It was the accordion that made Lil' Wally. He played his first polka at age 7 and by the time he was in his 20s, he was filling dance halls all over Chicago. He had his own label, his own orchestra, his own studio, and wherever the beer flowed in the Polish-American clubs of the Midwest, Lil' Wally Jagiello was the king.
But he was also an anomaly, a kid from the North Side of Chicago who cheered the South Side White Sox.
"I loved Luke Appling and Nellie Fox," Lil' Wally said from his home in Miami. One day in the last great White Sox summer of 1959, Lil' Wally and another local band leader, Al Trace, started talking. And somewhere in the conversation, Trace happened to mention that he once played in the minor leagues for the White Sox, which led to Al Trace's old baseball stories, which led to an idea. Why not write a White Sox song?
So they did. And they called it "Let's go, Go-Go White Sox" and they hired a band, Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers, to sing and play the music. They put it on the back of a 45 with an A side called "The Old Ballgame," produced it through Lil' Wally's Drumboy Records and released it to a baseball-crazy public.
Only nobody bought it.
The White Sox didn't play it in the ballpark and Lil' Wally, who used to advertise his polka radio show and polka records in the White Sox' game programs, tossed the records away, where they would be lost in time.
That is until the White Sox manager of scoreboard operations, Jeff Szynal, discovered a copy this summer. It just so happened that the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that played Chicago in the 1959 World Series, was coming to town. Szynal listened to the record, it was catchy, with a 40's style big band ring to it with Captain Stubby and his Buccaneers shouting "White Sox! White Sox! Go Go White Sox!"
Then they sang:
"Let's go, Go-Go White Sox
We're with you all the way
You're always in there fighting and you do your best
We're glad to have you out here in the middle west"
Szynal put together a video, splashed it on the scoreboard with a mix of old and new White Sox clips and a little bouncing ball that followed the words. He played it late in the game and Chicago came back. Then he did it again and again. And suddenly "Let's go, Go-Go White Sox" had become the South Side's unofficial rallying cry.
It's the soundtrack to everything Chicago these days. They're even playing it on the local evening news.
Which is actually a little sad to Jack Dreznes, the owner of Beverly Records deep on the South Side. In the late 1970s, Lil' Wally came into Dreznes' shop and sold him a bulk of his old recordings. Among them were 200 copies of "Let's go, Go-Go White Sox." It took more than 10 years before Dreznes was finally able to sell them all. But in recent weeks, as the song regained popularity and fans have been asking for copies, Dreznes asked Lil' Wally if he could send more. Lil' Wally refused, first offering an excuse about a flooded warehouse in Florida and before eventually giving a simple no.
You see Lil' Wally doesn't talk much about "Let's go, Go-Go White Sox." Once he comes to the phone, he rattles on about his songs that became real hits like "I wish I was single again," or the time he played for John F. Kennedy during the 1960 presidential campaign or his favorite of all -- the day he played for Pope John Paul II in St. Peters Basilica at the Vatican.
"I just wanted to kiss his ring and they said, 'We want you to play,' " Lil' Wally said. "I told them, 'I don't think I can do religion,' and they said, 'The Pope doesn't want you for your religion, he wants you for your polkas!' "
So Lil' Wally played for the Pope. He played 2 hours 18 minutes, he remembers this exactly. By the end, people were dancing in the aisles.
After playing for the Pope there isn't much to say about "Let's go, Go-Go White Sox." But at Beverly Records there was a sudden clamoring for the old song.
"How about if we license and sell it here?" Dreznes asked.
"Sure," said Lil' Wally.
And now Beverly Records, which struggled for more than a decade to sell 200 copies of "Let's go, Go-Go White Sox" has sold almost 1,000 on a CD for $10 each with $1 going to White Sox charities.
"It's peppy, I can't get the tune out of my head," Dreznes said.
"We're gonna root root root White Sox
And cheer you on to victory
When we're in the stands, we'll make those rafters ring
All through the season you will hear us sing
Let's go, Go-Go White Sox
Chicago is proud of you"
You probably have never heard of Captain Stubby or the Buccaneers. They were a staple on WLS radio's Barn Dance, where, ironically enough, they shared the same stage (though not at the same time) as Gene Autry, the singing cowboy who would come to own the Angels, who Chicago just vanquished to get to the World Series. You undoubtedly know Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers' work, however, for they were also among the best commercial jingle writers of their time.
That's Captain Stubby you hear on the Roto Rooter ads "Away go troubles down the drain" and on the canned food commercials "Green Giant. Ho ho ho."
But for this October he is the voice of the White Sox' hopes and dreams. Even down in Miami, Lil' Wally has to smile, though the games are on too late for him. He is 75 and still running a music business. An old man can't wait up on Fox television.
In his store, Dreznes admits he cringes a little. The song he has personally salvaged for Chicago is becoming a little too popular.
"I don't want it to be overplayed and be like Macarena," he said.
It might be too late.