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Seventh-Inning Stress

Sept. 08, 2003
Sept. 08, 2003

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Sept. 8, 2003

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Sports Illustrated Bonus Section: Si Adventure

Seventh-Inning Stress

Mike Ditka mangled it. Bea Arthur smoked it. Mel Gibson risked
his life trying to do it. *NSync asked to do it. Oprah refuses to
do it. On a 90° day Joe Frazier froze in the middle of it.

This is an article from the Sept. 8, 2003 issue Original Layout

What is it?

It's Singin' the Stretch at Wrigley Field--standing in the
broadcast booth after the top of the seventh inning and leading
more than 35,000 people in Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

Astronauts to Little League champs have done it, Miss America to
George Will, Bozo to Barney and back again. Jeannie (Barbara
Eden), Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) and the Beaver (Jerry Mathers) have
all taken a whack at it. So did Muhammad Ali and George Foreman,
whose ham-fisted rendition was introduced by Michael Buffer.
Let's get rrrrrready to mumble!!!

Nearly all of them have one thing in common: They butchered the
song.

One hockey coach (the Cubs can't remember which one) began this
way: "Bring me out to the ball game." Ditka yelled the whole
thing in 15 seconds, turning the lyrics into a kind of
overcaffeinated halftime screech. He was so bad that when former
Bears linebacker Dick Butkus tried it, he started by saying,
"Well, I can't be worse than Ditka." And, then, sadly, he started
singing. Blackhawks star Denis Savard got so flustered he
resorted to French.

But they're all off the hook now, thanks to Ozzy Osbourne.

He tried Singin' the Stretch recently and sounded like a surgical
patient in the last moments before the anesthesia takes hold. He
was not just awful. He was 42 exits past awful. He had the words
right in front of him, but, well.... "Mr. Osbourne has obviously
lived a very full life," explains Joe Rios, the Cubs' marketing
assistant who handles the celebs, "and the moment kind of
consumed him."

According to the Chicago Tribune, here is exactly what Mr.
Osbourne, er, emitted:

One. Two. Three.

Let's go out to the ball game. Let's go out to the bluhhhhhn.

Take me a ee-yan eeya [humming] the field.

I don't care if I ahh-uhn ack.

Da da da da duh da da da eam. Duh ee, da da da da dahhh.

For a fee, two, three strikes you're out at the old ball game!

Somewhere, Harry Caray was weeping.

The original idea came up five years ago as a way to honor Caray,
the late Cubs announcer who had made the seventh-inning
sing-along at Wrigley famous. The team decided to play a tape of
Caray singing the song, but the crowd just couldn't get into it.
So Cubs marketing director John McDonough hit on this idea: Each
game invite a different celebrity to come watch the Cubs and
sing. For one day the celeb could eat, drink and be Harry.

The idea was a smash hit. If Wrigley is baseball's time capsule,
Singin' the Stretch is its warbling soundtrack. Thus, Dick Clark
has done it, as have KC and the Sunshine Band, and Eddie Vedder.
Not to mention Vanna White and Cyndi Lauper, Chuck Berry and
Kenny Rogers, Roger Ebert and Macho Man Randy Savage.

And not one of them was paid a dime or expenses to do it. Most of
the time their performances were worth every penny. "Right now,"
says McDonough, "we're at abysmal. We're trying to move up to
bad."

It's just that as the seventh inning approaches, the gravity of
the situation starts hitting the poor celeb. "With two outs in
the top of the seventh inning, some of the greatest athletes of
our time turn white sitting next to me," McDonough says. They're
handed the mike, the countdown begins, and suddenly 35,000 people
are turning, as McDonough says, "to watch you do something you
can't do."

Frazier froze so badly his security guard had to take over. KC
gagged. "My heart was beating so fast," he admitted. NYPD Blue
tough guy Dennis Franz melted into a puddle. "The moral of the
story," says McDonough, "is that Harry wasn't as bad as we
thought."

Some, though, chew up the ivy. Gibson got so into it, he was
hanging out of the booth with only his legs braced against the
windowsill to keep him from falling. ESPN's Chris Berman sang, "I
don't care if I never go back-back-back!" Former Bears defensive
tackle Steve McMichael used the forum to berate the home plate
ump for a controversial call the inning before. The umps wanted
him ejected. My God, where were they halfway through Ozzy?

The Ozzy thing has some people's boxers in a bunch. The Tribune
called for an end to the use of celebrities, basically saying it
was embarrassingly painful. Uh, hello? We're talking about Cubs
fans here! Highest pain threshold in the majors, 95 years in a
row!

Anyway, next time you're in Chicago, take the day off and go
watch the carnage at Wrigley. You won't care if you ever ahh-uhn
ack.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

Ozzy Osbourne tried Singin' the Stretch and sounded like a
surgical patient just before the anesthesia takes hold.