ESPN solidified the White Sox’ current stature by scheduling them for the first “Sunday Night Baseball” game of the season.
On the same day, the network will celebrate the Sox’ past with a “SportsCenter Featured” segment on the July 1977 weekend when famed organist Nancy Faust helped turn the band Steam’s song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” into the team anthem. The nine-minute film will debut during the 7 a.m. “SportsCenter.”
Scott Diener produced the film, which is narrated by writer and Chicago native Scoop Jackson. Diener, who produced and directed “Pooh: The Derrick Rose Story,” discovered this story while working on a documentary about the Sox’ near move to Florida, which is still in development.
“I never would have known about this story because I never would have met Nancy,” Diener said. “When we were outlining the story arc of the [documentary] and I learned about this story with the ‘Na Na Goodbye’ song, I kept thinking to myself, I don’t really see it having a home in the film, but it’s such a cool story, maybe there’s another way to tell it.”
There was: By itself.
Diener was able to obtain footage from the Sox’ 1977 season as well as a radio broadcast from that weekend series against the Royals. The Sox won three of four to go 22-6 in July and take a season-high 5 ½-game lead in the American League West. But they finished in third at 90-72, 12 back of the Royals.
“In all my research, everyone was rallying around the ‘South Side Hitmen,’ this team that was surprising everyone that season, and you had this electric atmosphere at Comiskey,” Diener said. “Nancy said she heard the song on the radio driving to the park one day and thought it would be a catchy little hook to play on the organ. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine it would turn into what it did.”
In addition to Faust, the film includes interviews with former Sox player Eric Soderholm; Mike Veeck, whose father, Bill, owned the team then; and Denny Matthews, the Royals’ play-by-play voice since their inception in 1969.
“You probably have sung the song at some point in your life at a sporting event, but do you really know how it started, and do you know it was because of this woman and a fan base?” Diener said of the tune that was Billboard’s No. 1 hit on Dec. 6, 1969. “It’s an ode to Nancy more than anything, but it is an homage to that Comiskey crowd of ’77 that really played a part in building this phenomenon.”