It's late in the story, so you can all take a break. Stand up, stretch, rub the sleep out of your eyes and hustle to the fridge. Grab a cold one, then hum "Take Me Out to the Ball Game, " applaud yourself and settle back into your seat.
Here's the wind up and the pitch....
Harry Caray started leading Chicago fans in Take Me Out to the Ball Game in 1976, when he was broadcasting for the White Sox. Owner Bill Veeck noticed that spectators who sat below the broadcast booth sang along with Caray as he serenaded his co-announcer, Jimmy Piersall,
"One day without me knowing it, Veeck hid a public-address microphone in the booth," Caray says. "I'm there singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and all of a sudden I hear my voice booming back at me along with about 15.000 others."
Caray recalls that Veeck explained: "I knew you would be the right guy because any guy sitting in the ballpark who hears you sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game knows that he can sing as well as you, probably better. Therefore he freely joins in. Hell, if you had a really good singing voice you'd intimidate them."
At the beginning of the '87 season, fans turned to the WGN booth, but Caray wasn't there. He had been laid low a month and a half earlier by a stroke, and would miss the first six weeks of the season. Game after game, Cub fans stood and looked up to the window of Caray's booth and sang along with a recording of the bedridden broadcaster. Caray recovered and returned to the booth for a game against the Reds. "The President called me at the beginning of the game," Caray says. "Then, before the bottom of the seventh, you could tell how eager the fans were because all through the ballpark they began chanting, "Har-REE, Har-REE.' "
As soon as Reds shortstop Barry Larkin flied out to right to end the top of the seventh, the fans began cheering wildly. The Cubs stepped out of the dugout to watch, and even a few of the Reds sneaked a peek. "I really felt it," Caray says. Caray says he was afraid that his voice wouldn't be strong enough to sing the whole song, but he sailed through it. "Just as off-key as ever," he adds with a laugh.
It's a silly ritual, all this standing around and singing. But it also adds texture to the rich fabric of baseball. "I don't know about other places, but in Chicago, they don't care what's been going on before in the game or after in the game," Caray says of the stretch. But many fans in Chicago and elsewhere leave the park after the stretch. The rule book says the game is official after five innings. But" any fan knows the game is not really official until the top half of the seventh is in the scorebook and they've touched their toes in Toronto, or waved their pom-poms in Jacksonville, or in the cozy confines of Wrigley Field they've sung along with Harry.