The origin of baseball’s 7th inning stretch is debatable and may never be fully known. The most popular theory credits the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft. On April 14, 1910 Taft was among the fans at Griffith Stadium to watch the Washington Senators play the Philadelphia Athletics. Legend has it Taft, having become very uncomfortable sitting in his seat (Taft was a large man), stood to stretch between the top and bottom halves of the 7th inning. Fans in close proximity to Taft, thinking he was leaving, stood as a gesture of respect. As the bottom half of the 7th inning began, Taft took his seat and the crowd, in turn, returned to their respective seats. Did Taft and the fans at Griffith Stadium unwittingly start a baseball tradition that day? Not likely. While it is widely accepted that the tradition of a President throwing out the ceremonial first pitch originated at Griffith Stadium on that day, Taft’s connection to the 7th inning stretch seems to live only in folklore.
Some baseball theorists contend Brother Jasper, prefect of discipline at Manhattan College in the late 19th century, deserves credit. Proponents of Brother Jasper as originator of the idea contend that, in 1882, he instructed restless students to stand to release their tension midway through the 7th inning of a game. Believing it was a useful exercise he repeated the practice at every game.
Many baseball purists believe neither Taft nor Brother Jasper played a role in the origin of the 7th inning stretch. As evidence, they cite a letter written in 1869 by a Cincinnati Red Stockings player, Harry Wright, to his family. In the letter Mr. Wright describes fans’ behavior, “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 long posture upon hard benches.” Since the letter predates Taft’s visit to Griffith Stadium and Brother Jasper’s 1882 experiment, we are left to wonder where the custom originated.
One thing is clear; the 7th inning stretch is likely to remain an integral part of every fan’s baseball experience for generations to come.
I would like to hear your theories or fond memories of singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the comments below.