How Did The 7th-Inning Stretch In Baseball Originate?

Baseball has been called the national pastime and America's game, and as with many aspects of the country's history, like George Washington and the cherry tree, this game is steeped in mythology. Even the genesis of an activity as simple as stretching in the stands can't be pinned down. The origin of the seventh-inning stretch, when baseball fans who have been sitting for hours, get up en masse and get the blood flowing through their legs in the middle of the inning, is a bit of a mystery.

The most common origin story, but one baseball historians have cried foul over, involves President Howard Taft, according to The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball. On April 14, 1910, Taft, First Lady Helen Taft, and the vice president James Sherman, attended the opening game of the Washington Senators, who were playing the Philadelphia Athletics, according to The Evening Republican. By the middle of the seventh inning, the president felt the need to stretch his prodigious girth (he stood six feet tall and weighed 300 pounds), and the crowd, seeing the president stand, joined him. While it's a good story, it may not be the true origin of the seventh-inning stretch. We have to go back to the 1800s to get closer to the truth. There's the 1882 incident at Manhattan College involving restless students and an even earlier reference to the practice dating to 1869 involving the fans of the Cincinnati Red Stockings (now Reds).

Restless college students

It was a muggy June day in 1882 in New York City and Manhattan College was playing the semi-pro Metropolitans, when Brother Jasper Brennan, the team's first manager, noticed his students getting restless during the seventh inning, according to Mental Floss. The students were expected to sit quietly in their seats during the game. Brennan called time out and told the students to get up and stretch.

Brennan was an Irish immigrant who started at the college in 1861 and would become the school's first athletic director, per Manhattan College. He introduced a number of new activities to the school, including the band, glee club, and baseball. Brennan's order for the students to stretch during the inning became a regular event, which soon caught on with the New York Giants who sometimes played the college, according to the Associated Press. "I guess that version comes as close as any other," baseball historian Cliff Kachline told the Associated Press in 1982. "But there have been so many origins in baseball that haven't been nailed down." There's an even earlier account of the seventh-inning stretch.

The Cincinnati Red Stockings

Way back in 1869, Harry Wright, the Cincinnati Red Stockings manager and center fielder, wrote to his friend, Howard Ferris, about the strange practice of the team's fans. "The spectators all rise between halves of the seventh, extend their legs and arms, and sometimes walk about," Wright wrote, according to Cincinnati Magazine. "They enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from long posture upon the benches."

While it's unlikely that President Howard Taft actually instigated the seventh-inning stretch back in April 1910, we know for sure he threw out the first ball of the game that day — a historic first, according to Mental Floss. Unlike today when the ceremonial first pitch is thrown from the pitcher's mound, Taft chucked the ball from his box in the stands after twisting "it around a few times and judiciously" adjusting "his glasses" to "read the trademark, as though wanting to make sure it was genuine," according to The Rock Island Argus. His team, the Washington Senators, won three to zero.