Why Do We Stretch During the Seventh Inning?

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When you consider that the designated time for baseball spectators to take a break, sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" off-key, and make one last trip to the adult beverage stand has always been in the middle of the seventh inning—two full innings past the halfway point of the game—one would think that the seventh-inning stretch would have an official, agreed-upon origin story. But one would be wrong.

The seventh-inning stretch was initially thought to be the second historic impact that President William Howard Taft had on the game of baseball on April 14, 1910. On that day at Griffith Stadium, the Washington Senators played Opening Day host to the Philadelphia Athletics. Supposedly, umpire Billy Evans extemporaneously handed Taft the baseball after the managers had been introduced and asked the Chief Executive to throw it over home plate; other sources say it was Senators manager Jimmy McAleer's idea. Either way, when Taft did as he was told, he became the first President of the United States to throw out a first pitch. As the legend goes, in between the top and bottom halves of the seventh inning, the 6-foot 2-inch, 300 pound Taft's lack of comfort sitting in his small wooden chair was too much to bear. The POTUS rose to stretch his legs. Everyone else in Griffith Stadium, not wanting to seem disrespectful, did the same.

Unfortunately for Taft, there is an origin story that predates his moment by a couple of decades. Brother Jasper Brennan, the namesake of the Manhattan College Jaspers, was responsible for bringing the then-unknown sport of baseball to the school in the early 1880s. As the manager and the Prefect of Discipline, Brother Jasper had to keep his eye and attention on both the game and the students in the stands. He would always tell the students beforehand that they were not to get up or move until the game was over, when they were ready to return for the evening meal. The students, however, seemed particularly restless one "hot, sticky" day in June 1882. Before the bottom of the seventh against the semi-pro team The Metropolitans, Brother Jasper called time-out and told the students to stand up and stretch for a couple of minutes, alleviating their transparent troubles. It quickly became a tradition at the college's home games, and when the New York Giants franchise came by for a game, they liked what they saw, and brought the practice of a seventh inning stretch to the big leagues.

That would be all well and good, but the story of Harry Wright has to be considered as well. Wright was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1953 by the Veterans Committee, mostly for his work organizing, managing and playing center field for the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings (later the Reds), baseball's first openly all-professional team. Back then, financial compensation for players' efforts was looked at with suspicion, the theory being that if cash was involved, the game would turn corrupt. Wright was known though to be on the straight and narrow, once reversing a bad call by an umpire even though the initial ruling benefitted his own team. Despite the amazing public display of morality, Wright is best known—if at all—for simply writing a letter to a friend. In 1869, Wright wrote Cincinnati resident Howard Ferris a letter that contained the first reference to anything resembling the seventh-inning stretch. "The Spectators all rise between halves of the seventh, extend their arms and legs and sometimes walk about. They enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a long posture upon the benches," Wright wrote. The original source of the letter seems to have come from the April 1982 edition of Cincinnati Magazine in their "Nothing But The Facts" section.

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August 6, 2014 - 9:30am
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