Kate Smith would not approve of those chains

Cashman, we urge you to put in a claim
Down on the Farm

Every seventh inning at Yankee Stadium since September 18, 2001, Kate Smith (or Ronan Tynan) belts out “God Bless America.” Before the performance (or recording), Bob Sheppard urges us to “remember the servicemen and women who have lost their lives defending our freedom and our way of life.”

For a while after Sept. 11, all Major League Baseball teams were observing a moment of silence and playing this song. But now, five and a half years after the attacks, the moment of silence seems to have dwindled down to a half-second of silence, and “God Bless America” at Yankee Stadium – the only stadium at which it is performed on a daily basis – is raising more than a few eyebrows, as The New York Times noted yesterday. The Yankee Stadium ushers, it seems, chain in the fans and glare at folks who dare to move during the song.

Seconds before “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” are played, police officers, security guards and ushers turn their backs to the American flag in center field, stare at fans moving through the stands and ask them to stop. Across the stadium’s lower section, ushers stand every 20 feet to block the main aisle with chains…

Howard J. Rubenstein, the spokesman for the Yankees’ principal owner, George Steinbrenner, said the policy was an expression of patriotism. “Mr. Steinbrenner wanted to do all games to remind the fans about how important it is to honor our nation, our service members, those that died on Sept. 11 and those fighting for our nation,” Rubenstein said in a telephone interview.

Among the sports world on the Internet, Will Leitch at Deadspin covered this story. He noted how bad the song is, how Irving Berlin himself grew to hate it, and how enforced patriotism on behalf of the Yankees is just tacky. Over at Fark, that site of high-brow Internet culture, the Farkers had a field day with it as well.

But none of the Yankee bloggers have tackled this issue. Why? Because we hate to mix baseball and politics. We all get along because we all love the Yankees. We don’t want to know if we agree with George W. Bush’s foreign disaster policy. We don’t want to see the Yankee blogosphere devolve into a blue state-red state battle. It’s bad enough we have to deal with Red Sox trolls; we’re not going to get embroiled in the Michelle Malkin-Daily Kos wars as well.

I, however, want to break that silence. In my opinion – and in this piece I speak for me and me alone – it’s time for the Yanks to give Kate Smith and Ronan Tynan a break. We know the Yankees, and every other baseball club, are patriotic. We know the Yankees played a major role in lifting New York’s spirits in the fall of 2001 (even if those nasty Diamondbacks decided to rain on our parade).

But we also know that we are involved in a war in Iraq that shouldn’t have been part of the War on Terror. We also know that President Bush has very little support in the New York area and is suffering through a time in his presidency during which 28 percent of the nation approves of his handling of the job.

We all want to see our troops fighting overseas return home safely, and none of us want another terrorist attack on our soil. But do we really need “God Bless America” at every baseball game? Someone tell the Yankees: This is baseball. Leave the patriotism for some other time.

Update: A few astute commenters have noted that my argument falls back too much on politics and not enough on what the Yankees are doing. My point in mentioning Bush’s approval rating is to say that many people are uncomfortable with the way in which the Yankees promote George Steinbrenner’s ideas of patriotism. While many others agree with it, why not just leave it out all together and let each of us acknowledge our support for America on our own terms?

Cashman, we urge you to put in a claim
Down on the Farm
  • http://jeteupthemiddle.blogspot.com Jeteupthemiddle

    I hate that the Yankees continue to play God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch.

    Every Opening Day since 2003, I keep hoping that THIS will be the year they don’t do it, and that they finally felt that they did it long enough.

    Every Opening Day since 2003, I have been disappointed.

    If it is played every day, how special could it really be?

    The song only makes me roll my eyes now.

  • monkeypants

    I agree with you general sentiment, but not with the execution of your argument. You fall into the trap by laying your politics on your sleeve–whether or not the war in Iraq should be seen as part of the broader war on terror, or was an appropriate policy, etc. is irrelevant. President Bush’s approval rating is irrelevant. (By implication, if his approval rating were high and the war in Iraq were going well, they *should* play God Bless America.) It is also irrelevant whether your or I like the song.

    The real issue is the appropriateness of the song, now five years after the event, during the seventh inning stretch. It’s Mr. Steinbreener’s team, and he can do whatever he wants. But it seems to me that there are plenty of opportnities to display patriotism (even above and beyond the traditional national anthem) during and before the game. But the seventh inning stretch and Take Me Out to the Ballgame has become a venerable baseball tradition, which I would prefer to see fully restored at Yankee Stadium.

    Play Kate Smith before the game, or some other time (maybe the increasingly tired YMCA or the torturous Cotton-Eyed Joe can be replaced). BUt can’t we just have Take me out to the Ballgame in teh seventh?

  • Victoria

    Ben, you imply that this is politically charged, but this really has nothing to do with politics on a fundamental level. Whether or not I align myself with the Democrats or the Republicans does not necessarily have a bearing on the extent to which I am patriotic or the extent to which I disagree with the playing of “God Bless America.” The issues brought up by the fact that this song is still played and by the fact that my movement is restricted while it is played are not partisan issues; they are constitutional, civil liberties-based ones.
    Unrelatedly, I whole-heartedly agree with the previous comment that, among many, many other problems, playing “God Bless America” this frequently dilutes its meaning and only makes listeners resent it.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben

    maybe the increasingly tired YMCA or the torturous Cotton-Eyed Joe can be replaced

    Don’t take my ideas for future posts! The entire musical selection at Yankee Stadium got stuck in repeat somewhere around 1996.

  • wayne’s world

    While I agree that they should stop playing that song every seventh inning, I’m not sure I understand what the unpopularity of Bush and the Iraq War have to do with it. Also, while they are at it, they should inter “YMCA.”

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    Best part about sitting in the bleachers: you can’t watch Cotton Eyed Joe, even if you want to (at least from the back). I’d actually sit through God Bless America (it doesn’t matter much to me, but it is quite annoying) if they would just give Cotton Eyed Joey his pink slip.

  • Jesse G.

    I also can’t stand the “God Bless America” situation. However, it is totally unsurprising considering Steinbrenner is a well-known conservative republican, long-time Nixon apologist, and was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to CREEP (the incredibly ironically Committee to Re-Elect the President). Thus, retrograde political conservatism and enforced patriotism is par for the course.

  • Victoria

    Wow, there are people outside of our family who complain about YMCA and Cotton-Eyed Joe??! That feels great to know.

  • Victoria

    And yeah, maybe you can’t see Cotton-Eyed Joe from the bleachers, but you can sure as hell still here him, and that’s pretty bad alone.

  • rbizzler

    My beef is not with the playing of the song per se, but the chaining in of patrons during it’s playing. That is a severe infringement upon freedom of speech rights not to mention the fact that it is a forced act of patriotism that rings a bit hollow. I think that we are all intelligent and informed enough to decide how and when we show our patriotism.

    And cotton-eyed joe is terrible and needs to be trashed ASAP.

  • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

    Political stances don’t matter in this case at all. It’s not too much to ask for the fans to take 45-60 seconds of their day to stand and salute the guys all over the world protecting your right to be at that baseball game.

    Are the chains going to far? Yeah, I think so. But is complaining about God Bless America to far? Yeah, I think so too.

    If you don’t like it, there’s always Canada.

  • Zack

    Begin rant///
    Mike, you’re joking right? I think we can all agree by now that there are a lot of different ways to “support the troops” and show you appreciate living in the US. And I think we can all agree that there is a difference between “fighting for your right to be at that baseball game” and what is going on in Iraq right now, which has nothing to do with me standing or not for God Bless America. It has everything to do with Iraqi citizen’s ability to go to a baseball game or whatever they want to do, in peace and safety. I think its a bit nieve and Us-centric to think that the current situation has anything to do with us…

    But besides that fact, yes, it is too much. Because they aren’t asking, they are demanding that I stand. I don’t go to a baseball game to be lectured at, especially in such a manner. Would it be so hard to offer a moment of silence before the game started, or during one of the innings? That they don’t and instead choose to force fans to stay in the seats demonstrates that it has very little to do with “supporting the troops.”

    And everyone here is right, its not a political issue. If the Yankees or anyone else really wants to support my brothers in the Armed Services, collect money for them, donate proceeds from ticket sales to veteran’s causes, heck, sign petitions to get them out of harm’s way, but don’t try to force me or anyone else into your view of what is and isn’t patriotic.

    We are all at the game to support the Yankees and have a good time, lets focus on that…

    Sorry, end rant///

  • Luddy Bazcej

    I think its time to give it a break. Maybe Sept 11 2007 will be a good time to end it. That is, unless they planned on playing it forever.

    If they want to have a patriotic song every day why not mix it up a bit and have a varied play list? There certainly isnt a lack of good patriotic songs to play.

  • Jennifer

    I couldn’t agree more with the post. I also hate the “enforced patriotism”
    at Yankee Standium. I have another egregious example. When I took a trip to Minneapolis to see the Yanks play the Twins on a Sunday, I was shocked to learn that they play “Proud to be an American” at the Metrodome in the 7th inning. I was flabbergasted.

    Another point about singing…When I was kid, I remember that people would start clapping earlier during the national anthem–like three to two lines from the end. I thought then the clapping meant that people were excited that the song was finally over and the game was about to begin. It seems like people now wait until the very last note before celebrating the game’s start. I hope that in the near future we won’t have to stayed locked up in our seats at a ball game because we might disagree with each other.

    Anyway, I am glad people are finally talking about this issue. Let’s hope that MLB is listening.

  • Marsha

    Everyone who agrees with Ben’s post should let the New York Yankees know how you feel. One of the more suspect statements in the New York Times article was that the Yankees have not received any complaints about the playing of God Bless America. Yeah, right.

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  • Roberta Fey

    I am a proud to say we have 4 generations of Yankee fans in our family. We don’t live close enough to go to all the games but we do watch or listen to just about every game that is broadcast. Kate Smith singing God Bless America is part of the game. I don’t need chains I actually listen and appreciate the gesture.

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