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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: Steve Goodman had a song in his heart, a pennant in his dreams

Humor columnist Doug Clark (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Humor columnist Doug Clark (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

With the Mariners failing (yet again) to make the postseason, the national pastime in this part of the woods has taken secondary interest to Seahawks and Cougars and all things football.

I, too, lost much of my baseball passion when my beloved Yankees finished their season in even shabbier shape than Seattle.

(Funny how you never hear New York haters carping about championship rings being bought when the Yanks go colder than leftover linguine, huh?)

That said, something happened to me Saturday night when I tuned in for game one of the National League Championship Series between L.A. and Chicago.

I found a reason to root-root-root for those Lovable Losers who haven’t won the World Series since Teddy Roosevelt was bullying his way around the White House.

And no, this conversion didn’t come from seeing camera shots of Ryne Sandberg, the Spokane kid who carved out a Hall of Fame career at second base for Chicago.

Nor was it from the fact that my dearly departed dad grew up in Al Capone’s town until he found his escape as a traveling mush peddler for the Quaker Oats Co.

Nope. My sudden Cubs appreciation came two seconds after they beat the Dodgers, 8-4.

From out of the Wrigley Field sound system came the unmistakable voice of one of my all-time musical and personal heroes – Steve Goodman.

“Go, Cubs, Go.

“Go, Cubs, Go.

“Hey, Chicago what do you say,

“The Cubs are gonna win today.”

It’s become a Wrigley tradition. Whenever the Cubbies win at home, this simple song Goodman wrote and recorded comes on and every fan joins in.

Chances are the name Steve Goodman doesn’t register.

Allow me to introduce you. Goodman was one of America’s great, yet largely unappreciated, singer/songwriters in the storytelling tradition of artists like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, etc.

Goodman is best known for penning “City of New Orleans,” arguably the best train song ever written.

I sing it in his honor at all of our Spokane Street Music Week sessions.

During his all-too brief existence, Goodman also became a symbol of courage and optimism, and for that reason alone I’ll take any chance that comes along to sing his praises.

This pint-sized man with a gigantic heart and talent even has a Seattle connection although nothing to do with music or baseball.

The aggressive leukemia he battled for most of his career took Goodman down at the University of Washington Hospitals on Sept. 20, 1984.

Gone at just 36 years old. What a loss.

Sadly, even the accomplishment of writing a classic like “City of New Orleans” didn’t gain Goodman much fame.

Arlo Guthrie’s smash recording of the tune has become so iconic that many hearing it believe Arlo wrote it himself.

Goodman’s career was interrupted with hospital stays, chemotherapy sessions that took his hair and one hopeful remission.

He wouldn’t give up. Goodman kept performing, opening for stars like Kristofferson and Steve Martin, while writing songs that will tear your heart out.

“My Old Man,” for example. Give that one a listen and try not to cry – I dare you.

Upbeat to the very end, the ever-clever Goodman had nicknamed himself “Cool Hand Leuk.”

But this column is about baseball, remember, and in that respect the Chicago native was one of the most diehard Cubs fan who ever lived.

Granted, “Go, Cubs Go” is pretty trite. It’s a long, long way from Goodman’s trademark lyrical excellence.

Even Goodman’s own manager dubbed it as “corny.”

It’s said the musician wrote the song out of gentle spite over criticism of his satirical masterpiece, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.”

YouTube that one. You’ll get an idea of Goodman’s gift at creating smart and hilarious lyrics that weave a tale.

That song, much of which is spoken, centers on a fan who’s about to expire. He tells his friends that he wants his coffin burned at Wrigley Field on a pyre of Louisville Sluggers, his ashes carried away by the “prevailing 30-mile-an-hour southwest wind.”

The story Goodman spins is as spellbinding as that old Robert Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”

Plus every now and then, Goodman’s rich voice breaks into a wonderful melody, that asks …

“Do they still play the blues in Chicago,

“When baseball season rolls around.

“When the snow melts away,

“Do the Cubbies still play,

“In their ivy-covered burial ground?

“When I was a boy they were my pride and joy,

“But now they only bring fatigue,

“To the Home of the Brave,

“And the Land of the Free.

“And the doormat of the National League.”

No doormat this year, Steve. This year, why, the Cubs could actually break that hex and finally get the job done.

Well, maybe.

Goodman did not return for a Wrigley encore on Sunday. Behind the exquisite pitching of Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers squeaked out a 1-0 win.

The series resumes Tuesday, now in Los Angeles where the Cubs will have to greatly upgrade their game.

But this is not the same Chicago team that was swept by the Mets in last year’s NLCS. This 2016 version of the Cubs – on paper, anyway – really could go on to win their first National League championship since we nuked Japan and their first World Series since 1908.

And should that impossible happen, I truly believe that we all may hear the voice of Steve Goodman coming down from above and backed by a heavenly choir of angels.

“Go, Cubs Go.

“Go, Cubs Go.”

Holy Cow! Wouldn’t that be something?

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.

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