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Baseball and the “Star-Spangled Banner”

baseball-team-1529403_640Baseball and the Star-Spangled Banner go way back. Back to the nineteenth century, and long before the Star-Spangled Banner became America’s National Anthem. I don’t think it is a stretch of history to suggest that the popularity of playing the Star-Spangled Banner at baseball games contributed significantly to it becoming the National Anthem.

Defense of Fort McHenry

Within days of writing the Defence of Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key’s words were printed on a broadside and distributed in Baltimore. Shortly thereafter, the words and music were published together, because Key wrote the words to fit the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” which was a popular song at the time. It wasn’t the first time that Key had composed words for the same tune.

The Star-Spangled Banner rapidly grew in popularity and was frequently played at large gatherings throughout the country, but especially before baseball games. In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered that the Star-Spangled Banner be played when the flag was raised, and by 1916, President Woodrow Wilson used an executive order making it the National Anthem. Congress eventually wrote the legislation and President Herbert Hoover signed it into law March 3, 1931.

Those events, and the long-standing tradition of playing the National Anthem at baseball games and other sporting events brings us to this question, which I received yesterday at The Daily Flag News.

We play youth baseball in a complex with 4 baseball fields, a couple football fields and at least one soccer field. Are players and others present required to respond to each fields’ playing of the National Anthem with different starting times?

Unforeseen circumstances

Those who wrote the National Anthem Code could not have foreseen a circumstance such as this. The Code does not tell us when, or where, or how to perform the National Anthem, only how to behave during the Anthem. Figuring out the logical, appropriate etiquette for various situations turns into a flow chart of sorts, and after ten years reading and writing about the protocol, I am confident in my response.

This answer will somewhat contradict other posts I have written in the past, but that’s because it is a situation that cannot be summed up in a neat paragraph. Here is what I recommend:

Thus if you have observed the protocol and etiquette for your immediate circumstance (your game): you have stood at attention, saluted as appropriate to who you are, listened to and/or sung the National Anthem—then you have met the honor, and obligation attendant to your game.  It is not necessary for you to stop your game when a new game and Anthem begins on another field within your hearing.

In baseball (in general) any player, coach or manager can ask for a time out, but only the umpire can grant time out. By the time the umpire could call time out, the Anthem—which runs for about 70 seconds—would be over, and for players to just stop playing without a time out could be dangerous and chaotic. It’s the sort of problem that must give coaches and umpires a headache and heartburn, too.

Have a meeting

Because this situation must be a recurring problem, I suggest that the various organizations, plus umpires and referees that meet and play on these game fields have a meeting to establish a standard protocol and etiquette for observing the National Anthem on these fields. It would would simplify things so much, and insure that each game was conducted properly, and that honors to the National Anthem were properly given.

What they call a teachable moment

This is an amazing opportunity to teach young people about the history of the Star-Spangled Banner, why we honor the flag by standing and saluting, and how it ties into the history of baseball. Without baseball, it might have taken a lot longer for the Star-Spangled Banner to become our National Anthem.











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Antique American flags link our history

A thirteen star flag from the Bridgman collection.
A thirteen star flag from the Bridgman collection.

Antique American flags link our history to the present. Antique American flags and other textile memorabilia were featured this summer in Town & Country magazine. Antiquities dealer Jeff Bridgman showcased some of his rarest pieces and provided commentary on them in this Town & Country article.

While there are variations on the Stars and Stripes, which changed in number throughout the 19th Century as new states joined the union, the mix also includes a rare colorful militia flag designed by Tiffany & Co. valued at $350,000, and the Declaration of Independence woven into a kerchief, circa 1826.

Want to see more flags? Here is a video from Vimeo that features Bridgman talking about antique American flags and other textiles.





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Are performers of the National Anthem required to salute?

Are performers of the National Anthem required to salute? Those in attendance when the National Anthem is performed are asked to stand at attention and salute as appropriate, with a military salute or a heart salute [hand over the heart]. However, by tradition—performers of the National Anthem are given some latitude in saluting.

Here is a recent comment to The Daily Flag, left on a post dated February 13, 2007, about the protocol for the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. The person wrote:

Here is a copy of the “official code” from April 1942. It seems to be an official document.

It does not say the hand needs to be over the heart during the singing. Of course, this may have been changed. All I know is that when my choir sang at a MLB game recently we were told we did not have to place our hands over our hearts. I see very few soloists do this.

The linked document was the result of the National Anthem Committee (of 1942) with representatives of the Music Educators National Conference, members of the War Department, music publishers, and others interested the protocol of the performance and a standardized version of the music.

portion of Key's SSB manuscriptThe United States was a country at war, and those charged with teaching and performing the National Anthem—school teachers, band and orchestra directors, professional musicians and vocalists, et cetera—were seeking codified guidelines. The National Anthem Committee of 1942 provided that.

I wish the document had a different title, because is not legislated law (i.e. “U.S. Code”). Nevertheless, the results of the committee meeting determined how musicians and vocalists have performed the National Anthem ever since.

In summary, those who are performing the National Anthem are not required to salute. Certainly bands and orchestras may stand as so desired, but they do not have to. Individual musicians (who may or may not be standing) and vocalists (who are normally standing) are exempt from saluting during their performances.

It is not mentioned in this document, but it has become a custom for the “conductors” of bands, orchestras, choirs, chorus, et cetera  stand at attention and face the flag (if possible), and render the appropriate salute on behalf of the entire musical ensemble. It is a lovely gesture, and I am always pleased to witness this act of honor.

What does this mean for those of us who are not the “performers,” but are singing the National Anthem anyway. It means we are still supposed to stand at attention, salute, and sing. There is a delicate thread of tension between what is codified law (since 1931), and a practice that exists by tradition but without legislative backing.

Congress has made it very plain that it has no desire or intention to regulate the performance of the National Anthem, even though the committee made specific recommendations about the music. We are at liberty to perform as we wish. This freedom occasionally results in some disastrous renditions, but the court of American approval is swift. Make hash of the Star-Spangled Banner and the public will never let you forget it.

I generally dislike solo performances of the National Anthem, and it places a terrible, unnecessary burden upon the performer to be perfect, especially since these command performances are generally sung acapella. Moreover, I want to sing too, and rarely do soloists offer a sing-along version of the Star-Spangled Banner.

It is my fondest hope that one day, a musical performer of incandescent talent and international fame will walk out to the middle of a sporting field and say to the stands filled with fans, “Will you all rise, and join me in singing the National Anthem,” and then conduct the song for the crowd. Never is the National Anthem more beautiful than when we are all singing together.




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Salute during the National Anthem

Yes. We are supposed to salute the flag during the National Anthem, with either a “heart salute” (right hand over the heart) or a military salute if you are active duty. Veterans are also permitted to present a military salute if so desired.

The United States Code (our giant collection of American law—laid out in great detail) contains the National Anthem Code and the Flag Code, but the two documents are not found in the same section of the U.S. Code. Portions of the Flag Code are frequently cited (on Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day), while the National Anthem Code is rarely mentioned at all.

The National Anthem Code and the Flag Code are laws, but laws predicated on honor and goodwill. No one is compelled to stand at attention and salute, or Pledge allegiance to the flag. Americans have, to borrow a phrase, free will regarding our public display of allegiance and affection for the Anthem and the flag, and indeed, some religious denominations forbid these American rituals.

I will not quote all of the National Anthem Code, but here is the part most people are interested in. Please carefully note Section 2. The National Anthem itself  is the point of honor, so even if we cannot see the flag, we are to turn in the direction of the music, stand at attention and salute.

§301. National anthem

(a) Designation.—The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

(b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—

(1) when the flag is displayed—

(A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

(B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

(C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.


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U.S. Flag ordered to half-staff


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As a mark of respect for the victims of the attack perpetrated on July 14, 2016, in Nice, France, by the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military posts and naval stations, and on all naval vessels of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia and throughout the United States and its Territories and possessions until sunset, July 19, 2016. I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, consular offices, and other facilities abroad, including all military facilities and naval vessels and stations

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.



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Half-staffing orders issued for U.S. and Texas flags

The Texas Governor’s office has issued half-staffing orders for the Texas flag, and President Obama has issued half-staffing orders for the U.S. flag, in honor and mourning for the five murdered law enforcement officers in Dallas, Texas.

The half-staffing order for both flags continues through Tuesday, July 12, 2016.

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Happy Independence Day 2016

As we celebrate Independence Day 2016, it is good to think about those who contributed in a mighty way to the exploration of our new country. In the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, we read that on July 4, 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the Corps of Discovery were west of the Mississippi River, in what is now Kansas, and camped near present-day Atchison.

Sierra Exif JPEG
A one-pounder cannon mounted on the bow of a boat, such as the one fired by Lewis and Clark on Independence Day, 1804.

Except for one man who was bitten by a snake (he lived), it was a good day for the explorers. They fired their small cannon both morning and evening. They took the time to eat some special foods that evening, and drank some whiskey. And I’m sure they toasted George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.

Among other foods, the men ate “buffalo beef” (bison), corn, and beans. In honor of the day, Lewis and Clark named two nearby rivers. They named one “Creek Independence” and the other “4th of July 1804 Creek.”

I don’t know what I’ll be serving for our 4th of July meal, but I do have a bottle of fine whiskey, and as the sun goes down, I will offer a toast to Lewis and Clark, and their courageous men. Happy Independence Day to you, too.










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Canada Day!

Canada Day! There will be lots of celebrations, food, and fireworks.  Here is a short history about the beautiful Maple Leaf flag.

From coast to coast, and southern border to the top of the world, Canadians will sing their national anthem—Oh Canada. Here are three unique videos with the Canadian National Anthem (but not with the changed lyric because I could not find one). I am especially fond of the last video, and this link will explain why, so read it first.

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U.S. Flag displayed backwards

US flag backward with Texas flag US and Texas flags in store








(Photos by Deborah Hendrick for The Daily Flag News)

These U.S. flag and Texas flag displays are inside the same store. The irony is that for more than a year, the two flags in the left photo were messed up the other way. Previously the U.S. flag was hung correctly, but the Texas flag was flipped, so the white stripe was on the right. Then someone “fixed” them. A good rule to remember is that the stars in our American flag (or the Lone Star) always point up, or to their own right—or to the left as we face the flags.

I especially like hoist displays of the flag, and I think it is under-utilized. The flag display shown on the right is gorgeous, and it’s the first thing you see when you come into the store. The store air-conditioning was just enough to make the flags gently flutter.