Just like peanuts and Cracker Jack, the seventh-inning stretch is a baseball tradition. Precisely how this custom came about is unknown, but there are several theories. According to one popular tale, William Howard Taft, America’s 27th president, is to thank for the ritual. In 1910, Taft attended the opening-day game of the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium in the nation’s capital and threw out the ceremonial first pitch (thereby inaugurating the custom of first-pitch tossing by the commander-in-chief). As the story goes, by the seventh inning the president, who tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds, was feeling cramped in his seat and got up to stretch his legs. The crowd, thinking the chief executive was leaving, rose to its feet out of respect—and the stretch supposedly was born.
Meanwhile, another account holds that a man called Brother Jasper of Mary, the baseball coach and prefect of discipline at New York City’s Manhattan College, invented the ritual when he asked for a timeout in the middle of the seventh inning during a game on a hot day in 1882. Observing that fans were getting antsy, he told them to stand up and stretch. Satisfied with the results, Brother Jasper repeated this practice at subsequent games, and the ritual reportedly moved to the major leagues when Manhattan College played exhibition games against the New York Giants starting in the late 1880s. However, in a letter penned in 1869 by Cincinnati Red Stockings manager Harry Wright, he noted that fans at hometown games got up between the halves of the seventh inning to stretch and in some cases walked around. Matt Rothenberg, manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, says Wright’s letter is the earliest known reference to stretching activity during the seventh inning. (According to Sports Illustrated, at a game the Red Stockings played on the West Coast that same year there was a 10-minute intermission after the sixth inning, in an effort to get spectators to visit the concessions stand.)
Whatever the exact origins of the stretch, music eventually became part of the routine. In 1976, Harry Caray, the announcer for the Chicago White Sox, popularized the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” (When Caray moved over to the Chicago Cubs’ broadcast booth in 1982 he continued the tradition.) Today, the 1908 Tin Pan Alley tune—whose iconic chorus of course includes the line: “Just buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack”—is played during the seventh-inning stretch at many major-league ballparks across the country.