Cubs missing the mark with 7th-inning stretch tradition

CHICAGO -- Once again, the Chicago Cubs are making things harder than they have to be.

As their long-awaited on-field plan starts to take shape behind prized prospects like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, the public relations machine continues to leave some fans shaking their heads.

The latest example of the apparent divide between what fans want and what the Cubs want to give them centers around the new video board that looms over Wrigley Field. The video board provides a great opportunity to reclaim the tradition of Harry Caray leading "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch.

Since Caray died in 1998, the Cubs have used "guest conductors" to sing the song that Caray made famous at the Friendly Confines. It was a great way to honor the Hall of Fame broadcaster's memory. But after 17 years, the tradition has run its course. Having an A-list celebrity, Chicago legends or former Cubs players lead fans in the song is one thing, but too often the Cubs have relied on D-list "celebrities" to continue the tradition, some of who read through the words to the song on the screen in front of them in the press box.

With a shiny new scoreboard in left field, it feels like the perfect time to honor Caray's legacy in a different way and allow a new generation of fans to learn about Caray's greatness while watching old clips of him performing the song. A marriage of an old Cubs tradition with a new one in the omnipresent video board.

After listening to Jim Oboikowitch, the Cubs' manager of game and event production, during an interview on "The Waddle and Silvy Show" on Wednesday afternoon on ESPN Chicago 1000, it sounds like the Cubs don't have much interest in featuring clips of Caray singing on the new board.

"Right now there's no plans for it," Oboikowitch said. "Obviously [the jumbotron is] a new thing and we're always looking to increase the experience, but right now we're really happy with the way it's been going."

Oboikowitch said that the feedback the organization has gotten from surveys says the guest conductor ratings are in the "upper 80s" in percentile and that the guest experience in general has become part of "the fabric of Wrigley Field."

"[Fans want to know] who's going to pitch for the Cubs that day, and then who's singing [during] the seventh-inning stretch is always the follow-up question," Oboikowitch said.

"That third out happens and everybody stands up and turns to look who's singing and they have fun with it. It's between innings, they have a great time, there's a life in the ballpark after that you don't get at any other stadium. We're always listening to our fan feedback, but certainly we know that fans have been pretty positive toward this over our last few years of survey."

But with the video board in place, the dynamics of all the Cubs' survey questions change. Oboikowitch said the fans surveyed had an "upper-80s appreciation" for the guest conductor tradition. Maybe they should be asking: Would you rather have a guest conductor perform during the seventh-inning stretch, or would you like to see a video of Harry Caray performing the song?

An ESPNChicago.com poll asked that question on Wednesday, and after more than 6,500 votes, 71 percent of fans said they would prefer seeing a video of Caray.

The Cubs say they are honoring Caray, a master at connecting with fans, by continuing the guest conductor tradition, but what better way to honor the man than by allowing his spirit and legacy to live on in the form of something he did that brought joy to millions?

Oboikowitch said the Cubs have used the video board to "showcase him a little bit" in different video segments. Frankly, that's not good enough.

The Cubs get a pass in the short term because the video board is brand new and the organization is still figuring out all the different ways it can be used. But it will be a shame if the Cubs don't find a way to use some of Caray's old performances for the seventh-inning stretch.

"Some fans would be shocked if they didn't see a singer up there for the game," Oboikowitch said.

They'd get over it. There will never be a better person to lead the crowd in a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" than Harry Caray, and the Cubs have a responsibility to teach younger fans about his legacy and impact on the game.

Why is such an easily fixable issue still not fixed?

Holy Cow!