Strike Out

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Jeff Gordon must have felt right at home last Tuesday night at Chicago's Wrigley Field.

He was booed. Loudly.

Anyone who has ever sat through driver introductions during a NEXTEL Cup Series race knows that Gordon gets as many boos as he does cheers when his name is announced, maybe more.

Even after twelve years on the circuit, I'm still puzzled as to why. I guess he deserves it, I mean after winning 72 races and four championships in record time. Why should fans cheer him?

It doesn't seem to bother Gordon, or so he says.

"I learned a long time ago, from Dale Earnhardt in fact, that as long as they make noise, you should be happy," Gordon said.

Well with that criteria, after his visit to Chicago and appearance at the Cubs-Astros game, he should be ecstatic.

Gordon came into the Windy City to do some promotional work for the Chicagoland Speedway, in advance of July's USG Sheetrock 400 weekend at the Joliet track. He spent the afternoon making the rounds with Chicago media before heading out to the ballpark for a night that included throwing out the ceremonial first pitch as well as leading the crowd in the Wrigley Field time-honored tradition of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch.

After tossing a weak pitch to Cub catcher Michael Barrett during the opening ceremony (a colleague of mine in the press box cracked that Gordon "threw a lot like Aunt Bea"), Gordon worked his way upstairs and anxiously awaited the musical portion of the evening.

In fairness to Gordon, the singing part of the equation was not in his original plans.

"I wanted to throw out the first pitch," he told me during a television interview earlier that afternoon. "But they told me the singing part came with it. I just hope I don't forget the words."

Unfortunately for Gordon, those words were prophetic.

By now, you've probably seen the video of poor Jeff, starting off the debacle by asking fans of "Wrigley Stadium" if they were ready to do this. As the organ played, Gordon started, albeit off key, and then inexplicably pretty much just bailed in the middle of it.

The bewildered fans kept singing, but a small chorus of boos finally built into a deafening roar, not heard at "The Friendly Confines" since the Cubs bullpen blew its latest lead.

Sheepishly, Gordon retreated to the WGN-TV booth to do an obligatory interview with broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenley, joking about what had happened and doing his best to keep a brave face.

Gordon has been hammered in Chicago and around the country afterward for what has been called the worst rendition of the song in Wrigley history, topping the ear splitting versions rendered by Ozzy Osbourne and Mike Ditka.

But hey, so what?

How many NASCAR wins does either Ozzy or "Da Coach" have anyway?

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2005

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