JG Online


'One Minute In Chicago'
Spring 2005

Let's get one thing out of the way at the start: Jeff Gordon is not a singer. He does not profess to be a singer, have rythym, or the greatest taste in music. While his rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch of a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field on May 24 was nothing short of abyssmal, the public reaction, fed by the media, has blown the moment entirely out of proportion.

After arriving at Wrigley Field in the mid-afternoon, Gordon was asked if he wanted to practice the song. He declined. Looking back, he readily admitted he should have taken the team up on their offer. Because singing the song to yourself is not the same as singing it on cue with 40,000 people being lead by an organist. The pace of the song completely threw him off. Once he got off pace, the train wreck was already in progress. Sure, he goofed at the beginning by calling the historic ballpark Wrigley Stadium, instead of Wrigley Field. The entire episode was a rare public gaffe for Gordon.

The seventh inning tradition at Wrigley Field began following the death of longtime Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray. For more than 15 years, Caray would lead the crowd in a rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during home games. The truly sensible thing to do would have been to simply play a recording of Caray singing the song. However, there's also something to be said for the country's insatiable draw to entertainment and celebrity. Enter the Cubs marketing department coming up with the idea to have "celebrity singers." Of course, the performances over the years have ranged from 'decent' to 'hideous.'

Gordon's schedule is booked months in advance. When he saw that he'd be in Chicago on May 24 to promote the July race at Chicagoland Speedway, he probably figured some added publicity for the sport couldn't hurt. He had only wanted to throw out the first pitch for the game. He never played Little League baseball growing up and didn't have too much experience in a baseball environment. But he felt he could handle the first pitch. Of course, at Wrigley Field, the first pitch comes with a caveat-- the person who throws out the first pitch also sings during the seventh inning stretch. Gordon admitted during an interview the previous weekend that he was still trying to learn the words to the song.

Before the game he walked out to the mound and prepared to throw. When throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game, most people don't walk all the way onto the pitcher's mound. It's 66 feet away from home plate, and unless you're a former player, the potential for embarrassment exists. Nevertheless, Gordon walked all the way to the mound and uncorked a pitch slightly out of the strike zone. Ok, it was completely out of the strike zone. But it didn't bounce to the catcher and it didn't fly over the catcher's head. A decent pitch all things considered.

He entered the WGN-TV broadcast booth in the sixth inning and waited for the Houston Astros to make their third out in the seventh inning. In hindsight, he should have practiced with the organist. Nearly unflappable on camera, Gordon admitted to being nervous before taking the microphone. It was one minute that was replayed on nearly every sports report in the country later that night... and for the rest of the week.

Following the performance, he made no excuses. He admitted he "looked like an idiot." But the reaction probably surprised even Gordon. The media onslaught began almost immediately. As expected, the Chicago Tribune panned the performance. Some even suggested the Cubs do away with the "celebrity guest singer" for the seventh inning tradition-- all because of one minute from Jeff Gordon.

The seventh inning stretch is about having fun. That's what Gordon was having in Chicago on May 24. The fallout has bordered on bizarre. Suddenly, Gordon was more hated in Chicago than Sammy Sosa. Columnists panned him harder than Enron. Of course, Gordon didn't cause the California blackouts or defraud anyone's retirement fund. Yet, for a few days, it seemed as if he was public enemy #1 on the hit lists of sports columnists.

Has one minute in Chicago been blown out of proportion? Of course it has. It's a minute that will likely be replayed time and again. But, it was also a moment of pure, unadulterated fun. Nobody got hurt, people had a laugh, and life went on. In the end, it's just entertainment. Nothing more and nothing less.

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