I love the Chicago Cubs. This is known in linguistic circles as an understatement. During the course of the year, I'll listen to all or at least part of 150-155 games a year. To be fair, that "part" might only be an inning, but hey, it's still part.
Honestly, to listen to the Cubs you have to love them. After not winning a World Series in 105 years, you certainly don't follow the Chicago Cubs because you like being with a front-runner. But they've got some very good young players on the team now and prospects in the minors, so -- okay, I'm not saying "This Will Be the Year" (it won't be), but hopefully in the next year or two they'll be competitive again.
I mention this all for a totally non-baseball reason. Today, the team announced a slight tweaking of their popular 7th inning stretch promotion. Long-time legendary announcer Harry Caray used to lead the crowd in his terrible singing voice with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and after he passed away, the team continued the tradition, bringing in guest conductors.
The singing and leading the crowd has always been fun, albeit admittedly hit-and miss, though that's part of the fun. (Mike Ditka once famously showed up seconds before he was due, and -- out-of-breath -- screamed the song out in about half the time it usually takes.) But the interview with the "conductors" have more often been disasters. That's the biggest tweak the team will be putting in place. Not every guest will be asked into the booth this year to be interviewed.
“People really like the Stretch guest,” Cubs programming director Jim Oboikowitch told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s the interview that’s always been a little dicey, and I think people always remember the bad ones -- when a guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about or always interrupting the (broadcasters).”
Or like the time last year when Oboikowitch said one guest conductor came into the TV booth and bragged that he hated baseball. That might be a sentiment of others, but generally not those listening to a baseball game.
Or take the time...well, this one actually rivals Mike Ditka's as the worst ever. Ditka's version is loved in Chicago because he's...well Mike Ditka. And you could tell he was at least trying, which made him being so bad so funny. But this --
This is the famous Ozzie Osbourne version. International translators have yet been able to unravel what is being sung. And that's even knowing what the words are supposed to be. Equally fun is seeing the reaction of the Cubs players, who hear this sung rationally every game, 162 a times, to the degree that it's probably background noise to them that they don't even notice. So, for them to have expressions that say, "What in God's name is this???" speaks volumes.
Okay, in fairness there have been many great versions. This isn't necessary one of the best, but he comes by a lot to sing and always does an enthusiastic, heartfelt job. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam is from Chicago and a major Cubs fan. (He even wrote a beautiful, affectionate tribute song about the team, "All the Way," that he occasionally performs in concert.) His interviews in the booth are always a knowledgeable joy. And this year, Pearl Jam is actually going to put on a concert at Wrigley Field. It sold out faster than any concert ever at Wrigley -- and they've had Paul McCartney and Elton John perform there. But Chicago does like their Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, obviously. The love seems reciprocated.
That's the singing of the 7th Inning Stretch. The conductor coming to the booth, ah, that's another matter, as has been noted.
All this brought to mind my personal favorite bad interview. It was memorable less for the guest than because of the beloved announcer, the late Ron Santo. Let's just say that Santo (recently elected to the Hall of Fame) analyzed a game like your crazy, drunk uncle yelling at the TV screen. He was as honest and open and heartfelt as one could possibly be. (He would regularly show up late into an inning and apologize, "Sorry, I was in the bathroom." Once he brought his family's cleaning lady into the booth and introduced her to the radio audience. His famous cry of "Oh, nooooo!"" when a fly ball was dropped by a Cubs player in the 9th inning of a very important game remains legendary. There's SO much more about Santo.
At this particular game, the guest conductor had been Olympic gold-medalist Bruce Jenner, (Yes, that Bruce Jenner, for those who don't his Olympic achievements, but only recognize him as the father on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. This appearance at Wrigley Field, though, was pre-reality show.)
Anyway, Jenner had come to the booth for his half-inning interview. It wasn't great, but to be honest, it wasn't horrific. Yet. However, when the inning ended and they cut to a commercial, clearly something must have happened, and Jenner obviously had gone into personality over-drive. Afterwards, with Jenner finished and departed, the broadcast returned from commercial. All seemed normal at first, as announcer Pat Hughes calmly began doing his solid play-by-play. But then, radio listeners were treated to Ron Santo venting in the background, "Can you believe the ego of that guy???...Man. What an ego...Talking about his airplanes...Oh, man. Oh, man." For five minutes. I am not exaggerating. For five minutes. Ron Santo just kept ragging on Bruce Jenner and his ego and his airplanes. All the while, Pat Hughes -- who was used to Santo and was unflappable -- just went on blithely doing the play-by-play, as Santo ranted to himself in the background. Once in a while, he'd stop and you'd figure he was finally over it, as Hughes would call the game. But then, suddenly it would start up again, since he obviously had just been stewing in silence. "Oh, man. What an ego that guy had. All his airplanes. Oh, man." Occasionally, just for fun -- because Hughes loved playing with Santo and knew how to push the right buttons, he'd say, "So, Ronnie, I take it you didn't think much of our guest." And then came the expected explosion-- "Oh, man, can you believe the ego of that guy!!!" And he'd be good for another minute.
Years later after the Kardashian reality show hit the airwaves, and the family train crash exploded in public, I could only remember Ron Santo's annoyed mutterings. It's always struck me that if Bruce Jenner of all people is able to come across as the one sane person on that show, it only tells you how seriously screwed up the rest of the family is. But I digress...
Just sing, sing a song.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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