The Best Song In The World Today

The Best Song in the World Today


Steve Goodman died of leukemia at age 36. But before he passed away he penned The Best Song in the World Today, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request."

Today is the real opening day of the baseball season, and this opening day in particular people are talking a lot about my team, the Chicago Cubs.

That's because this season marks one hundred years since the Cubs last won the World Series. Now there are a lot of ways to illustrate just how long ago that was, but here's my favorite: The last time the Cubs won the World Series was nine years before the Bolshevik Revolution. Communism rose and fell, and the Cubs didn't win a World Series.

But you know, I wasn't always a Cubs fan. I actually grew up as a New York Yankees fan, and converted to a Cubs fan as a adult. That decision wasn't made lightly — it took five years.

Long story short...The Yankees only consider a season to be successful when they win the World Series. And I came to realize that that takes the fun out of being a fan. You see, the most exultant moments in sports come when your team exceeds expectations and makes your faintest dreams a reality. And if your team expects to do the very best thing a team can possibly do, you can never exceed expectations. There's only satisfaction or disappointment.

That point was driven home to me when I went to the Yankees' clinching game of the World Series in 1998, and saw just how relatively unimpressed Yankees fans were with the victory.

Fast forward to 2003. I'm living in Chicago, rooting for the Cubs a bit, and in that year the Cubs went on a very improbable run, exceeding all expectations. Cubs mania swept the city. And when the Cubs got into the playoffs — just got into the playoffs — we poured out into the streets to celebrate. Cops closed down the roads around Wrigley Field, and we sang Steve Goodman's cheesy but beloved Cubs anthem, "Go Cubs Go".

At that very moment, there in the street singing "Go Cubs Go," I realized I was a Cub fan.

But that's not the best song in the world today. Because to really call yourself a Cub fan, you have to experience some serious pain. That's what happened to me a couple of weeks later, when the Cubs completely self-destructed, just five outs away from the World Series. It was the most crushing defeat of my life as a sports fan.

But the great thing about Cubs fans is that 99 years of bad teams and bad losses haven't robbed the fan base of a sense of humor. And nowhere is that more evident than in the Best Song in the World Today.

As I said, Steve Goodman wrote "Go Cubs Go," so as you might guess, he was from Chicago and was a huge Cubs fan. Goodman also wrote "The City of New Orleans," which was made famous by Arlo Guthrie, and "You Never Even Call Me By My Name," which was made famous by David Allan Coe.

Goodman was a pretty successful singer/songwriter in his own right from the early 70s to the mid 80s. Throughout that time he was also battling leukemia. In 1984 he passed away at the age of 36. Eleven days after he died, the Cubs played their first playoff game since 1945. He was supposed to sing the national anthem. Instead his friend Jimmy Buffett filled in.

But before Goodman died, he wrote a musical will of sorts. It's a song that truly typifies the Cub fan's ability to laugh through the pain, and it's entitled, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request."

The song begins with an old man on his death bed, surrounded by his friends, wearing a Cubs hat. He tells them he knows he won't be able to see his beloved team play anymore, so he's going to give them his last request.

And Goodman goes on to ask such questions as "Do they still play the blues in Chicago?" and "When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play in their ivy covered burial ground?" He blames the Cubs for driving him to drink, and then he describes his ideal Wrigley Field funeral in great detail. He wants his coffin carried around the bases, he wants everyone to get peanuts and frosty malts, and he wants his ashes thrown into a bonfire on homeplate.

In the end, like all loyal Cub fans, Goodman finds a silver lining, saying to his friends, "I've got season tickets to watch the Angels now/ So that's just what I'm gonna do/ But you the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs/ So it's me who feels sorry for you."

So today, as the baseball season starts in earnest, this is the Best Song in the World Today.

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Oh, man, thanks for this, Dan!! I just finished sitting shiva for my 80 year old mother, and have been catching up on NPR. As soon as I saw this on the website, I glommed on and was transported back to the days when I saw Goodman perform. As my 20-something kids know, listening to him - which I do often - still easily brings me to tears. I think of his talent and warmth and wonder what songs we've missed had he continued to write. I know every word to most of his stuff, think he rivals (heresy!) Dylan in his verbal shenanigans - the Dying Cub Fan song is an incredibly complex verbal jumble that also highlights Goodman's equally incredible sense of humor. I know this was supposed to be a baseball piece, but I just want to thank you for making me smile during a tough time. Go, Cubs!

Sent by Terri | 10:33 AM | 3-31-2008

Here's the other thing about being a Cubs fan: hope. It doesn't matter how last season went - or the previous 99 - today is a day of Hope.

Sent by Christine | 12:26 PM | 3-31-2008

As a transplanted Chicagoan and long-suffering Cub fan (living in, of all place, SAN DIEGO ---UUUUURGH!), I remember seeing Steve Goodman playing this song, along with "Daley's Gone." "The Lincoln Park Pirates," and other songs about Chicago's local color with such folk musician luminaries as Jethro Burns and John Prine. If anyone outside of Chicago knows anything about Steve Goodman, it was as the composer of the "The City of New Orleans," but he was so much more to Chicagoans, giving Chicagoan's lives --to paraphrase "The Dutchman"-- some words we can dance to and some melodies that rhyme.

I normally sing the refrain of this song to my rooommates and co-workers. I follow it up, as I pull away my tears through their laughter, by telling them, "In baseball, on a given day, with any given lineup, any team in the Majors League can have a bad millenium."

It takes real futility to see, not just presidencial administrations come and go between World Series wins, but to see entire political parties, dictatorial empires, and socio-economic systems come and go between World Series victories.

It's been so long since the Cubs have won the World Series, the jerseys for the last World Series winning team had Sandskit numerals on the back.

It's been so long since the Cubs have won the World Series, Fred Flintstone operated the scoreboard that year.

The reason that Cubs were last time to play night games was that, when the Cubs last won the World Series, fire hadn't been discovered yet.

Instead of Keith Moreland dropping a routine fly ball, I request that Leon Durham let a routine ground ball go between his legs with the tying run on third with two outs, all in my honor (not that I keep reliving the 1984 NLCS over and over again in my head, mind you).

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 1:44 PM | 3-31-2008

Absolutely love this piece....

Sent by Rachel Albert | 10:33 AM | 4-2-2008

I saw Steve play one of his last concerts and he wore a bright blue Cubs cap while he played this song. When he finished the song, he tossed the cap into the audience. I still have that cap and I treasure it!

Sent by John | 1:07 PM | 4-22-2008

Oh John, what a priceless item and memory to have. I never saw SG live, but being a teen in Chicagoland, I sure knew his music. As a 50+ person now, I am addicted to Goodman videos posted on YouTube. I recommend Clay Eals book "Steve Goodman, Behind the Music" to everyone. He really was a special person.

Sent by Lynn | 3:05 PM | 4-24-2008