MESA, Ariz. – The seventh-inning stretch has been a polarizing part of Chicago Cubs games since the introduction of guest conductors in 1998, the year Harry Caray died.
Some fans love it, while others wish the tradition would end and the celebrities there to promote themselves would just go away.
Cubs in-game programming director Jim Oboikowitch said Tuesday there will be some changes to the stretch this year after listening to what fans had to say.
“I think we definitely want to focus on former Cubs players, people that are Chicago natives, people who know baseball and who are Cubs fans,” he said. “I do think we want to get ‘A listers,’ so if there is that celebrity in a movie … But we want them to understand what they’re coming to do — not just come into the booth and say, ‘My movie hits theaters tonight,’ or ‘My book is in stores.’
“They should know something about the Cubs. They should know the background of Harry Caray and what we are doing, and I think it will be a little more teaching them and exposing them. We do want the best guests, so we might come across that situation. But I think it’s all about preparing them so they’re not on with (broadcasters Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies) and talking about stuff while a big home run is being hit in the bottom of the seventh.”
One guest conductor came into the TV booth last year and bragged that he hated baseball. Not every guest will be invited into the booth this year.
“People really like the stretch guest,” Oboikowitch said. “It’s the interview that’s always been a little dicey, and I think people always remember the bad ones — when a guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about or always interrupting the (broadcasters).”
The Cubs also will play more taped music before games and actually try to move into the new millennium instead of playing the best rock songs of the 1980s.
“We will try to upgrade the music a little,” he said. “(Organist) Gary Pressy is not going anywhere. That will stay the same, but some more updated music at different times. We talked about cutting down some of the pregame (advertising announcements), so I think there will be more music playing pregame, adding a little more life in the stadium.
“It’s tough after a year when you lost 101 games. The year were won 51 home games (in 2008) it was the same music, but it felt a little better and seemed louder. We’ll play what fans want to hear, though we won’t have ‘Call Me Maybe’ on the list.”
New senior director of marketing Alison Miller said they are exploring whether to play the same song at the start of every game, as they did with Van Halen’s “Jump” in the ’80s and ’90s. They want something that says “Chicago,” though not it also has to get the crowd psyched for the game.
The Cubs played several different songs last year, and there may be no real consensus on what the perfect introductory song should be at Wrigley Field. If Cubs fans have any ideas, they’re free to send their suggestions to Miller or Oboikowitch at Wrigley Field.
By Paul Sullivan, Tribune reporter