Dump The Celebrity Seventh-Inning Stretch

David Banks-US PRESSWIRE

Fifteen years ago, the Cubs decided to honor the late Harry Caray with "guest" seventh-inning stretch singers. It was a nice tribute... 15 years ago. It's time to retire this increasingly-lame tradition and replace it with a better idea.

This is, I admit, a minor part of being a Cubs fan. The seventh-inning stretch? Really? When we are coming off a 101-loss season and seem farther than ever from being a contending team?

While it's a minor issue, it is, I believe, a symptom of how this team's front office views the fanbase and how to promote the team. And I believe it's time for the parade of third-rate celebrities and sports figures who attempt to sing this song to go. Let's first look at the history of this event. Broadcaster Harry Caray brought it with him when he joined the Cubs in 1982 from the White Sox, where he had begun it in 1976 at the behest of owner Bill Veeck. Here's how it got started:

Veeck noticed the announcer liked to hum the song with Comiskey Park organist Nancy Faust. Veeck asked Caray if he could give him a microphone so he could sing for the entire park. The announcer wanted no part of it.

"Harry was very vain," said Bill's son, Mike Veeck, who worked with his dad at the time. "He really didn't understand the concept that the people in the extreme bowels of the stadium, the people in the left-field upper deck ... because he was one of their own, how he would bring them together. He didn't quite get that if he could sing it, everybody could sing it." 

Bill Veeck explained to Caray that he had already taped the announcer singing during commercial breaks and said he could play that recording if Caray preferred. Instead, Caray agreed to sing with Faust's organ.

"And from the first time, the place lit up," Wiles said. "It quickly became a very big deal."

("Wiles" is Tim Wiles, director of research at the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

The popularity of Harry singing this song was one of the things fans looked forward to, both at the ballpark and watching on TV. When Caray passed away in February 1998, then-marketing chief John McDonough came up with the idea of having "celebrity guest conductors" every day as a tribute to the late broadcaster. For that season -- especially since the Cubs made it a playoff year -- it was an excellent tribute to the memory of someone who had been so popular with fans.

I happened to run into McDonough in spring training in 1999; this was long before BCB and long before I had any front-office contacts. I was introduced to him as a longtime dedicated fan who (at the time) went to 50+ games a year. He asked me what I thought of the singers. I told him I thought it had been a nice tribute, but one year was enough.

You see how far that suggestion went. 15 years later, a parade of D-list celebrities and sports figures with the most tenuous connections to Chicago or to baseball sing this song. Here's a list of some of the people who did it in 2012:

June 27: Jane Lynch (pictured), actress
August 26: Tom Dreesen, comedian
August 3O: Doug Bruno and Oliver Purnell, DePaul basketball coaches
August 31: Bobby Hansen, former Bulls guard
September 1: Jon Lovitz, comedian
September 19: Donnell Woolford, former Bears cornerback
September 2O: Michael Madsen, actor

Seriously, what do any of those people have to do with the Cubs or baseball? Third-rate celebrities and backups on other Chicago sports teams from two decades ago? And the Cubs, late in the season, tried to sell tickets for games based on "Who will you see sing".

Really? Would any of you buy a ticket to a Cubs game because of who's going to sing a two-minute song in the middle of the seventh inning? Further, the Cubs rarely announce in advance who's doing this, and if they do, it's buried at the bottom of a notes column.

Finally, we've now had 15 seasons since Harry died. You'd have to be in your mid-20s to have any real memory of him broadcasting games, and in your mid-30s to have any memory of when he was actually at the top of his profession -- since after his 1987 stroke, he wasn't nearly as good at calling games as he was before. If you didn't hear him before 1987, you really missed something. Harry was one of the best play-by-play men of his time, from the time he began calling Cardinals games in the early 1940s, through his White Sox years, through 1986.

But he's becoming a fading memory. If the Cubs really wanted to pay tribute in the right way to Harry, they'd dump the celebrities and people from other sports who Len Kasper has to do an uncomfortable inning's worth of interviews after the song, and keep the tradition by having the current Cubs TV and radio announcers do it. Len Kasper, Pat Hughes, Keith Moreland and whoever replaces Bob Brenly should rotate duties; that would truly honor the tradition, which was begun by Harry "humming along" in the White Sox booth more than 35 years ago.

Get rid of the celebrity singers. Keep the tradition. As I said, I realize this isn't a big deal. But it's the offseason. Have at it.

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