October 24, 2011
Most of my childhood memories, as they relate to baseball, involve playing the song "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" in my head. Today, it has become an anthem sung by many fans in different sports in order to taunt an opponent who is on his way out of the game. Fans at Rangers Ballpark have chanted it at the Cardinals during the World Series. But when I was a kid, it was mostly played at Chicago White Sox games by Comiskey Park organist Nancy Faust. And the fans sung along, to serenade a pitcher who's being pulled from a game, or to cheer a home run ("kiss it goodbye") hit by the South Side.
One of the song's main composers, Paul Leka, died Oct. 12, the New York Times reported Sunday. He was 68, his life shortened by lung cancer. He also wrote "Green Tambourine," a great hippie anthem from the late '60s. The Times' obit spins a neat tale of how "Na Na Hey Hey" came to be, but how the song transcended from the radio and 8-track players to stadiums should give White Sox fans a lot of pride. After all, the Sox haven't contributed much else to baseball popular culture.
Here's Faust's recollection, in a pre-retirement interview with the Chicago Tribune from the summer of 2010:
Mercury Records gave me a gold record for reintroducing "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye.''
It was in 1977, the "South Side Hit Men,'' and we were vying for first place with Kansas City, so the fans were really charged and they were responding to everything. But when I played "Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye,'' they all sang. I'd never heard anything like that, and neither did the writers, evidently, and it just made such an impact that it was written about.
I remember going to the Bard's Room (a bar inside Comiskey) and someone asking, "What song was that?'' I said, "I think it's called 'Sha Na Na.' " Well, it isn't. I just knew it was a good song.
A made-up band the record company called Steam recorded the tune. Very 1969:
Faust played it enough through the years that, probably via word of mouth and TV, it made its way to other venues — like a wonderful musical virus. It'll always be the top contribution to the Island of Misfit Toys for the White Sox.
Harry Caray didn't start his career with the White Sox, and although he found his true voice and became the character (and caricature) we remember now during his years on the South Side with partner Jimmy Piersall, he'll always be associated with the Cubs.
And what else is there? For a team born in 1901, the White Sox don't have many championships (three), or even great players (Frank Thomas, Dick Allen for a while, Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox and uh...) to whom people can associate. What else? Fireworks after home runs, thanks to Bill Veeck (speaking of things they also do in Texas).
But also poor uniform choices, notably the shorts. And the team in 1919 that threw the World Series (though, it should be noted, the "Black Sox" probably weren't the only team ever to fix the Series. They just got caught.) It's a mixed bag of history, at best.
And now that Ozzie Guillen is gone and Theo Epstein is moving into the ballpark on the North Side, well, White Sox fans are entering an uncomfortable period. But they'll always have this song. Thanks, Paul Leka, and goodbye.