Many Americans think that we play “The Star Spangled Banner” at the start of sporting events because it is our National Anthem. In reality, it is our National Anthem because it was played at the start of sporting events.
The details are a bit murky, since there are several versions of the story. The most common sets the time as the 1918 World Series. The place is unquestionably Comiskey Park, Chicago, the home of the White Sox. Our entry into World War I had raised a high level of patriotic fervor throughout the nation, especially as our men were gassed and shot in tremendous numbers. There was talk of canceling baseball, or at least the World Series, in honor of the sacrifice. But the men in the trenches wanted to follow what was happening back home, and the game continued.
Charles Comiskey knew how to get a crowd going, and he decided to have the band play a tune for the Seventh Inning Stretch. He selected his favorite patriotic tune, “The Star Spangled Banner”. The crowd went nuts. The next game, they repeated the musical interlude and once again everyone sang along and cheered. By the next game, it was moved to the start of the game to give it the full force it deserved.
The next year, the practice spread among ballparks across the nation. Soon, it was standard practice to raise the flag while playing “The Star Spangled Banner” before every game.
It was not until 1931 that a resolution in Congress named it our National Anthem. By that time, it was one of the best known of all patriotic tunes because anyone who had ever attended a ballgame had heard it.
If you have ever wondered why this is our National Anthem, consider for a moment that Charles Comiskey liked it and had it played one day at his ballpark. And remember that things sometimes have to run the opposite way we think in order to get us to where we are today.