazes and delights.

    Tim, along with HOF museum curator John Odell, is also largely responsible for the Hall's leading the way in highlighting the contributions that women have made to the game of baseball, most of which have been ignored or forgotten by other historians. The “Women In Baseball: Diamond Dreams” exhibit on the second floor of the museum is a long overdue tribute to the girls and women who have played, coached, umpired, or worked behind the scenes to make baseball the truly inclusive sport it's meant to be, and Tim deserves many thanks for helping to lift women's hugely underreported contributions to the national pastime out of obscurity through his efforts to bring this exhibit to fruition. He definitely has my appreciation, and so do you, Joe, for featuring him here at baseballisms.com

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