Many major sporting events have a break period built into their match schedules. Most competitive team sports, such as football, basketball, and several others, have a ‘half-time’ – an intermission that divides the first and second halves of a match – that allows competing teams to rest briefly before reinitiating play (spectating fans also take this opportunity to refresh themselves in a variety of ways). Baseball also has a distinctive break period that allows players and fans alike to rest and recuperate before the game resumes. However, because baseball games are traditionally divided up into 9 innings, a true ‘half-time’ is neither possible nor viable. As a result, the baseball alternative to half-time takes place immediately after the top-half (and, subsequently, precedes the bottom-half) of the 7th inning. This event is common in nearly all forms of baseball (professional or even recreational) and is aptly-named the “Seventh-Inning Stretch.” An avid follower of Major-League Baseball has a solid understanding of what the Seventh-Inning Stretch is and what it means, but the origin story and various historical trivia behind this event remain unknown to a significant number of baseball fans. Here are 7 exquisite facts about the Seventh-Inning Stretch you probably didn’t know:
- Much like the origin of baseball itself, the source of the Seventh-Inning Stretch is disputed. Even today, many of the stories revolving around the foundation of the Seventh-Inning Stretch are primarily speculation and legend passed down through family stories and beliefs, not historical fact. Some stories describe the Seventh-Inning Stretch as originating with a man named Jasper Brennan, a team manager for Manhattan College, who, in order to quell unrest from a large crowd on a hot summer day, ordered everyone up in the midst of the 7th inning to stretch their legs. Other origin tales pit William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States (also, incidentally, the heaviest of America’s presidents) as the creator, after he rose from his seat in the 7th inning of a baseball game to stretch his legs, due to discomfort. According to this account, the rest of the crowd rose with President Taft out of respect, and a tradition was born. No set-in-stone origin story of the Seventh-Inning Stretch truly exists.
- The Seventh-Inning Stretch is, more accurately, the first in a recurring series of intermissions that would take place every 7-inning interval. In other words, it is customary, should a baseball game stretch so far into extra innings, to also have a “Fourteenth-Inning Stretch” and even a “Twenty-First-Inning Stretch” in the middle of the 14th and 21st innings, respectively. The longest baseball game in MLB history was an 8-hour, 25-inning match between the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers, so a 28th inning stretch has never been needed in a Major-League Baseball game.
- The first published report of a Seventh-Inning Stretch was released in 1869. The account was written by Harry Wright, the Cincinnati Red Stockings’ manager at the time. Wright reported the following in a letter: “The spectators all arise between halves of the seventh inning, extend their legs and arms and sometimes walk about. In so doing they enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a longposture upon hard benches.”
- The official terminology for the Seventh-Inning Stretch cannot be traced backbeyond the 1920s. As mentioned previously, the event itself could have been founded at some point in the 19th Century, but any recorded instance of the term “Seventh-Inning Stretch” itself being used as a means of describing the event was either unofficial or lost.
- In modern baseball games, the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is a common tradition associated with the Seventh-Inning Stretch. Since September 11th, 2001, “God Bless America” has also become prominent as an alternative song.
- In MLB, the Seventh-Inning Stretch has grown in popularity to also occasionally include traditions specific to certain teams. Some examples of this include the Baltimore Orioles, the Texas Rangers, and the Cincinnati Reds playing traditional folksongs. The Toronto Blue Jays are notorious for implementing stretch exercises for both the team’s players and the members of the crowd to the tune of the club’s song, “OK Blue Jays.”
- Some of the previously-mentioned team traditions have even spilled over into the 8th To define themselves separately from other baseball teams, the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers incite each team’s fans to sing along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” respectively. But, if these traditions, which are derived from the Seventh-Inning Stretch, are celebrated in the 8th inning, are they still Seventh-Inning Stretch traditions?
While the tradition may not be as heavily praised and promoted as half-time is in other sports, the Seventh-Inning Stretch holds a special place in the hearts and minds of all baseball fans.