The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion We’ve been singing a feminist anthem for decades and didn’t even know it

Baseball is older than the Republic, but that's not the only reason columnist George F. Will says it has an edge over football. (Video: Kate Woodsome, Patrick Martin, James Pace-Cornsilk/The Washington Post)

Nearly a million Americans will belt out our nation’s unofficial second anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” during Thursday’s Opening Day games. Few will know that the famous tune is actually a feminist anthem.

The lyric that nearly every American knows by heart is actually the song’s chorus. The song begins with a verse that introduces its subject, Katie Casey, a “baseball mad” single woman.

Katie loves “the hometown crew.” Just to see them, “every sou, Katie blew," all her money, in other words. The songwriter, Jack Norworth, is already a bit subversive here. Virtually every person who attended games in 1908, when the song was penned, was male. And why not, since the games were all played in the daytime and women were most likely slaving away at home with children or toiling at work in low-wage jobs? But it gets better.

The next lines establish Katie as a woman with her own mind and will. “Her young beau” calls to “see if she’d like to go to see a show.” But “Miss Kate said no”! Instead, she says, “I’ll tell you what you can do: / Take me out to the ballgame.”

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Yes, the chorus that baseball fans belt out every game during the seventh-inning stretch is what a single woman tells her prospective boyfriend what he can do to get her attention.

Simone de Beauvoir or Gloria Steinem couldn’t have said it better themselves. Katie is the Cosmo Girl writ large, a woman who doesn’t need a man or wait for someone else to guide her life. She does what she wants, when she wants to, on her own terms.

The following verse, even more forgotten than the first, continues in this vein. Katie’s at the game, but the beau is dropped entirely. Instead, she’s yelling at the umpire and leading the crowd in cheers. When the hometown team is tied, she leads the crowd in song, teaching them the famous chorus to lift the spirits of her squad. A strong woman who’s also a leader of men!

Major League Baseball has been sitting on a gold mine for decades, clueless of the cultural treasure that it alone possesses among the major sports. Football and basketball have a long history of objectifying woman as cheerleading sex symbols, as any glance at the sidelines of a modern game will tell you. Baseball, however, has never adopted the sexist approach even as its popularity wanes and television ratings drop.

MLB should use the true background of its most popular element to revive interest in the game. Starting next season, Commissioner Rob Manfred should designate the first Saturday after Opening Day as “Katie Casey Day.” Fans should be taught the song’s first verse, of course, but the day can do so much more. It should highlight the women’s professional league immortalized in the 1992 film “A League of the Their Own.” More importantly, it should honor the ongoing vibrant female softball teams that flourish on college campuses and produce fantastic athletes — and millions of fans.

The NCAA women’s softball World Series attracts nearly 1.5 million viewers per game each summer, often higher than the nationally broadcast regular season baseball games it competes with. Softball great Jessica Mendoza has already broken the gender barrier as a baseball sportscaster by spending three seasons as a color analyst for ESPN’s "Sunday Night Baseball" and recently joining the New York Mets in an advisory capacity. Imagine how much more talent and fans MLB could recruit if it embraced its heritage as a vehicle for female empowerment.

The United States is a much different nation than it was when “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” first appeared. It is a country with a lot more Katie Caseys, and that’s something to celebrate. An annual Katie Casey Day celebration can help MLB grow and help our country advance. How about it, Commissioner Manfred?

Read more:

George F. Will: Don’t fix baseball, even if it’s broken

David Von Drehle: I’m all Kavanaughed out. So let’s talk about baseball.

Alyssa Rosenberg: For a moment, the Red Sox World Series victory made the world make sense again

David Mendell: Stealing home: How travel teams are eroding community baseball

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