Oh, Shut Up, Kate: Let’s End The Obligatory “God Bless America” Rendition


My father hated “God Bless America.” He particularly hated jumbo 40’s singer Kate Smith’s rendition of it, which he believed exploited patriotism and combined it with sentimentality and schmaltz to get ratings and sell records. Smith had an unadorned clarion belt that particularly suited Irving Berlin’s blunt melody, and for 30 years she used the song as her signature, as much as Judy Garland used “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Whenever Smith appeared on a TV variety show like The Hollywood Palace, he would order me to change the channel (yes, I was the family remote) for fear that he would have to hear her sing that song.

I assumed that was the reason why I have felt queasy about Major League Baseball’s 7th inning stretch ritual, installed in 2001, of having a recording of Kate or a live singer ring out the Irving Berlin standard at every major league baseball game since the Twin Towers fell.  In today’s Washington Post, however, a Methodist minister—my father was also a Methodist, as much as he was anything—explained why he refuses to stand for the song. He nailed it.

James Marsh writes,

“…I love this country and don’t want to live anywhere else. But being pressured to stand up at a baseball game for a song that’s essentially a prayer seems, well, un-American. It feels like being pushed into the river for a baptism I didn’t choose. It’s an empty ritual, and one that I think doesn’t hold much theological water. What we join together to say, sing and stand up for says something about us as a people. I think it matters. At ballparks across the country, we are expected to participate in what can be described only as a prayer to ask God’s blessings on our nation. As nice as blessings are, singing this song doesn’t feel like it has integrity the way signing our national anthem does… I imagine that the God I believe in isn’t interested in dispensing special nationalistic blessings. (Or, perhaps more to the point, blessings for our bullpen, error-free fielding and sufficient run support.) When we ask for blessings to be bestowed only on “us,” we are in danger of seeing ourselves as set apart from the world. Faith is global, and one nation doesn’t get any more or less of God than any other. Asking for God’s blessing for “us” or “me” ignores greater needs in our world. We should ask a bigger question: How can we get this blessing to all? I want God walking with and standing beside every single person on this Earth — and every country.

“Stepping back, this also raises the question: Why do we all too frequently seek to invoke rituals that, in the end, undermine our common bonds? Not everyone in our nation or at the ballpark shares the same beliefs. From which god are we asking these blessings? What does the good secular humanist or atheist do during this song? Are we to assume that all deities will be in concert for those who believe in more than one? This “god” business — how (and whether) we conceive of the divine — is messy, even in our houses of worship. At a ballgame, where most of us have come to root for the Nats, it just doesn’t fit. We shouldn’t make a grand assumption that we’re all of one belief. The one thing that we do, in fact, have in common is the love of baseball.”

(Read the whole piece here.)

Bingo. “God Bless America” is one patriotic display at the games too many. It diminishes the significance of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and now seems jingoistic and crass to me. How many of those who are too young to remember 9/11/01 even know why the song is being performed? An obscure gesture is no longer purposeful meaningful. This was originally a demonstration of solidarity with the victims of terrorism, essentially like the playing of Neil Diamond’s even cheesier song, “Sweet Caroline” in ballparks following the Boston Marathon bombing. That was done once, and once was plenty.

And while it isn’t the major reason to dump GBA, I have missed the unique respite that the seventh inning stretch, a far older tradition, provided. Here was a time to stand up or not, get a drink and a dog without missing something, chat with strangers in the stands, review the game so far, all while some version of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” played in the background, harkening our minds back to reflect upon, in the words of that eminent novelist, Terrence Mann, “all that once was good, and that could be again.” 

Now we have to leap to our feet, listen to some opera singer, juvenile contest winner or the Dreaded Kate, and think solemn thoughts. I think enough solemn thoughts, thank you. I go to baseball games to have fun, or be tortured by the Red Sox.

As usual, Dad was right. Shut up, Kate.


31 thoughts on “Oh, Shut Up, Kate: Let’s End The Obligatory “God Bless America” Rendition

  1. I bet the Berlin and Smith heirs (and ASCAP) aren’t in favor of this, Jack. But (seriously) baseball’s an exempt monopoly run at a tremendous profit by its owner/masters. You’re just a fan. You don’t count. (Only a little tongue-in-cheek.)

      • Yes, if the fans want dingers? Let’s let everybody shoot up with steroids.

        And it’s always nice to see the can’t miss future of the franchise when he comes into town (or on Baseball Tonight) flourishing for the opposing or some other team. See, eg., former Diamondbacks: Stephen Drew, Max Sherzer, Justin Upton, Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzales, Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds, Jose Valverde who were let go for some incomprehensible reason foisted upon the fans by the executives and their media enablers..

        A tool, oui. Dim-witted? We’ll agree to disagree on that. He’s just the public face of the owners, Would you hire the head of the actors guild, or a former president of Yale, to run your theater?

        • The Commissioner’s job, as originally constituted, was not to run tbe game, but to ensure its integrity, regardless of what the owners or players wanted, and when it was occupied by a qualified man of character—Landis, Ueberroth, Giamatti, Vincent, the game benefited ( any of these would have banned Barry Bonds). Selig isn’t a Commissioner except in name only. He’s a CEO, with the ethics and skills of a car dealer.

            • They might say that, but if they ever really read Bud’s illogical explanations of his squish-brained decisions, they would realize that that is inaccurate. Bud REPLACED a lawyer, and there was a reason for that.

  2. I share many, but not all, of your and Rev. Marsh’s sentiments. I prefer traditions that arise from something more spontaneous, where the masses often inexplicably awaken to, and enjoy as one who enjoys a drink from an unexpected well after traversing long in a desert, the “cool”ness or rightness of all engaging in a particular activity in a particular time or circumstance. I do not enjoy having the 7th inning stretch programmed for me.

  3. Frank Deford says:
    The Sports Curmudgeon maintains that he is every bit as patriotic as the next, more agreeable, fellow, but he says: “I still don’t understand why they play the national anthem at games when they don’t play it at movies and dances and art exhibits and reality shows. But now some teams are also playing ‘God Bless America’ as well as the national anthem at games. With all due respect, that’s not patriotism; that’s jingoism.”

  4. Baseball is America’s game, you morons. And it wasn’t until after 9/11 that “God Bless America” became a standard 7th inning stretch song. Ever looked at the players while this song is sung? They are moved. Soldiers are dying every day in the name of freedom. Baseball players know what’s going on. If if were ‘God’ or the “Great Spaghetti Monster,’ people like to believe that there is something great about our country.

    “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” played often by the Orioles, doesn’t cut it.

    What the hell is wrong with a moment of gratitude that we live in the greatest country of the world (present administration nothwithstanding)?

    Patriotism, in the face of literally millions of baseball viewers, is a good thing. So shut up.

    • What branch did you serve in Lizzie?

      My family , including myself , have served and fought for this country back to the revolution.

      So why don’t you shut up.

        • Yes but im not. Id rather they just play baseball. If people want to support the troops there are better ways then singing a song , flying the flag or wearing a yellow ribbon. The first one is to sign up and pick up a rifle. The other is to see that they all ge thenproper physical and mental care they deserve.

            • None of the first three things I mentioned are supporting the troops. They are actions that just make the person doing them feel good.

              I don’t care what they do as long as its actually doing something. Whether is be visiting the wounded, helping build homes for the handicapped vets, volunteering at a family center on base. Anything, but don’t think for a minute that singing a song is supporting the troops.

              • Although she mentions gratitude towards the soldiers, the main point of her comment was the singing is a moment of gratitude and a reminder for the blessings of our nation.

                Additionally, you are still applying your own personal standards of gratitude to her.

                Also, you make the assumption that because she is discussing the singing and not mentioning other forms of gratitude that she doesn’t ‘support the troops’ as you so put it. In the specific side bar of supporting the troops, if a person did everything you demanded of them in their spare time to fulfill your ‘support the troops’ standard and then still appreciated the singing of the song, would you still slight them on singing the song?

                • Shes the one who took the attitude that since some people don’t like the song being sung that WE weren’t grateful so why not turn it back on her? By doing so she opened herself up to it and I was just pointing out that singing a song doesn’t show gratitude. ACTIONS show gratitude.

                  The only people who think singing “God Bless America ” shows gratitude are the people too lazy to do any real work and show real gratitude by doing something.

    • I am ashamed that the Rev. Marsh is a Methodist minister. He, and his left-wing ilk are the reason that Methodisim is in decline and why countless thousands of Christians have left for other Christian denominations. Liberalism is not a proper or authentic substitute for the common moral structure afforded to society by a devout common religious belief system. Furhter, “Rev” Marsh’s decision to use his unique opportunity to publish an op-ed on this issue (as opposed to the myriad other more pressing issues facing this county and Christianity) calls into question whether he is a man of serious thought, with something to offer, or just a banal propogandist for left-wing culture reduced to offering talking points. What is next from “Rev: Marsh? Will he now use his pulpit to weigh-in on the weighty issue of whether ot not American Indian icons should be used as sports mascots? We all wait with bated breath “Rev” Marsh.

      • There is no common religious belief system. You really mean to say that you think your religious beliefs are better than everyone else’s and should be enforced.

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