The seventh-inning stretch is a tradition in baseball that takes place between the halves of the seventh inning of any game. Fans generally stand up and stretch out their arms, legs, necks, backs, calves, fingers, elbows, and other muscles and sometimes walk around. It is a popular time to get a late-inning snack as well; many teams end beer sales at this point. The stretch also serves as a short break for the players. If a game goes into a fifth extra inning, a similar "fourteenth-inning stretch" is celebrated. In softball games, amateur games scheduled for only seven innings, or in doubleheaders (except for Major League Baseball, both ends are seven innings each per regulation), a "fifth-inning stretch" may be substituted.
The origin of the seventh inning stretch is said to be in the story of Brother Jasper of Mary, F.S.C., the man credited with bringing baseball to Manhattan College in the late 1800s. Being the Prefect of Discipline as well as the coach of the team, it fell to Brother Jasper to supervise the student fans at every home game. On one particularly hot and muggy day in 1882, during the seventh inning against a semi-pro team called the Metropolitans, the Prefect noticed his charges becoming restless. To break the tension, he called a time-out in the game and instructed everyone in the bleachers to stand up and unwind. It worked so well he began calling for a seventh-inning rest period at every game. The Manhattan College custom spread to the major leagues after the New York Giants were charmed by it at an exhibition game, and the rest is history.
But like many myths, it is difficult to certify any origin. A letter written by Harry Wright of the Cincinnati Red Stockings dated 1869 — 13 years earlier than Brother Jasper's inspired time-out — documented something very similar to a seventh-inning stretch. In the letter, he makes the following observation about the fans' ballpark behavior: "The spectators all arise between halves of the seventh inning, extend their legs and arms and sometimes walk about. In so doing they enjoy the relief afforded by relaxation from a long posture upon hard benches."
A popular theory for the origins of the stretch is that President William Howard Taft at a Washington Senators game in 1910 felt sore in his backside and decided to stand up and stretch. Upon seeing the chief executive stand, the rest of the spectators in attendance felt obligated to join the president in his gestures.
Since the 1970s, the Baltimore Orioles have often played the raucous John Denver song "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" at the conclusion of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." During the bridge of the song, in which Denver holds a long note, fans yell "Ooooooooh!" (since the name Orioles is often shortened to "O's".) The Atlanta Braves also sing this song after "Take Me Out To The Ball Game". The Braves also give away prizes during each half inning by "Jeff" who asks questions on the jumbo screen.
Ever since the Devil Rays' 1998 home opener they have played the popular Jimmy Buffett song "Fins" during the 7th inning stretch. The men sent to rake the clay on the field during the seven inning stretch wear tropical clothing, and everyone in the park forms their arms into fins for the "Fins to the left, fins to the right" portions of the song.
When the St. Louis Cardinals were owned by Anheuser-Busch, Busch Memorial Stadium organist Ernie Hays played "Here Comes the King", a commonly recognized jingle for Budweiser beer, during the stretch. On Opening Day, during playoff games and on "big nights" such as games against the Chicago Cubs, a team of Budweiser's mascot Clydesdale horses would also make a circuit of the warning track. Since Anheuser-Busch's sale of the Cardinals in 1996, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" has been played in the middle of 7th inning, with "Here Comes The King" in the middle of the 8th. The Clydesdales still appear on Opening Day and during the playoffs. Hays retired after the 2006 season, the first season of the new Busch Stadium and a rotating set of organists have played the song since.
Jane Jarvis, the organist at the New York Mets' home Shea Stadium from 1964 to 1979 , played the "Mexican Hat Dance" during the stretch. After the Mets switched to recorded music, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" became standard. It is now followed by the Lou Monte tune "Lazy Mary."
The Toronto Blue Jays take the term "seventh-inning stretch" literally, as Health Canada officials lead fans at Rogers Centre in stretching exercises while the club's song "OK Blue Jays" plays before "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".
Since the death of team founder Gene Autry in 1998 , the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have played Autry's signature song "Back in the Saddle Again" as well as "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Before then, the Angels played an instrumental version of the Christian worship song "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High."
The Washington Nationals play "Shout" followed by "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." When "God Bless America is sung," it proceeds these two songs.
Boston Red Sox fans at Fenway Park follow tradition in the middle of the 8th inning, whether leading, tied or trailing, they sing along to Neil Diamond's recording of "Sweet Caroline". The crowd sings the three-note trumpet line while the PA system is muted, and the after Diamond sings the line, "good times never seemed so good," fans yell, "so good, so good, so good!" The Washington Nationals have also adopted this tradition as have the Mets, though the tradition was started by New York Jets fans in the 1980s and picked up by New York Rangers fans.
Much like how some teams invite celebrities to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the game or to throw the first pitch, celebrities have been invited to perform during the 7th inning stretch. This is most common at Wrigley Field.