Essential Elements of Cubdom #3: The Stretch

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Essential Elements of Cubdom #3: The Stretch

. Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Harry is holding a Cubs beer here - not a Cardinals beer, not a White Sox beer. Take note when you want to "inform" me that he didn't start out with the Cubs. I don't give a shit.

As a Chicago-based Cubs fan, I'm in the extremely fortunate position of being able to go to a Cubs game whenever I want. Only the contents of my wallet stand in my way. One of my greatest pleasures in life is sitting in one of those hard plastic green seats and pushing the sunflower seeds to the side of my mouth so I can take another drink of peanut shell-adulterated Old Style. This has the unintended effect of making me somewhat of a purist about certain things.


- I have more than adequately documented (on this very blog) my love of when the players wear socks in the old-timey manner.

Way cooler than aluminum, with the upside that it may break into pieces and hit that guy talking on his cellphone in front of you.

- I dig a sap-slathered wood bat, and respect players who get into the box without batting gloves and sixteen different wristbands to adjust between pitches. Despite having gone to college in the South, I can't even watch college baseball because I abhor metal bats.

The Milwaukee Chorizo - somehow less offensive than the Frito Bandito?

- I don't want to watch idiots in foam suits race.

Before I seem too "get off my lawn"-y, the point here is that I have a rather vehement disagreement with some of the purists who share my love of the old-timey. People think that the Cubs should eliminate the 7th Inning Stretch as it currently runs. I heard everyone from small-time bloggers to the crew say that since Harry died, the stretch has become a sick mockery of a previously proud tradition. Change is bad, they say - doubly more when Cyndi Lauper is part of the change.

"Let's invite the quarterback who tore the Bears up last season. What could go wrong?"

Honestly, I sympathise with these people - they've probably been to one too many games featuring some washed-up '80s icon or the latest deluded reject from American Idol. Hell, hearing Ashlee "The Nose" Simpson's husband from Fall Out Boy sing during the Crosstown made me want to punch the obnoxious couple in their respective uteruses (uteri? uterati? help me out here, readers). But how can we even consider getting rid of something that has given us so much entertainment in such a short amount of time?

Jimmy Buffett, just Wasting Away in Wrigleyville. HA!*

*Yes, this is Jimmy Buffett, and I've triple-checked in accordance with strict Internet journalism laws.

I've been a Cubs fans since I was a kid, and I suspect I'm one of the increasingly smaller number of people packing the stands these days that has heard Harry do a proper Stretch. Shit, half of these drunken douchebags with their Felix Pie (or Nomar or Prior or whoever) shirts, novelty Harry glases and backward Iowa Hawkeyes hats probably never listened to the man call a game during the dark, crappy days that made up most of the '90s. Harry used to start singing the stretch, then he'd throw the mic out to pick up the crowd noise (a lot harder thing to do when your team is 23 games behind). It was a nice, understated, communal sharing of the love of baseball.

After bravely serving our country, Lieutenant Dan came home to sing the stretch. Unfortunately, a sweetly retarded man upstaged him at the last minute.

But Harry is sadly gone, and attempting to force the stretch into a role that no longer fits it will only end up ruining the uniqueness of what we have now. What, are we going to turn into Milwaukee, and just treat the Stretch as a time to play shitty organ music and a horrible version of "Roll Out the Barrel"? Or maybe we can change the lyrics to "If we don't win that's okay" like those godless tree-humping Flower Children from San Francisco.

You come to the park for entertainment, right? Well, don't tell me that train wrecks aren't entertaining.

No, I say we continue the Celebrity Conductor. Nothing else in baseball has the potential to become a triumph one day and a train wreck the next. I'm touched when I hear Ron Santo pour out his love for the team, knowing that he lives and dies with our Boys in Blue. I know they couldn't get anyone else when I see Wayne Messmer's name on the screen (nothing against Wayne, I've met him, and he's a great guy). And I laugh my ass off when Devin Hester forgets that we replace "home team" with "Cubbies" and ends up singing "we root, root, root for the Ho ... Hubbies." Even Chicago sports legend Mike Ditka (praise his name) increased his legend a bit more by giving the uncontested worst Stretch performance of all time. Although Tony Romo did challenge his dominance a bit. I'm going to give it to Ditka for sheer butchery, and also because he's Ditka.

Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder succumbed to the lure of Old Style and a beautiful day for baseball to get really damn hammered. He screwed up the words, but landed on a poignant truth. "If they don't win, it's a game," he sang. Indeed it is, Eddie.

Ozzy Osbourne was in the middle of becoming a self-parody when he was invited into the booth in 2003, and it really shows here.

The point is, this new tradition we've started has a lot of character. Harry was the number one reason for the song's resurgence and popularity, and no matter how badly we murder the song, we're doing honor to his memory. Standing arm in arm with your friends, enjoying a great day in a baseball park, can never be ruined, no matter how many times Larry the Cable Guy is singing ten feet above you. Harry loved doing the song, and he gave it new life. We can't abandon it just because he's not with us any more. Harry would have wanted us to continue butchering the song, and making spectacles of ourselves in the progress. If that takes the form of Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya finishing three bars before the rest of us, then so be it. Harry would have wanted it that way. Let's hear it from the man one more time:


Jen said...

You bring up so many good points here, I just had to stop my work -- even though I'm inching dangerously close to a deadline -- and tell you how much I like this post.

I love the Stretch myself and even though I would never have the marbles to do it, still reserve the right to poke fun at those who do.

Would it be too rude to kick the guests out of the booth for the bottom of the 7th if they aren't going to talk baseball? I'm sure that their new album/TV show/concert/B-list movie is great but I don't want to hear about it while we're trying to rally.