The Book of No More, Man: Time to Close the Chapter on Guest Conductors for the Stretch

Please welcome tonight’s guest conductors for Take Me Out to the Ballgame, two guys you don’t know and won’t remember unless they’re just really awful from whatever production happens to be in Chicago right now. Tomorrow will be a group of athletes from a local school or the great-grandniece of a former Cub. If you’re lucky, we might score an actor or musician you’ve actually heard of, or maybe even a member of the Bears or Blackhawks.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not even the first person to write about this; and I mean not even the first today. Since I can’t always record my thoughts to the blog as they bubble to the surface of my consciousness, I often text or email myself. Such was the case with the title of this post, though after checking the Twitters, I realized that my former colleague @WilcoMeThat had already written something similar for his own blog, Cubs Behind the Pinstripes.

But like Old Man Sneelock in If I Ran the Circus, I sure he won’t mind me following in his footsteps a bit. Wilco makes a great case for using the brand-new video board as sort of a time machine, displaying Harry Caray in 3,600 square feet of technicolor glory. It’d be the perfect blend of new and old, something one would think the Cubs would be willing to jump all over.

Over the past few years, we’ve been subjected to some absolute bastardizations of the most popular tradition in baseball, among them Jack Black, Ozzy Osbourne, and Jeff Gordon. I’m not a big NASCAR guy but I actually liked Gordon for a while, mainly because his pretty-boy image made so many racing fans’ faces just as red as their necks. But when I heard him ask how the folks at Wrigley Stadium were doing, I disavowed whatever transient affinity I had held.

I must say, however, that this parade of random stretch singers may provide an occasional ancillary perk for those fans lucky enough to have access to the Executive Suite with them. Such was the case for a guy I know, who found himself sitting next to Mr. Gordon Sumner and his wife, Trudie Styler. Since the Brits weren’t too familiar with baseball, my friend was more than happy to explain the game to them. I don’t care who you are, having the chance to hang out with Sting for a couple hours is pretty cool.

For the most part, however, the Stretch has been an abject disaster. In fact, I’d go so far as to label it a traveshamockery (if you’re unfamiliar with that word, you’d better call Saul). I think it finally came to a head for me when the pair of goofballs from The Book of Mormon were up there wailing away. The one who reminded me of Josh Gad had a shrill voice that seemed to bore into the inviolate reaches of my soul, scoop out whatever remained, and replace it with a steaming lump of something it had fished from one of the porta-potties below. Too graphic? Yeah, sorry about that.

But I just felt empty and kind of dirty after watching the performance and it finally became clear to me that something I used to love was dead. Even worse was the realization that it had been dead for quite some time and it was only the thing’s poorly reanimated corpse that I’d been seeing for the last few years. Chalk up another win for biz ops; they may have finally broken me.

Thankfully, the actual game itself was far more uplifting and important and I got to hear real fans singing a song that, while oft-maligned, still evokes in me a sense of joy. As the Cubs move back toward respectability in a baseball sense, isn’t it time they do so when it comes to traditions? The Stretch has become like Javier Baez’s adventures at the plate; for every towering blast, there are a dozen or so bad whiffs. Let’s bring back Harry or at least establish some sense of continuity. Please?

Thanks for reading, I’ll climb back off my soapbox now. If anyone needs me, I’ll be out looking for more ideas to steal.


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