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In honor of actor Andy Garcia and his (unintentionally) hilarious reaction to Sofia (Mary Corleone) Coppola's death scene in "The Godfather, Part III."
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Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Posted 03-18-2018 at 09:57 AM by TommyJohn
Updated 12-19-2018 at 08:39 AM by TommyJohn

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

In 1976, Bill Veeck arrived in town with his usual promotions and ideas to lure people to the ballpark and make the game a fun and enjoyable experience. He delivered on promotions as promised and came up with gimmicks such as installing a shower in the center field bleachers for fans to cool off on hot summer days. There is one idea he came up with that year that has turned out to be his most lasting contribution to baseball.

The story is told in various forms, but the basic one is that on Opening Day, Veeck heard Harry Caray singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" after the top of the 7th inning, which was something he had always done. The fans in the upper deck just below the television booth were singing along with him. The light bulb went on over Veeck's head.

Caray later said that for the next home game, when the top of the 7th ended, Veeck sneakily switched out Harry's microphone for one hooked up over the PA system, and soon Harry heard his voice booming throughout the park, with the crowd singing along. However, Caray also said that he was reluctant to do it, as he had a horrible singing voice, and that Veeck talked him into it by telling Caray that he had been waiting for a long time to find just the right person to sing the song. Caray was that person, Veeck said, because every guy would hear Caray's voice and automatically know he could do better. More than likely, Veeck may have just asked Caray to do it after hearing the announcer on Opening Day.

Whatever the truth was, it became a regular ritual in Comiskey Park, with Harry yelling out from the booth "Lemme hear ya!" to the cheering crowd while awaiting Nancy Faust's musical cue.

The tradition continued until 1981, after which Harry bolted for the north side. The Sox at first used "Guest Conductors" to lead the crowd (usually a fan who had won a contest). Sox PA announcer Wayne Messmer then took over crowd-leading duties until 1984. When Messmer left to take the PA job with the Cubs in 1985, the Sox hired "Designated Singer" Roger Scanlan to lead the crowd. Nowadays, it's more muted, with PA announcer Gene Honda merely telling the crowd to sing.

"The 7th Inning Stretch" ritual soon caught on and is now done in every ballpark in America. Cub fans were indifferent to it at first, wanting no part of Drunk Harry's South Side Clown Show. 1984 changed that forever, and soon Cub fans not only sang the song with gusto, but many came to believe and act like they had started the tradition. Baseball poets, philosophers and Bob Costas messed all over themselves after witnessing it in Wrigley Field. The Cubs continue to milk the holy cash cow long after Harry's death with "Guest Conductors," and the grand and glorious tradition received a lot more coverage during the 2016 World Series than the 2005 World Series (which, according to many reputable sources, including the Chicago Tribune, never happened). If you ride up the express elevator in Water Tower Place to Harry Caray's Restaurant on the 7th floor, you are greeted with wall-to-wall pictures of Wrigley Field and Harry's rendition playing on an endless loop, which includes the lyric "Root, root, root for the Cubbies..."

Sox fans know the truth, though, for all the good it does. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" started on the south side, in Comiskey Park. To me, it is unfortunate that the Sox seem to take little to no interest in reminding people of this or making more of a big deal of it at the ballpark.

Below: Clips of Harry Caray leading Comiskey Park crowds in "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." They are from 1979, which falls two years outside of our time frame, but they were the oldest I could find on YouTube.
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