Next to Take Me Out to the Ballgame, the seventh-inning stretch to bring luck to the home team is a revered tradition in baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles of owner Peter Angelos have given the fans something to sing about now too: the famous Woody Guthrie folk song This Land is Your Land instead of God Bless America, which became a staple after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that united Americans, if only for a while.
“‘God Bless America’ speaks to a lot of people,” John Angelos, the Orioles’ Chief Operating Officer and Angelos’ son told the New York Times in a piece which reported on how This Land has resonated, especially during a time San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem to protest treatment of black Americans.
God Bless America is played during the seventh-inning stretch of Sunday games in Major League Baseball along with some holidays and at every New York Yankee home game. This Land is Your Land is played in Baltimore on Fridays.
John Angelos said This Land was chosen, despite criticism it is a Leftist Anthem, because “There is a strain of progressivism in American life, and if we can reflect it, I think that’s a good thing.”
The song caught on with Orioles fans at Camden Yards, especially a recent rendition when three singers stood on the first-base dugout and blared it out, quickly creating a sing-along in the stands.
Guthrie, ever the rebel, wrote the lyrics on Feb. 23, 1940 in his room at the Hanover House Hotel in New York City.
It was based on an existing melody in critical response to Irvin Berlin’s God Bless America version song by Kate Smith. Guthrie said he was tired of hearing it and wrote a sarcastic response: God Blessed America for Me before renaming it This Land is Your Land.
Guthrie, a radical who, like Kaepernick, didn’t see all Americans included in the dream of the United States, opened his song with the words:
This land is your land, this land is my land
From the California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters,
This land was made for you and me
Except, of course, Guthrie meant this land wasn’t made for you and me, but it took on a broader meaning that it was and became a celebrated anthem of Americana without the rousing music of Stars and Stripes Forever.
Angelos said he respects Kaepernick’s action. “I hope people in the sports industry are learning from what Colin Kaepernick is doing,” he said. “I hope we can learn that speaking out about your country is not un-American, that words like ‘un-American’ have no place.”
DECENCY IS FOUND
As for the criticism Kaepernick has faced, Angelos told the Times that it was “disgusting” and that: “It reeks of McCarthyism,” referring to the 1950s Red Scare created by Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy before Boston lawyer brought him down with the words, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency”?
Guthrie’s song was meant to question private property, a concept antithetical to most Americans who strive to have it, and some of his more radical original lyrics were later left out before being resurrected by his son Arlo, and folk singer Pete Seeger, as well as Bruce Springsteen.
John Shaw, the author of This Land That I Love, about the Berlin and Guthrie songs told the newspaper that while Guthrie’s song was a bitter response to Berlin that, “It became a long song to America, too.”
After Sept. 11, when Berlin’s song became a regular fixture, Angelos told The Times that he wondered how the Orioles could diversify how they honor America and also now honor community unsung heroes, such as a bus driver who saved elementary students from a burning bus.
“People forget a lot of these stadiums are publicly funded buildings and, by law, they have to welcome people from all different walks of life,” Angelos said. “Sometimes sports can be narrowcast in the causes and groups focused on. Our idea is that everyone should be included; let’s not leave anyone out.”
It’s not surprising that Peter Angelos identifies with the common man and causes. He made his fortune representing workers in asbestos cases, refused to sign replacement players during 1994 and 1995 strikes and arranged a home-and-home series with Cuba in 1999, long before the idea of detente between the countries.
During protests over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man killed while in the custody of the Baltimore police last year, John Angelos spoke publicly about needing to put the demonstrations within the context of longstanding racial inequality.
“This family, these owners, have always been on the side of the unions, of the people,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones told The Times about the Angelos family. “The city means something to them.”
This Land is Your Land may not have the impact it was designed to bring and as Oriole fans see it as a different theme. “I doubt most of our guys know who Woody Guthrie is,” Manager Buck Showalter added.
John Angelos said it’s still worth it to play it. “We can honor a veteran, but we can also honor a veteran who is against a particular war,” he said. “That diversity is what the song represents.”