When the Chicago Cubs brought Harry Caray on board to do play-by-play back in the early 1980s, he brought his “‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game” shtick with him, creating the iconic seventh-inning stretch tradition at Wrigley Field. Harry had been doing it for years on the South Side, and he even tried to sing it to calm the crowd on Disco Demoltion night in the late 1970s. Harry changed the “root, root, root for the White Sox” line to “root, root, root for the Cubbies” and the rest is history. But for the record, the word “Cubbies” has always grated on me. I’ll never be a “Cubbies” fan.
When Harry passed away before the 1988 season, the Cubs decided to keep his memory alive by bringing in “guest conductors” to lead the crowd during the seventh-inning stretch tradition. Dutchie Caray, Harry’s widow, sang it on opening day that season, and there were probably many tears shed at that moment. But Harry was still present, in the form of a characterized drawing that loomed over the press box. Nobody wanted that tradition to go away just yet.
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I was in the bleachers at Wrigley Field when the first big-name star did the honors to extend the seventh-inning stretch tradition. It was a Saturday game against the Dodgers, and the Cubs had a comfortable lead for an unknown rookie named Kerry Wood. The 20-strikeout game was still a couple of starts away at the time.
When the organ started to play, the Cubs PA announcer announced Jay Leno as the guest conductor. Out in the bleachers, we were looking around at each other, saying “Jay Leno! I’ve heard of him!” and it felt like a validation of the Cubs’ new strategy. If we couldn’t have Harry, at least we could get a big name to sing it, instead. And so it went from there.
Some very big names have filled this role in the years since then. Sometimes, when the drama on the field had been extinguished, we would hang around just long enough to see who would be doing the honors that day. Some, as you might expect, were very good. Bill Murray‘s passionate rendition at the one-game playoff against the Giants in 1998 is one I’ll always remember. But like anything else, you have to take the Mike Ditkas along with the Bill Murrays. You have to hear Jeff Gordon calling it “Wrigley Stadium.” And you even have to endure corporate pitchmen, high school athletes and even Keith Moreland.
Over the years since 1998, the seventh-inning stretch tradition seemed to have run its course. And the Cubs seem to finally agree, by announcing that for the upcoming season, the duties are being reserved for Chicago-based celebrities. Dennis Franz and Gary Sinise are still OK, but the Shania Twains and Kelsey Grammers of the world have likely taken their final turn at the mic.
So this could, theoretically at least, open up some spots for some regular Chicagoans like me. I launched my campaign this morning, and cited my TTFB writing, among others, as reasons why I should be given a shot. The piece is here, if you’re interested. It likely won’t go anywhere, but will make for quite a story here if it does.