Harry Caray

From BR Bullpen


Harry Christopher Caray
born Harry Christopher Carabina

Biographical Information[edit]

"There's no person alive who got his money's worth better than my old man." - Skip Caray

Harry Caray was an American broadcaster. Orphaned as a boy, Caray had a difficult upbringing in The Hill section of St. Louis, MO, the same neighborhood that spawned Joe Garagiola. He was a good enough baseball player in high school to be offered a scholarship to attend the University of Alabama but had to turn it down, as he did not have the resources to cover room and board expenses.

He played semi-pro baseball around St. louis instead, landing a job with a sports equipment manufacturer. He then simply decided to write to the director of KMOX, the station which broadcast the games of the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio to ask for a job, arguing that he could do better than the current announcers. He got an audition, and while he did not immediately get to work with the big league team, it landed him a job as a sports journalist for one of the station's affiliates in Joliet, IL starting in 1940. He then moved to a Kalamazoo, MI station, and after he was rejected for military service in World War II because of his bad eyesight, moved back to St. Louis in 1944. There he hosted a nightly sports show that quickly became popular. The following year, he was hired to broadcast the home games of the Cardinals and St. Louis Browns, teaming up with Gabby Street.

He was effectively a man of two careers. The first career with the St. Louis Cardinals ran from 1945 to 1969. He was one of the most popular and energetic broadcasters, happily calling the game with a bent toward the Cardinals. Caray also called NBA games for the St. Louis Hawks.

During this period, Caray's voice could be heard over two-thirds of the United States as KMOX was a 50,000-watt station. Since St. Louis was the team furthest south and west until 1958, Caray, with partner Jack Buck, was the voice of baseball for millions of fans. "Muse-ial...sliding into second...with a double..." was a lullaby for such Western fans, listening on radio, having never seen a major league game. Caray's style was concise and crisp, and often critical of poor play, including that of his own club.

After a famous firing by Cardinal owner Gussie Busch, Caray spent 1970 calling Oakland Athletics games before beginning the second half of his career.

Caray joined the Chicago White Sox in 1971. During this time, prompted by club owner Bill Veeck he began to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh-inning stretch. He was also known for calling day games from the bleachers on hot summer days. With the Sox, Caray called games with Jimmy Piersall. In 1977, he teamed with Mary Shane (the first female announcer in baseball history) for broadcasts.

After 11 seasons on Chicago's South Side, Caray traded Comiskey Park for Wrigley Field, joining the Chicago Cubs in 1982 after fellow Hall of Famer Jack Brickhouse retired. Although he was past retirement age, Caray became a beloved figure in Chicago. Known for his love of beer, nightlife, and the Cubs, his hopeful demeanor resonated around the city and the country since many fans could enjoy Caray on television via WGN cable.

Caray and Reagan in 1988

Among his signatures, Caray would call home runs by saying "It might be... it could be... it is!" Exciting victories were closed with roars of "Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!" and "How 'bout those Cubbies!" and his legendary, "Holy Cow!!!" He was also fond of saying the names of ballplayers backward. For example, "Do you realize that Dykstra spelled backward is Artskyd?" Caray was also instantly recognizable with his huge, black-rimmed glasses. For several years, Caray and broadcast partner Steve Stone owned a bar and grill in Mesa, Arizona, near HoHoKam Park, the Cubs' spring training site.

In 1987, a stroke ended Caray's 42-year streak of not missing a game. Upon his return, he was phoned during a game by President Ronald Reagan. True to form, Caray was more enthralled by a Bob Dernier single than by the dialogue with the leader of the free world.

While preparing for his 54th season in 1998, Caray suffered a stroke on Valentine's Day. In a coma, he passed away two days later. His age was a guarded secret during his lifetime but the 1914 birth date has since been verified.

Late in his life, Harry Caray was lampooned on Saturday Night Live by comedian Will Ferrell and a host of comedians and impersonators.

Among the honors accorded to Harry Caray was the 1989 Ford Frick Award for meritorious service to broadcasting. He was named broadcaster of the year by the Sporting News seven times. The American Sportscasters Association named him the 10th best broadcaster of the 20th century in 2000.

The Caray name lives on in the booth and in Chicago. His son Harry, Jr., better known as Skip, has called Atlanta Braves games for decades. Grandson Chip Caray is also a broadcaster. Harry Caray's Restaurant at 33 West Kinzie in Chicago is also a must visit when in the city. His wife Dutchie remains a presence at the steakhouse and was invited to lead the singing of Take Me Out to the Ballgame when the Cubs celebrated the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field on April 23, 2014.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Harry Caray as told to John Kuenster: "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, October 1969, pp. 20-22. [1]
  • Jeff Katz: "Split Season 1981, Chicago Style", in Stuart Shea, ed.: North Side, South Side, All Around Town, The National Pastime, SABR, 2015. ISBN 978-1-93359987-8
  • Don Zminda: The Legendary Harry Caray: Baseball's Greatest Salesman, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2019. ISBN 978-1-5381-1294-6

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