Kid Rock and Jeff Garlin have very little in common. Garlin said so himself. The only reason the hard-partying Detroit-area rocker and boisterous Chicago-area actor and comedian crossed paths was Garlin was asked to accompany Rock to Wrigley Field in 2003. Mr. “Bawitdaba” was scheduled to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” made famous by late Cubs announcer, who sang it at every home game. Garlin was a seventh-inning stretch veteran and, well, Rock wasn’t.
Garlin obliged, somewhat reluctantly. He accompanied Rock to the broadcast booth where the stretch is sung and then stood in the background as Rock belted out the classic tune. Garlin said Rock didn’t need his Cubs expertise – until the very end.
“When he was done, I whispered to him ‘Yell “Let’s get some runs,”’” Garlin recalled. Rock’s response: “’What?’ (So I said again,) ‘Yell, let’s get some runs.’ And he goes, ‘All right, hey Chicago, lets get some lunch!’”
For some, these sort of blunders have been part of the charm of the seventh-inning stretch, not unlike an entertainingly bad karaoke performance. Baseball purists aren’t as amused. They tend to see it as a sign of disrespect for the grand tradition Caray began when he was a White Sox announcer and brought with him to the Cubs in 1981.
Regardless of where you stand on the guest conductors, who took over when Caray died in 1998, there’s no denying the seventh-inning stretch’s role in the Wrigley experience. And with the ballpark celebrating its 100th anniversary this season, I asked celebs, players and members of the Cubs organization to tell the story of this Wrigley tradition from their point of view.
(Interviews have been condensed and edited.)
The Harry Caray years
Dutchie Caray, Harry Caray’s widow: It started at White Sox Park. Nancy Faust played “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in the seventh inning, and for some reason (Harry) would start singing it to himself in the booth, as the story goes. One day (then-White Sox owner) Bill Veeck had the mic set for when (Harry) sang. He said it surprised him to hear his voice all over the ballpark, and then he asked Bill Veeck, “What happened, what did you do? I can’t sing.” Bill said, “Yeah, that’s the reason, because if you could sing, nobody would sing with you. This way everyone will sing.”
Tom Morello, Rage Against the Machine guitarist: I first knew Harry Caray as the fantastically amusing White Sox announcer. He brought that same fire and spunk to Wrigley Field, and next thing you know he was uniting the city with this seventh-inning stretch anthem on a daily basis. It was a glorious part of the game during some lean years.
Gary Sinise, “CSI: NY” actor: There was this anticipation as soon as that third out came. Everybody knew it was coming and would get up on their feet and scream. That was Harry’s moment. It was his moment to interact with the crowd. It was very special. I can just see him in my mind so clearly.
Nick Offerman, “Parks and Recreation” actor: Harry Caray would loudly and blusteringly spray the upperdeck with saliva as he bellowed that venerable tune.
Caray: He loved singing – loved music. He was a great dancer. We always would go to places that had pianos playing while you eat. He loved that.
Steve Stone, ex-Cubs TV color commentator: Harry would stand up and mesmerize all of the people. He would lead the crowd with his mic, only occasionally singing. He kept it to a minimum because of his voice, which by his own admission, sounded like a frog on steroids. That being said, he was captivating.
Gary Pressy, Cubs organist: Harry wasn’t exactly Frank Sinatra. Know what I’m saying?
Stone: When Harry passed away, John McDonough (then-Cubs’ executive vice president of marketing and broadcasting) was thinking about what to do with this. Do we just play a recording of Harry, what would be the proper amount of respect to usher in a new era of the seventh-inning stretch? At the end of the day, as John has done so many times, and Blackhawks fans are reaping the benefits of his expertise and wonderful sense of marketing – he decided to have guests come in. That’s where the seventh-inning stretch took on a life of its own.
(Dutchie Caray and former Cubs TV play-by-play announcer Chip Caray, her grandson, were the first guest conductors following Harry Caray's death.)
Caray: The first one I did after Harry died – I can’t sing worth a darn – I was very nervous about it. They had such an affair that day with all the balloons being released and the Irish rovers. It was quite a thrill for me to do it.
Pressy: There was a lot of pressure on her. Everybody was looking forward to the third out. They were all chanting “Harry! Harry!” Dutchie took the mic and said “Let him hear you in heaven.” That was a powerful moment in Wrigley history. She came in the booth after and asked “How did I do?” I told her “You laid three aces on the table. Nobody beats you.”
Jeff Garlin, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” actor: I’m not a nervous guy, but wow. It hits you when you’re standing up there and looking out at Wrigley and all the fans are your horizon. There’s nothing that’s not people. It’s almost like Pavlov’s dogs. Once it becomes the middle of the seventh, every head turns at once. That’s a strange thing. There is a thought like “I know the words, but what if I forget?” “Will I forget the words” pops in my head every time. But you have the words right there.
Joe Mantegna, "Criminal Minds" actor: It’s pretty intimidating. You’ve got to pay attention to the organ player. The first time I did it I was so excited I wasn’t quite listening to his instructions and I think I ended up being one beat ahead of him. I realized the next time I did it I’ve got to pay attention to the instructions. Once you get the whole crowd with you, it’s exhilarating. I think if you did it every day, it would extend your life by 10 years because you feed off the energy of the people.
Kerry Wood, ex-Cubs pitcher: I don’t want to hear myself over a PA system in front of 40,000 people. I started (singing) it and let my kids take over. When you’re pitching, you’re only focusing on the catcher. It’s different when you’re looking around knowing you’re on live TV and all that stuff. It’s nerve-racking. But it’s something everyone should try once.
Morello: The singing of the seventh-inning stretch is the easy part. Throwing the first pitch is more nerve-racking. I have friends on the team and want to make sure I don’t bounce it. The singing aspect is something I do for a living. And unlike some rockers who have taken part, I know the words to the song. I am the biggest Cubs fan you will ever meet in your life and have been to hundreds of games. I’ve been singing that song since I was a child.
Katie Marta, ex-Cubs special events and entertainment coordinator: Gary Sinise is one who always had a great intro. We always asked that people keep it short: “Great to be here,” “Let’s do this for Harry.” We had people who would want to give a speech. Gary Sinise was loud and had this really strong voice. He had the perfect combination of holding the mic out and singing. We always encouraged people to hold the mic out. There really is a science to it. You see enough of them and you understand what makes them good and bad.
Sinise: I just try to think of what Harry would do. He would go slow: “A one...a two...a three.” It always had this rhythm.
Ryan Dempster, ex-Cubs pitcher: I always paid attention to the seventh-inning stretch. I thought it was a lot of fun. “Oh, this celeb is in today? This might be entertaining.” If Bill Murray was doing it, we knew we were going to laugh. Michael Keaton was super excited. He’s a big Pirates fan. I had a chance to talk to him before the game and he was all jazzed up to be doing it. You have these celebs who sit there in front of a camera and put on these performances and are comfortable with it, but they get scared the minute they have to sing the stretch. That was pretty entertaining to see him all nervous. I didn’t expect that.
Michael Keaton, “Batman” actor: I don’t have a great voice. There have been hundreds of people who have done it. I’m sure I’m somewhere down in the bottom 30. Maybe not. I’ve heard some others sing and they’re down there with me. You get extremely nervous. They keep saying “Don’t worry. Have fun and enjoy yourself.” And the next sentence it’s “Now you’re not going to hear anything. We’ll give you the signal and don’t stop. That’s very important.” I was worried about everything -- about coming in on time, forgetting the lyrics. Now (Dempster) may have played up how nervous I was. I was nervous, but I was excited as well.
Marta: It felt like I was baby-sitting my six-year-old niece by the end of that day. (Keaton) wasn’t a bad guy. It was just exhausting. He was very friendly, but he was in the locker room getting into everything. “You shouldn’t go in there.” In the dugout before the game, you want to stay out of the team’s way, but he was up and down the dugout.
Keaton: I find baseball fields really beautiful. I have photographs of them from planes. And when you’re on them, as you know, you get a whole other perspective. I’m not really a jock sniffer. I just love the game and the stadiums. I was very excited. Frankly, it was a combination of excitement and nerves.
Offerman: I’m very hopeful that I one day get to throw out the first pitch and lead the choir in those drunken tones. It has been intimidated that I was welcome to come by. My problem is getting to Chicago with enough time to catch a ball game. Given that some of the – shall we say – less than melodious members of the Belushi family have gone before me, I think I would attack it with confidence.
Ozzie Guillen, ex-White Sox manager: I don't think I've got the guts, because they would boo me. I'm tired of people booing me already. If I ever do the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field, that's going to be a fiasco. I don't think they'll let me sing it because people would be booing me all over the place. I don't want TV highlights showing how people are booing me in Chicago.
Marta: Everyone thinks it’s so fun: “Why would anyone not want to sing the seventh-inning stretch?” But a lot of these people, even the big name actors, if they don’t understand the Cubs and get the seventh-inning stretch: “You want me to sing in front of 40,000 people?” (Michael) Jordan wouldn’t do it. Him or Oprah (Winfrey). Robert Redford threw out the first pitch on opening day a few years ago, but didn’t want to sing. Johnny Depp came to the ballpark a couple times when he was filming “Public Enemies.” We begged his people, but he just wanted to enjoy the games. Same thing with Kevin Costner.
Stars who've struck out
Pressy: Mike Ditka put it on the map. He was kind of late. I guess he was golfing. And he runs up the ramp, which is not an easy task – especially with his bad hip. He took the mic from Steve Stone and sang it in a polka tempo. I didn’t know he was going to sing it that fast. I probably caught up to him a quarter of the way through. It turned out to be pretty fun.
Stone: We were an eyelash from doing it and then boom there he was. He came up out of breath and ran through that thing like his hair was on fire.
Caray: The one I really thought was the worst was Ozzy Osbourne. Oh my God, I really almost called the Cubs to say “Just quit this. This is ridiculous to have that guy singing.” That was the most disgusting version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” I’d ever seen.
Stone: Ozzy Osbourne had the words right in front of him. I still believe to this day he faked not knowing anything because it played better. He’s one of the great singers in rock ‘n roll history and all of a sudden he can’t sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”? Like I said, I think it was orchestrated. He figured he’d do something memorable.
Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne were two of the nicest people we’ve ever had in that booth. They were wonderful. They thanked everybody for allowing them to be up there.
Wood: The Ozzy one was classic. We got a chance to meet him in the fifth inning. He came into the clubhouse to sign some balls and I remember him leaving the clubhouse and I said “This is going to be a good one.” We made sure we were all out there for it and he didn’t let us down.
Len Kasper, Cubs TV play-by-play announcer: I usually say, “Great job” no matter what. Jeremy Piven did it once and afterward, dropped (“let's hug it out, you little b******”) in the style of Ari from “Entourage.” When he finished, he asked me, “Was that OK?” I replied, “Well, you're still here, so I guess so.” I didn't know what else to say.
Marta: That was a big deal. There are families there. At the same time, that’s the chance you take when you give someone a live microphone. When he came back, I said “Please don’t say anything like you did last time.” He laughed. He knew he was wrong.
Bob Vorwald, WGN-TV director of production: It wasn’t about doing something memorable at Wrigley. It was about him doing something selfish. Whatever. There have been some people there that, for a lack of a better term, are jerks.
Dempster: There was nothing better than listening to Jeff Gordon call it Wrigley Stadium. That was awesome. We were all too busy laughing in the dugout at all the people booing him to say anything.
Wood: That was the worst booing I ever heard during the seventh-inning stretch.
Kasper: The Jeff Gordon debacle gets brought up a lot. He didn't really understand the significance of it and didn't know the song. And that was the only time I actually wanted to stand up and help someone get through it. But, I have to give him credit, he was a good interview and didn't seem to be rattled by what would become a national story for the next few days.
Marta: There’s always the old adage “no press is bad press.” The fact that we were making the national news and more people were hearing about the seventh-inning stretch in general, I think that was a great thing. To me, it was always good. To certain people within the organization, it was bad. We never wanted it to become a joke. We wanted people to look at it as an honor. But we wanted people to have fun with it.
Morello: There are people up there promoting their new national TV show. Maybe it’s their first baseball game and they were thrown into the fire. It doesn’t bother me. But if you’re going to make it bad, please make it really bad so I can enjoy it on YouTube.
Marta: I would say (we got the most backlash for) Denise Richards and Kellie Pickler. Denise was filming her reality show that day, so people felt she wasn’t respecting this tradition: “Why does she get to sing this when there are so many other huge Cubs fans that deserve it more than her?”
The interview always seemed to steer people one way or another. If they didn’t know anything about baseball, the interview would be brutal. God bless Len and (former Cubs TV color commentator) Bob (Brenly). It’s a tough job trying to call the game while also talking to a person who may or may not care about what’s going on. Kellie Pickler had no idea about the game of baseball.
Kasper: (Pickler) was something else. Fun and playful, but seemed not to know one thing about baseball. Her complete honesty in that regard makes me give her a bit of a break. Erik Estrada actually referenced online child pornography during one infamous interview. He was trying to make the point that he was supporting an anti-porn task force but I just recall how bizarre it was that we had reached that place during a baseball game.
Stone: Some were really fun. Some were like pulling teeth. The people who understood why they were there were good.
Kasper: By far the nicest guest we've ever had is Eddie Vedder. The first time he did it after I arrived, he gave me a hug. Another time he did it, I told him before the inning that we would promote Pearl Jam's new record and he said not to worry, he was there to talk baseball. He is always a total sweetheart.
In terms of navigating that interview, we've now started to do it before the stretch instead of after, which I think works really well. One reason is, we like not interrupting the bottom of the seventh when the Cubs are batting. It's also cool to talk to the celebrities just before they do the high-wire act thing. And I think it's disarming and distracting for the celebs in a good way in that they can chat with us instead of standing there nervously waiting for the top of the seventh to end.
Future of the stretch
(The Cubs announced before the 2013 season that the organization wanted to put more of an emphasis on booking guest conductors with Chicago ties.)
Jim Oboikowitch, Cubs game and event production manager: We always try to target Chicago celebs and athletes and certain guests in town who fans would be excited to see. (The announcement) kind of came off as a change of philosophy, but I think it was more to reiterate that we’re trying to bring in people who understand Wrigley Field and the Cubs tradition. For the (guest conductors) with no connection, we try to educate them about Wrigley Field and make sure they know a lot about the seventh-inning stretch and Harry.
Offerman: I’m more titillated seeing the stars of my youth do it: Fergie Jenkins, Andre Dawson, Jody Davis. Just to see Fergie Jenkins is doing well and having a good time, it’s quite a thrill.
Morello: I’ve always enjoyed when it’s Chicago related, but I don’t think there should be an official ban on letting (outsiders) do it. They should bring fans up from the crowd to do it every once in a while. That’s something Harry – who was a man of the people – would have liked.
Garlin: It should be about the pure joy of the Cubs and Wrigley Field. That’s what Harry had: Pure joy. And anyone who doesn’t represent that shouldn’t be doing it – unless they’re giant movie stars. I wouldn’t turn down Jennifer Lawrence if she wants to sing it, no matter what mistakes she might make. But I remember one time they moved my seventh-inning stretch date because WGN had a deal with these guys who were on an A & E show, I think “Storage Wars.” They needed them on that date and asked me to move my date. Stupid stuff like that bothers me -- things like people with no affiliation who aren’t big fans. I have thought “Should they get rid of it?” but what else is going on in the seventh inning?
(Oboikowitch said it was one “Storage Wars” cast member, Barry Weiss, and the move had nothing to do with a contract and more to do with Garlin’s flexibility.)
Mantegna: Eddie (Vedder) is a huge Cubs fan. Here’s a guy who is idolized by people all over the world, but he’s more excited than anybody to sing the seventh-inning stretch. Those are the ones I appreciate. The guys like myself who aren’t just there to do the showbiz thing, but to participate with a team we’ve been following since we were a kid.
Sinise: I’d like to see it continue, unless they come up with somebody who can fill Harry’s shoes every game. I know I have fun doing it.
Stone: To this day, I think it’s still wonderful. A lot of people who thought it outlived its usefulness, that’s nonsense. It’s part of the ballpark’s charm. I think a lot of people don’t understand that. Everything they do at the ballpark is to make the fans experience more entertaining.
Caray: It’s a thrill to know he was the one who started this thing that has carried on for 16 years now. It seems like it has no ending.
Offerman: It must continue. If it’s ever threatened to be removed, I’ll lead a parade of torches down Clark Street. It’s a working class tradition that is part of the experience of the Friendly Confines. It’s something I find ennobling, as opposed to the embarrassing traditions that other ballparks might have, like say performing a Neil Diamond song in the eighth inning.
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