If you are a Cubs fan, you’ve surely heard that the team is planning a big celebration this season. Of course, the jubilee has nothing to do with winning baseball. These are the Cubs, so they’re throwing a party for their home ballpark, Wrigley Field – a place where they have not won a single championship in 100 years and yet still call it The Friendly Confines.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for this “Party of the Century,” as it has been dubbed by the team. With its ivy-covered walls and hand-operated scoreboard, Wrigley Field is a timeless treasure – even if you litter it with Budweiser signs. This birthday party for the ballpark might even make us forget the pitiful baseball that we’ve seen played on its field these last couple of years. Another round of Old Style, beer man! Oh, I forgot, this is a Bud-only party.
As we get ready to blow out the candles, I do have one wish. With all the hoopla over their ballpark’s centennial, I hope that the team doesn’t neglect another milestone birthday for another big piece of the Cubs’ tradition.
Think about it…what do you associate with Cubs’ victories? I know, there haven’t been many recently. But when they do win, what happens? Well, they raise the W flag. But what else? Go Cubs Go blares out of the public address system and we all stand and sing with the chorus:
“Go, Cubs, Go
Go, Cubs, Go
Hey Chicago, whaddaya say?
The Cubs are gonna win today.”
Were you around when Steve Goodman’s catchy, upbeat “Go Cubs Go” made its Cubs’ debut? It was thirty years ago, and it aired on WGN during the Cubs’ home opener of the 1984 season, on a Friday the 13th, a game in which they defeated the New York Mets 11-2, knocking out Dwight Gooden in the 4th inning. The song, which replaced the stale “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ball Game,” played every gameday for the rest of the season – one that saw the team make its first postseason appearance since 1945, only to lose in the NLCS in heartbreaking fashion to the San Diego Padres. Among the backup vocalists on the refrain are former 1984 players Gary Matthews, Thad Bosley, Jay Johnstone, Jody Davis and Keith Moreland — dubbed “The Chicago Cubs Chorus” on the label.
“Go Cubs Go” served as the team’s official song for two more seasons until, in 1987, it gave way to The Beach Boys’ “Here Come the Cubs”.
A decade later, “Go Cubs Go” made a comeback in tandem with the success of the 2007 and 2008 Cubs, who won consecutive National League Central Division regular season championships. As the song caught on with the fans, it became the unofficial Cubs victory song. Cubs TV broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly would shut off their microphones after a Cubs win, while the camera pans around the stadium to view the jubilant fans singing “Go Cubs Go!”
“There are tears in my eyes when they sing,” manager Lou Piniella told reporters back in 2007, though he had the title as “Go Cubs Win.”
Goodman, who wrote and sang the song, embodied the spirit of Cubs fans like no other musician has or likely ever will. A die-hard to the core, the folk singer-songwriter from Chicago’s North Side evocatively captured all the pain and suffering of Cubdom with irony and humor in songs like the immortal “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” and “When the Cubs Go Marching In.”
All the time he was writing and performing these enduring songs he was keeping a secret from all but his family and closest friends. In 1969, the same year of the infamous collapse of his beloved Cubs, Goodman was diagnosed with leukemia.
Dan Fabian, WGN-TV’s program director, approached Goodman before the start of the 1984 season about writing a song to change the team spirit. Goodman took on the job with enthusiasm and came up with “Go Cubs Go.”
“For all its exuberance, the song was merely the alter ego of `Dying Cub Fan,’” wrote Clay Eals in “Facing the Music,” a Goodman biography. “In its fatalism (`Dying Cub Fan’) was as devoted and affectionate as `Go Cubs Go’ was in its blind faith.”
Goodman finally lost his battle with cancer on September 20, 1984, at the age of 36. Just four days after his death, the Cubs clinched the Eastern Division title in the National League for the first time ever, earning them their first post-season appearance since 1945, three years before Goodman’s birth. Eight days later, on October 2, the Cubs played their first post-season game since the 1945 World Series. Goodman had been asked to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before it; Jimmy Buffett filled in, and dedicated the song to Goodman. The classic punch line to Goodman’s “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” has the dying man assuring his friends that one day they’d meet again “at the Heavenly Hall of Fame,” but until then, they should not worry because he would be using “season tickets to watch the Angels.” Then he added, “You, the living, you’re stuck here with the Cubs, so it’s me that feels sorry for you.”
Let’s hope that the Cubs have a surprise party in store for their victory song. The best surprise – the one that would make Goodman smile up in heaven – would be to hear it played in game 7 of the World Series.