An excerpt from my latest Chicago Tribune column:
If only Harry Caray were around to see this. Can’t you just hear him opening a broadcast?
“Boy, oh boy,” Caray would cackle with that slight gargle in his voice. “The Cubs and Cardinals playing meaningful games in October? This must be heaven, right?”
If the Cubs and Cardinals have a common thread in their long history, it is Caray. His truly one-of-a-kind broadcast style filled up the broadcast booths for both teams; and don’t forget his 11 years with the White Sox. And in the process, Caray’s star was as big, if not bigger, than the players in his calls.
More than 17 years after his death in 1998, Caray’s presence still looms large at Wrigley Field. A caricature of him, sporting those comically large trademark glasses, hangs over the TV booth, and there’s a “Holy Cow” embedded into the foul pole. Fans pay homage to his statue outside the park. The robust singing of “Take Me out to the Ballgame” serves as a tribute to Caray, who was wonderfully off-key in launching the seventh inning tradition.
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Caray’s hometown, he isn’t nearly as celebrated for his iconic 25 years as the voice of the Cardinals. Rather, it is his former partner, Jack Buck, who is represented with a microphone on the display that features the Cardinals’ retired numbers at Busch Stadium.
Yet it was Caray who laid the foundation for Buck and countless other baseball announcers. If you ever wanted to hear him at his peak, check out Caray’s classic calls with the Cardinals from 1945-1969. His voice was clear; his rapid-fire descriptions were vivid; and his passion seemingly jumped out of the radio. He broke the mold as an unabashed homer who wasn’t afraid to criticize the Cardinals.