Soon after I landed at KGB-FM in March 1987, the radio station's promotions department arranged with the San Diego Padres to give away 20 pairs of tickets for each Wednesday night home game at Jack Murphy Stadium (now Qualcomm).
Christened "Chainsaw's Flagpole Gang," the 40 winning listeners and I would watch the games from the cheap seats, some 500 feet from home plate and about 250 feet from the next closest fan.
I was also invited to sing.
During the seventh-inning stretch of 12 Wednesday night games, then-public address announcer Bruce Binkowski would recite what would become the low point of his illustrious career: "Ladies and gentlemen, we direct your attention to the centerfield flagpole, as KGB's Cookie 'Chainsaw' Randolph leads you in singing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame,'" whereupon I would lip-sync to a recording of my own voice into a prop microphone.
The Padres went 65-97 that season. Chainsaw's Flagpole Gang went 3-9.
Then came 1988.
Our debut night was Wednesday, April 13. The Padres were hosting that season's eventual World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. In the top of the eighth inning, soon after I'd "sung," Pedro Guererro blasted a two-run shot off Padres all-time wins leader Eric Show (pictured). Guererro and Kirk Gibson circled the bases, and the Padres lost 4-3.
On several subsequent Wednesday nights, I would serenade, and the Padres would lose.
By June 8, Chainsaw's Flagpole Gang was 0-5, and people began to notice. Ticket-winners would razz me when they arrived, and after the top of each seventh inning, as he trotted toward the dugout from right field, I could swear Tony Gwynn would cover his ears.
It only got worse.
Soon after I'd led the chorus on Wednesday, August 3 (my birthday), the Atlanta Braves scored three runs in the eighth inning to win 4-2. Chainsaw's Flagpole Gang was 0-8, and the Padres were exactly eight games under .500.
Coincidence? The Padres thought not.
The next day I received a call from a Padres executive who expressed his appreciation for all the efforts I had made in promoting Wednesday nights. "...however...uhh...Cookie...umm....some of the players have been talking....how should I say...uhh...they have noticed that every time you sing...uhh..."
Meantime, I'm thinking, did they describe me as a curse or were they cursing as they described me?
No matter. I spared him the anguish. "Say no more. We will end the promotion" (which, by then, was a contradiction of terms). After all, I wanted the Padres to win as much as anybody, and baseball is the most superstitious of sports.
On the day Chainsaw's Flagpole Gang ceased operations, the Padres stood at 50-58.
Following my heroic stand-down, the Friars went on a tear, going 33-20 the rest of the way, including 4-1 on Wednesday home games. They finished 1988 with a record of 83-78, at the time the third greatest season in franchise history. Had I kept singing, their record would have been 79-82.
Four division titles and one World Series later, 2010 marks the 22nd consecutive season I have promised not to lead the Padres faithful in singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
Sing it loud and sing it proud. The jinx is long gone. n
Cookie "Chainsaw" Randolph still loves attending Padres games, but his court-ordered ankle bracelet alerts security on Wednesday nights.