How a man and a song turned the seventh inning into hallowed Wrigley tradition

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.

Post-stretch interviews

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.

lgomez@tribune.com | Twitter @TribLuis

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