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.