Trixie: A League of her Own (1908)
After “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday,” America’s most prevalent song is “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” While fans chant the lyrics in the seventh inning, the crowds are unaware that the “me” refers to Trixie Friganza.
The woman of Irish descent, who became forever intertwined with America’s favorite pastime, was born in 1870, in Grenola, Kansas. When she entered vaudeville at the age of nineteen, she traded her birth name, Delia O’Callaghan for Trixie Friganza, (the latter her mother’s maiden name). By age nineteen, she was a vaudeville star; offstage, she dedicated her life to social justice. Clad in a white hat and a dress adorned with a silk banner, she attended rallies whose goal was universal suffrage. She told fellow protestors, “I do not believe any man–at least no man I know–is better fitted to form a political opinion than I am.” In 1908, along with fellow feminists, Trixie attempted to confront the mayor of New York to advocate for their cause. He refused to meet with them, and the women received public jeers for their audacity.
Despite her career and activism, Trixie made time for romance when she fell for the twenty-nine-year-old fellow actor, Jack Norworth. The fly in their romantic ointment was his wife, actress Louise Dresser. Their affair was going strong when Jack, a passenger in the old Ninth Avenue El to Manhattan, glanced out the train’s window and spied a poster for the Polo Grounds, the ballpark of the New York Giants. The sight inspired lyrics that he jotted down on an envelope.
Jack shared his song with his friend Albert von Tilzer, and the duo, neither of who had ever attended a baseball game, registered “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with the U.S. Copyright Office. On the same day, The New York Clipper, a sports and entertainment newspaper, printed an ad for the sheet music. America’s unofficial national anthem made its debut with a public performance at the Amphion, an opera house in Brooklyn. Within a month, the song exploded onto the Top 10 chart. The original lyrics are on display in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Despite the song’s ubiquity, most people can only recite its opening stanza. An examination of the rest of its words shows its connection to Jack’s girlfriend. In “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” Trixie’s lyrical counterpart, Katie Casey, rejects an invitation to the theater in favor of a date at the baseball stadium. Although women were not welcome, not only does Katie end up in a front row seat, she also had the gumption to tell the umpire he had made the wrong call. She roused the fans by leading them in a chorus of, “root, root, root for the home team.”
Jack must indeed have been a great actor, as Trixie believed he would be with her if he left his wife. However, when his divorce came through, he married his Ziegfeld Follies costar, Nora Bayes. Although Trixie had struck out in the romantic arena, in the spirit of the cinematic line from the movie A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball,” she walked down the aisle three times, though none made it to the home base. Trixie went on to star in twenty films and continued to agitate for women’s rights.
Even though Trixie has faded from history, what is uplifting is baseball’s unofficial anthem centers around an early feminist. So, the next time you’re in the stands scarfing peanuts and Cracker Jacks, take a moment to pay tribute to the suffragette slugger, Trixie Friganza, who, in a nod to the baseball movie, was in a league of her own.