This is another updated version of an essay I first published on Online Journal on December 13, 2003 and again on this blog on August 8, 2005. Unfortunately, as I said in August, it’s still relevant.
I was very pleased to not hear God Bless America when I attended the final game of the 2003 American League Division Series in Oakland between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics. When we got through the 7th inning stretch without the narrow religious and political slant of God Bless America, I thought, "Finally! Major League Baseball has stopped this patriotic drivel that has insinuated itself into the 7th inning stretch since 9-11." I always felt that singing God Bless America at the ballpark was a completely inappropriate way to remember the victims of 9-11. Citizens of over 30 nations died in the attacks, most of them workers and visitors at the World Trade Center. How quickly we’ve forgotten that.
I think people who believe in divinity—and I do; in fact, I’m a polytheist—should want the Divine Essence to bless all humanity.
My relief was short-lived. God Bless America turned up again later in the post season. I turned down the volume every time. When I edited this essay on August 7, 2005, I turned down the volume again. The folks at Ameriquest Stadium in Arlington, Texas have decided to "honor America and the men and women in the armed forces" by having someone sing God Bless America. The Baltimore broadcast to which I was listening picked it up.
Want to honor our men and women in the armed forces, MLB? Have MLB Productions create a glitzy PSA calling for an end to the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Let’s have our troops home, reunited with their families and enjoying days at the ballpark. Offer admission discounts to members of the military. But give God Bless America its unconditional release.
America’s pastime has become an international sport. Major League Baseball has a team in Canada; there are several minor league teams there as well. MLB seasons have been opened in Japan. MLB.com follows winter ball’s Caribbean Cup. MLB is now highly touting a World Baseball Classic. (That something can be called a "classic" even before the first time it’s ever done is another issue althogether). I wonder what international players and fans really think when they hear the game interrupted for someone else’s patriotic hymn? I was born in New York City and I know what I think: "I’d rather hear a beer commercial." And I don’t even like beer!
The Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series. They are skippered by Ozzie Guillen, a proud Venezuelan who took the Championship Trophy to Venezuela, so that his countrymen and women could see it. The White Sox pitcher who started the clinching game of the Series was another Venezuelan, Freddie Garcia. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez congratulated Guillen on the team’s victory. But a few weeks prior to the World Series, Pat Robertson, alleged man of the cloth, was calling for Chavez’ assassination. Why should any Venezuelan in baseball, or any American, or anyone else whose morality says calling for assassinations is wrong, want to "honor America" by standing up for, removing one’s cap for, singing or even listening to this political jingoism at a ballgame? I am so glad we don’t do it in Oakland, and if I ever visit a stadium where it is done, I’ll make sure to go the bathroom during the 7th inning stretch, even if Nature isn’t calling.
Our politicians have promised us for years that there will be other terrorist attacks on our soil. The "assurance," if you can call it that, that there will be another terrorist attack on US soil was issued by the members of the former 9/11 Commission, now the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, on Dec. 5, 2005. If another attack occurs, will MLB invent a 4th inning stretch to sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee? (That’s the melody to God Save the Queen, by the way). How about not letting anyone leave the ballpark at the end of the game until we’ve sung America the Beautiful? Ludicrous, right? Singing God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch is ludicrous, too.
Let’s not sing anything in the 7th inning and move Take Me Out to the Ball Game to its logical place: just before the game. Then, let’s drop the national anthem and just play ball. The anthem came in during WW II, which means baseball had many great seasons without it.
I wonder how many "ballpark patriots" do something patriotic when it takes a bit more effort than going along with the herd at the park. Just to name one patriotic act, election figures would suggest that well fewer than half the eligible citizens in any stadium on any given day are registered to vote and actually do vote. So let’s ditch the cheap, "emotions-on-the sleeve" flag-waving and focus on the game. The only flag I want to see waving at the stadium is a pennant.
And while you are at it, MLB, please change the format of the Futures Game to something other than U.S. vs. the World. A lot of the current problems on the planet can be tied to the attitude of U.S. vs. the World.