‘Go Cubs Go’ is a hit again in Chicago

By Don Babwin

CHICAGO- Minnette Goodman was cheering along with the thousands of fans packed into Wrigley Field after a Cubs win this summer when a man’s voice on the loudspeakers started to sing. Soon everybody around her had joined in.

“I turned to the people I was with and I said, ‘Am I hearing what I’m hearing?'” said the 80-year-old Goodman. “There was my kid singing at the ball park.”

Her kid was Steve Goodman. A folk singer best known for writing “City of New Orleans,” Goodman was a native Chicagoan and lifelong Cubs fan who just months before he died of leukemia in 1984 wrote and recorded a little song called “Go Cubs Go.” And now that very song, which Minnette Goodman hadn’t heard in years, was all around her.

“Isn’t that wonderful?” she said. “That’s what they play at the park when they win.”

The Cubs have been winning a lot this year, enough to win the National League Central Division. Even before they hoist the big white flag with the blue W on it, it is Goodman and his chorus of fans who alert anyone within blocks of the stadium what just happened.

Like the Cubs, who won just 66 games last season, the song is making a comeback. Written by Goodman at the request of WGN radio, the station that carries Cubs games, “Go Cubs Go” was used by the station as the team’s theme song for years. Over the years, though, it gave way to the likes of Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” and KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight.”

Then, when the Cubs played it this year at the team’s annual convention in the dead of winter and fans stopped what they were doing and sang along, the Cubs brass decided it was time for the song to take center stage again.

And the results have been remarkable, said Jay Blunk, the team’s marketing director.

“I don’t remember people ever staying for the victory song, but they are staying for that song,” he said.

The song has even made its presence felt in the Cubs clubhouse.

“I get tears in my eyes,” manager Lou Piniella said of hearing fans sing the song. “My eyes get moist. They really do.”

Who knows why the song has caught on the way it has. But those who know Goodman or just know of him say the reasons begin and end with who he was.

“This was a song written by a Cubs fan (who) really understood what it was to feel the pain of loss and the euphoria of a Cubs win,” Blunk said.

“He sort of represented to me that whole period of bleacher bumdom,” said Dan Fabian, the WGN program director at the time who asked Goodman to write the song after listening to him give an interview in 1984.

“He was a hard core Chicago kid… The guy was blood, for heaven sakes, a Cubs groupie.”

That much was clear to anyone who had heard Goodman speak about his childhood or heard a song he wrote and performed a few years earlier: “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” Though written from the perspective of an old man, “it’s obviously an autobiographical song, because he’s dealing with his own mortality,” said Clay Eals, author “Steve Goodman: Facing the Music,” of a biography about Goodman that came out this year.

It was just as obvious that Goodman had suffered with his team.

“Do they still play the blues in Chicago, when baseball season rolls around?” the old man asks in the song. “When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play in their ivy-covered burial ground?”

Fabian said Goodman, though obviously frail from his leukemia at the time, jumped at writing “Go Cubs Go,” and within days he was back at WGN, guitar in hand, playing what he’d written. He recorded the song, with some Cubs players later adding the chorus. WGN then put the song out as a single, with the proceeds going to charity.

“It sold like crazy, eventually more than 60,000 copies over the next three years,” Eals said.

Unlike, the first song, “Go Cubs Go” is upbeat and optimistic. But even the optimism of lyrics such as, “Well this is the year and the Cubs are real” hints at the futility of being a fan of a team that has not, as the old man in the first song said, even been to the World Series “since we dropped the bomb on Japan.”

Goodman never took the field to sing either song. The closest he came with “Go Cubs Go” was in 1984 when he stood in an aisle to sing it during a game. During the strike of 1981 he sang “A Dying Cub Fan’s Request” inside Wrigley as part of a television interview, and a couple years later a television crew had wanted him to sing it there again but Dallas Green, the general manager at the time, wouldn’t hear of it.

“He said ‘Dying Cub Fan’ was about losers,” said Eals.

The new song came out the same season the Cubs were on their way to winning their division – something Goodman did not live to see.

“He goes into a coma and dies four days before the Cubs clinch the NL East in ’84,” said Eals. “It’s like a race to the end of the season and he lost, in a sense.”

Goodman did, however get back to Wrigley. A few years after his death, Goodman’s brother, David, took some of his ashes to Chicago.

“They donned blue caps and went to the bleachers, and they sang ‘A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,’ and scattered some ashes,” his mother said.

That, however, isn’t the end of the story. Anyone who knows the song and the old man’s words about meeting his loved ones in the “Heavenly Hall of Fame,” could predict what happened with the rest of the ashes.

“We went on a road trip, the three girls in the back seat, and scouted out the area and Abner Doubleday Field,” said Goodman’s widow, Nancy Tenney, recalling a trip to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. “It got dark and we went back there at night and David climbed over the fence and between home plate and the pitcher’s mound slung the ashes around.”