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Harry Caray, baseball’s best play-by-play man; Remembering on 15th anniversary of his death

Has it really been this long? On Feb. 18, 1998, Harry Caray died in Palm Springs.

That means more than 15 years have gone by since Caray called his last game for the Cubs’ season finale in 1997. It dawned on me that a new generation of fans have arrived to the scene without ever hearing Harry.

It doesn’t seem possible, considering he was the voice of so many generations during a 53-year career with the Cardinals, A’s, White Sox, and Cubs. Fifteen years since his death? Really, it seems like only yesterday that I held my transistor radio to my ear to hear him belt out his signature call of a Dick Allen homer in 1972.

I know there are people who worship at the living shrine of Vin Scully, regarding him as baseball’s Babe Ruth of play-by-play men. Scully’s brilliance, and now remarkable endurance, is the stuff of legend.

However, in my mind, Harry Caray was the best there ever was in terms of bringing fun and excitement to a baseball game.

Unfortunately, many fans only remember him for his later years with the Cubs, when a stroke and age robbed him of his sharpness. He still was entertaining as a unique character, but his best years were behind him.

During his prime, nobody was better. His descriptions were vivid, and he always was brutally frank, earning the admiration of fans and rancor of players and managers. Here’s a link of Caray’s best calls with the White Sox during in the 1970s compiled by Mark Liptak of WhiteSoxInteractive.com.

Myron Cope had this description of Caray from a 1968 article in Sports Illustrated:

No sir, Caray is having none of that drawing-room dignity affected by the boys with pear-shaped tones. Nor, as he settles into his Busch Stadium chair for a series with the Giants, is he having any of that kid-glove technique the ballplayers love so well.

“Here’s Ty Cline, who’s modeled a few uniforms,” Caray announces in the first inning. “His name reminds you of Ty Cobb.” Then the withering appendage: “And he’s batting .185.” From the enemy Caray soon turns to the home team. “Here’s slumping Orlando Cepeda, with two strikes on him and two runners waiting to be driven in. Struck him out, on a bad ball!” Back to the Giants. At bat is Willie Mays, of whom broadcasters speak encomiums. Steve Carlton fires. “Hooo! What a cut he took!” Carlton fires again. “Hooo! What a cut! Man, I’ve never seen Mays take a more vicious cut in his life. Looked like he left both his feet!” Carlton fires a third time, and Mays lands among the mortals. “Struck him out—on a bad fastball over his head!”

When Caray died, I was assigned to write the front-page obit for the Chicago Tribune. I tried to capture the essence of the man in the booth:

Harry Caray was fun. It was that simple.

Fun was the theme of one of his trademark lines. On a hot, summer afternoon, with the game either languishing or careening toward its finish _ it didn’t matter _ Caray would chortle, “Ah, you can’t beat fun at the old ballpark.”

Caray made baseball’s most exciting moments more fun. He made baseball’s mundane moments fun.

He had fun with names, those he intentionally pronounced backward, and those he unintentionally mangled or misprounced (even Cubs great Ryne Sandberg was called Ryne Sanderson at times, or merely “Ryne-berg,” and he gave up trying on Ken Caminiti). During his days with the White Sox, he made foul balls fun, hanging a net out of his broadcast perch. Caught a few, too.

He wasn’t just a man of the fans. On occasion he sat with them, calling games from the bleachers. He knew where to have the most fun. Only Harry Caray could take a tired old custom like the seventh-inning stretch and transform it into a memorable, magical, albeit off-key, Chicago ritual.

For 162 days and nights during the season, the man with the gravel voice, glasses made from window panes and trademark “Holy cow!” was a once-in-a-lifetime life of the party. The party never will be the same.

Sure enough, the party hasn’t been the same.

Here’s to you, Harry. Now and forever.

 

2 thoughts on “Harry Caray, baseball’s best play-by-play man; Remembering on 15th anniversary of his death

  1. Ed- I used to hate Harry Caray. It was 1964, my Phillies were blowing the NL pennant in Sept. I’d go back and forth on the radio between Bill Campbell doing the Phil’s and Harry doing the Cards on KMOX.

    What drove me was crazy was a typical Harry call like this. “Two outs in the 9th, Cardinals lead by two and here’s the Pirates last chance Billy Virdon.
    It’s a pop up to 3rd that Boyer will catch and that’ll do it. The Cardinals are only two games back, the Phillies losing again tonite.”

    Four years later, with dreams of getting into radio I was standing in line at a drug store in center city Philadelphia and who’s in front of me decked out in a powder blue sports jacket, open collar shirt, white linen pants and white loafers but Harry Caray.

    I introduced myself as a Phillies who practically blamed him for the Phil’s ’64 collapse. He gave that bigger than life smile and asked if an autograph make me feel better.

    A few years later, in radio myself, I had the opportunity to interview Harry on the occasion of Tim McCarver’s retirement. Gave me all the time I needed.

    Harry Caray was one of a kind. Yes, he made the game fun and made it easy to go from being hated to being loved with a great smile and a kind word.

    He’s been an inspiration in my more than 40 years of broadcasting. I’ll never forget Harry Caray.

    Harry Donahue
    Morning Anchor KYW Newsradio 1060 Philadelphia
    PBP voice of Temple University Football and Basketball

  2. What set Harry apart was his true love of baseball. The man could not stand a rain delay and hated anything that got in the way of a game. He was a true fan and had the job of his dreams for his entire career.

    I remember the old line of, “be careful what you wish for”. For Harry, to be sitting in the ballpark with a cold beer and a ballgame in front of him was all he could have ever asked for. I wonder how many cold beers he sold for those three teams? I’ll bet it was more than we could ever count.

    In Chicago we were so fortunate to have a long line of great baseball announcers who could tell the story so well. For so many years the Sox and Cubs were brutal, and yet those guys kept us watching and listening.

    You may not have liked his style or lack of homework at the end, but you had to appreciate his true love of the game and the way he approached every inning. I can still hear him .. after the rains ended..
    “THERE WILL BE BASEBALL”.

    I sure miss all of the above.

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