The Chicago Cubs have an unbelievable .778 winning percentage at home, and I am prepared to tell you why.
That's right, the lovable Cubbies are now a blistering 35-10 in the Friendly Confines this year, and I've uncovered their secret.
Are you ready? Prepared for me to blow your mind?
The Cubs win home games because of Harry Caray. And more specifically, because of the seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field.
Before you laugh, hear me out. I have the numbers to prove it.
My wife and I actually treat it as our inside joke now when we watch the home games on WGN: "The Cubs haven't scored for a while, but don't worry. The seventh is coming."
Now, you need to understand, I'm not one of the superstitious "Harry's ghost sits in the booth between Len and Bob" folks or anything like that. In fact, I'd be more likely to chalk it up to a simple discussion of momentum, but we'll get there in a minute.
Here are the stats you won't believe (*disclaimer: unofficial because I did them all by hand and including all 2008 games through July 9*). Check out my proof that the 100-year-old tradition of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" changes game outcomes at Clark and Addison.
1. Home vs. Away
The Cubs have played 46 road games so far this year, and in those games, they've scored in the seventh inning 12 times. For those of you math-types, that means the boys in blue have scored during the seventh inning in 26 percent of their road games.
By contrast, Chicago has played 45 home games, and scored in the seventh inning 22 times. Translation: in almost 50 percent of the games at Wrigley, the Cubs score in the seventh inning. To put it another way, if you went to a doubleheader on the North Side, you'd pretty much be mathematically guaranteed to see a seventh inning Cubs run.
Is it the guest conductor? You tell me.
2. Inning by Inning
Here is how many total runs the Cubs have scored by inning in home games this season:
An observant fan will obviously note that the ninth inning is the lowest because the Cubs don't bat at home when they're ahead after eight-and-a-half. However, it's easy to see that the total runs scored in the seventh (50) is significantly ahead of any other inning (38 is next closest).
You never knew Mike Ditka or the other guest singers had quite so powerful voices, did you?
Hang on, there's more...
3. Frequency by Inning
In the last section, we examined total Cubs runs by inning at Wrigley this season. This time, we're just looking at the frequency. You know what I mean...if the Cubs had a 10-run seventh inning at some point (which they didn't), that number of 50 total seventh inning runs would be skewed. So here we go by frequency...
How many different times have the Cubs scored in a given inning at home this year. (We already pointed out they've scored in 22 different seventh innings.)
First inning—16 times
Second inning—18 times
Third inning—16 times
Fourth inning—18 times
Fifth inning—12 times
Sixth inning—16 times
Seventh inning—22 times
Eighth inning—14 times
Ninth inning—7 times
Extra innings—2 times
Again, we see here that the Cubs scored in the seventh inning in more games than they scored in any other inning by a good-size margin.
4. Other Odds and Ends
Here's a few other random things about the "Seventh Inning Scoring Spike" you should know:
A. In the Cubs' 35 home wins, they trailed at the seventh inning stretch and scored in the "spike inning" eight times on their way to raising the W flag. (Translation, almost a quarter of home wins so far include "post-singing" comebacks.)
B. Besides the eight comebacks mentioned above, the Cubs scored the eventual winning run in the seventh two other times.
C. Of the 22 times that Lou's hometown club scored in the seventh, at least eight snapped long scoreless-inning droughts (three or more straight innings without posting a run).
In other words, watching a Cubs game from the Confines where they don't score in the fourth, fifth, or sixth but post runs in the seventh happens more frequently than you realize (considering Chicago is known for its high octane offense).
D. I didn't know any of these stats before today. I knew that I expect the Cubs to win at home, and I always expect their offense to put together a seventh inning rally. The vast disparity in the numbers even surprised me.
And although the Cubs teams of the last few years didn't play .778 ball at Wrigley, it wouldn't surprise me that if you went back a couple more years, you would discover that the seventh is consistently the highest-scoring inning for Chicago, at least in recent history.
5. Here's Why
I wouldn't be a very good sportswriter if I dumped all this information on you without at least trying to explain the scoring phenomenon. I don't think the Cubs hit a seventh inning dinger because Teri Hatcher or Jeff Gordon yell, "Let's get some runs."
However, I do think there's a simple explanation: momentum.
Getting the fans out of their seats, letting them sing, count 1-2-3 strikes, yell, and cheer—it adds a buzz to the ballpark. As a basketball coach, I've seen home crowds impact so many games that I couldn't begin to list them. In fact, I think good crowds in baseball (and the impact they have on games) are discounted.
A leadoff walk in the seventh inning is greeted with a louder roar than it would have been in the fifth.
A bloop single into center field draws a bigger reaction than the same play in inning No. 2.
The crowd noise may cause a pitcher to miss the outside corner by a few inches.
Little, subtle, minuscule differences in the game, but I believe they add up to Cubs runs more often than anyone would think possible. And that's why the seventh inning stretch is special at Wrigley Field.