Tomorrow, Wednesday, marks the 100th anniversary of the beloved Wrigley Field. All year, the Chicago Cubs website has stories about notable events that happened at the ballpark during this past century.
Six days ago was the 27th anniversary of one of the funniest events -- no small feat when you consider the history of the Cubs. But it wasn't for something that happened on the field, it was in the broadcast booth.
The Cubs Hall of Fame announcer, Harry Caray, had suffered a stroke before the season began, and WGN had to figure out what to do. They came up with a novel idea, to have a different "guest announcer" fill in each day and do the play-by-play, along with color man analyst, former pitcher Steve Stone. Some were established professional announcers, either retired or given leave by their employers. Many were celebrities -- actors, writers, and much in between -- who ranged in quality.
But the most memorable by far was maniacal Cubs fan, Bill Murray. And maniacal just doesn't describe his love of the team, but his announcing. I didn't hear the game live -- I was out of town -- but had mother record the game for me. She didn't get all of it, but about five innings (there had been a long pre-game delay when the umpire's clothes went missing. This put the timing off), but there was good and bad to this turn of events. The bad was only having Murray's play-by-play for half the game. The good was hearing Murray vamp live for about 45 minutes, including much at the expense of home plate umpire Eric Gregg -- how shall we put it?, a large man.
It was remarkable. I remember at one point Murray went into a hilarious vamp about his mother for several minutes. I think it had to do with her rolling bums outside Wrigley Field. When he was finished, Steve Stone (who deserved a medal of valor for making it through and keeping at least a semblance of sanity in the booth) somehow managed to get out through his stifled laughter and disbelief, "Were you raised by wolves?"
(As Cubs historian Bob Vorwald writs, "Bill’s mother made an appearance near the end of the game and had to endure some great lines about escaping from the drunk tank.)
Though I still have that tape, I don't have all that footage to embed here. But good news, do you think I would leave you all, dear and loyal readers, hanging? No, sir. I found about nine minutes of the broadcast that I'll post below. Most comes from the pregame vamping, but there's a bit at the end that has a bit of the play-by-play.
But first, to set the stage for the video, here's the opening of an article on the day by Bob Vorwarld. It does a terrific job recreating what went out over the air that day. I've left out most of the piece, though, since a lot of that material is in the video below, as Cubs diehard loyalist Murray trashes everything about the intruding Montreal Expos, the umpires' wardrobe and lack thereof, and just about everything within view of the camera, and it's best to hear it with fresh, perhaps disbelieving ears.
By the way, the best news of all -- the Cubs won, beating the Montreal, 7-0.
Wrigley 100 4/17: Bill Murray Takes Over The Booth
When Harry Caray suffered a stroke in the spring of 1987, WGN-TV management scrambled to find guest announcers to broadcast the games with Steve Stone for the first few weeks of the season until Harry could return. Most were baseball fixtures like Ernie Harwell and Tim McCarver, some were actors like Tom Bosley and Jim Belushi, and some were dull (Mike Royko). And on April 17 against Montreal at Wrigley Field, there was Bill Murray:
“T.S. Eliot, the poet, once said ‘April is the cruelest month’. But I don’t think even that great man would have anticipated that the Cubs would lose their first four at home. I’m here today to turn this around and I think with the help of the over-rated and NOT SUCH A BIG DEAL AFTER ALL Montreal Expos, the Cubs will triumph today, here at the real Wrigley Building at the corner of Clark and Addison. Today it’s baseball, the Cubs and the Expos.”
That’s how Bill started and he rolled on from there. Fresh off a stint taking batting practice with the team, he showed no mercy on the Expos starting lineup. “
Bill’s mother made an appearance near the end of the game and had to endure some great lines about escaping from the drunk tank. Murray did make good on his promise, though. The Cubs got off the schneid for ’87 with a 7-0 win over the Expos.
And now, as longtime Cubs field announcer Pat Piper used to say -- with nothing more than a megaphone, for many years -- ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, have your pencil and scorecards ready for the starting lineup of today's game. Here is Bill Murray and Steve Stone.
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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