One of the bigger arguments I’ve had with my peers back when I covered the Cubs was what the organization was doing with the seventh-inning stretch.
My first year on the beat was 1998 and Harry Caray had died in February. Harry, who was the popular Cubs announcer who bellowed “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” for years during the stretch, was known for not being able to sing well. That’s what made it fun and iconic.
When it comes to trying to find an act to follow Caray’s, John McDonough (now the big boss of the Blackhawks) and his crew in the Cubs marketing department came up with this idea to let guest celebrities sing during the stretch. Dutchie Caray, Harry’s wife, was the first.
Since then, so many guests have leant their voices to the cause – some with success and some with notoriety.
My brethren in the press box thought it was cheap and tacky. I usually frown on gimmicks like this, but for some reason I liked this one.
Gary Pressy of Palos Hills has been the organist with the Cubs for 29 years and never missed a day of work in his life, so he has been there for many of Harry’s warblings and for every sweet and sour note from the celebrities.
Talking to him about his career for the front page story in the Reporter reminded me of so many things I liked about the stretch.
(bullet) My top memory came on a humid night in August, 2001.
I was walking down the press box hallway during my sixth-inning stretch and former Bears legend and pro rassler Steve McMichael, who was ticked off that Cubs baserunner Ron Coomer was called out at home plate, looks at me and said “I’m gonna have some speaks with that umpire.’’
Knowing the man known as “Mongo” was going to sing during the stretch, I told my beloved brothers in the press box “I know you clowns don’t like the seventh-inning stretch, but you should watch this one – it might be pretty funny.’’
Well, it was a part of history. McMichael told the crowd of 40,000-plus he would have “speaks” with home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who was already hot under the collar from hearing from both the Cubs and the Colorado benches about balls and strikes. Angel did not look angelic as he turned around and ejected McMichael.
McDonough said that at that point, he felt “queasy” about what went down. (One wonders how he felt when he got that call about Patrick Kane a few weeks ago.)
As soon as the ex-Bear got the thumb, Mongo had a few comments and laughs before leaving.
“Did you see him down there? He got all sensitive and (bleep),” McMichael said. “I didn’t threaten to kick his ass. Mongo’s back in town. You know the Andy Frain security guards ain’t man enough to get me. You can’t be insecure and be a home-plate ump for God’s sake. Somebody get a [wrestling] promoter and get some money. – I’ll take him at the [Allstate Arena]. ‘’
It’s believed that McMichael is the only person in a press box to be ejected from a Major League Baseball game by an umpire.
(bullet) Speaking of rasslin’, I was able to chat with Randy “Macho Man” Savage and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper during separate stints at the yard. Both were cool. Both are now dead.
(bullet) Before Cyndi Lauper sang, I saw her in the press box cafeteria sitting by herself. She wore this sun dress and she really didn’t look her best. She kind of looked like she could hang out with the “Myrtle Manor” gang.
The next time I saw her was for an ad for her coming torch song tour and she was all glamour-ed up and wearing a fancy black tight dress.
What a difference.
(bullet) The first time Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder sang in the seventh, I got to meet him before the game and we talked about music for about 10 minutes. He had just come off presenting my favorite group, the Ramones, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also sung a number with Bruce Springsteen at the United Center a few nights before.
Wiseguy that I am, I mentioned I had a bootleg of him singing with Joey Ramone and I said “Wow, so, you got to sing with Joey Ramone and Bruce Springsteen – someday you are going to make it big.’’ He actually got a chuckle out of that.
That day, he sang the song and it wasn’t until a few years later that I downloaded it for my iPod and instead of singing “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack” he sang “Buy me some [word that sounds like ‘peanuts’ but is a male body part] and crack.’’
I don’t think anyone noticed that day. Years after I discovered his sly shenanigans, I heard someone on the radio replaying it and laughing it up.
(bullet) Cheap Trick sang it one year and since they sang in the room next to the press box, I was one of the only people watching the show while my mopey brothers had their heads buried in their computers. Rick Neilsen made eye contact with me and gave me the thumbs-up. I gave him the thumbs up and I’m sure it made his day.
(bullet) I don’t know why, but seeing Beaver Cleaver (actually actor Jerry Mathers) as a grown up man was cool and it should have been creepy.
On the flip side I thought back in 2000 that seeing Donald Trump up close would be cool and it was creepy.