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Cracker Jack Celebration for 'Ballgame' Scribe

Jul 12, 2010 – 2:05 PM
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Chris Epting

Chris Epting Contributor

(July 12) -- Three months ago, I wrote a strange-but-true story about Jack Norworth, the guy who wrote the words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The story can now be classified as "strange but wonderful."

I pointed out that generations of Americans know, love and sing his songs. It's almost impossible to separate a mass singalong of baseball's unofficial anthem from a trip to the ballpark -- and still, few people knew this great man, and what he gave us.

Even Los Angeles Angels fans, for the most part, were unaware that his poorly marked grave was hidden in obscurity, just in eyeshot of Anaheim Stadium.

As the author of "Roadside Baseball," a book about landmarks both obscure and celebrated, I was vaguely aware that Norworth was buried at the Melrose Abbey Cemetery in Anaheim, just a short drive from my Huntington Beach home.

But when I went out there a year ago, the folks at the cemetery had no idea who Norworth was, though one person was eager to point out that Carolyn Jones, best remembered as TV's Morticia Addams, was in a nearby mausoleum (and that a devout "Addams Family" fan honors her with black roses at her crypt). Or that Lefty Williams, from the 1919 Black Sox, was there, along with several other lesser-known ballplayers.

But Jack Norworth? Nobody knew about him.

My dinosaur-loving son, Charlie, then 16, is determined to be a paleontologist. On the day we wandered the cemetery, he made a discovery not unlike many he's made in deserts looking for prehistoric bones: He stumbled upon the Norworth grave. Once I heard, "Dad, over here!" I knew we were home free.
Jack Norworth
Library of Congress
Songwriter Jack Norworth, who wrote the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in 1908, didn't actually attend a major league game until years after he wrote the baseball anthem.

You could barely make out the lettering on the marker. But there it was: Jack Norworth 1879-1959.

Nowhere on that grave did it indicate that this man -- a player in the famed Ziegfeld Follies and a writer of such hits as "Shine On, Harvest Moon" -- was buried here.

And nowhere did it indicate that in 1908 he penned the words to what would become the third most popular tune in American history, trailing only the national anthem and "Happy Birthday."

When I wrote the piece, my only intention was to point this out for other fans. Baseball does such a fantastic job celebrating its own past. How did this man's great story fall through the cracks?

But what then happened was truly amazing. Fans came together and decided to right this wrong. In doing so, fans became part of baseball history.

J.P. Myers, an Orange County, Calif., blood courier, was the first to take up the cause, starting a Facebook page to try to generate interest in creating a new historic marker for Norworth at the stadium.

Next came Maria and Charlie Sotelo, who operate a local monument building company. Then it was local businessman Jamie Chisick stepping up to donate money, followed by KinderVision, an organization dedicated to child safety. (AOL News also became involved in the charitable cause and covered a portion of the proceeds.)
Take Me Out to the Ball Game stamp
U.S. Postal Service
In 2008, to mark the 100th anniversary of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," the Post Office commemorated the song with this stamp.

And then on Sunday what seemed unthinkable just several weeks ago became real on an overcast morning -- a stunning marker dedicated to Norworth was unveiled at Melrose Abbey Memorial Park, where he is laid to rest.

In a ceremony attended by more than 100 people, I had the privilege of acting as emcee for the unveiling ceremony. There were Little Leaguers, fans, friends and a Hall of Fame pitching legend, Rollie Fingers, on hand to take part.

J.P spoke, as did Maria, Charlie, Jamie and Doug Sebastian, founder of KinderVision. It was Sebastian who made the arrangements to have Fingers appear, as the ace relief pitcher is a KinderVision spokesman.

In addition to talking about how special "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is to him and other big leaguers, Fingers offered, "As the spokesperson for KinderVision, the national child safety education program, I usually say, "The greatest save is the one we never have to make." However, in this case, this is a save we definitely needed to make. I am honored to be a part of saving Jack Norworth's legacy to baseball.

"I invite everyone who has participated in this effort, everyone who loves baseball and kids, everyone who loves doing good for kids to keep this effort moving forward by joining "the Greatest Save" team at Together we can continue to impact baseball's youngest fans for generations to come."
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Chris Epting
Norworth was co-writer of a number of Tin Pan Alley hits. Many remember him for "Shine On, Harvest Moon."

Jennifer Sweet, head of the nearby Laguna Beach Little League, brought the 1958 trophy given to Norworth at a Dodgers games to mark the song's 50th anniversary. It has since become the award given to the best Laguna Beach team each year, as Norworth spent the last 20 years of his life there (and even helped found the local Little League).

A photo of Norworth first receiving the trophy, provided by Los Angeles Dodgers historian Mark Langill, added an unexpected moment of coincidence to the proceedings. Marked on the back of the photo was the date that it was shot: July 11, 1958, the same day as the unveiling ceremony.

Somewhere, the baseball gods must have been smiling. And somewhere, at this very moment, there's no doubt that someone is singing the song that brought us all together.

Only now, there's a place that truly honors the man who wrote it.
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