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Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Caray legacy revisited, 30 years later

MLB.com What did you know about your grandfather?
Chip Caray: He was an orphan. He didn’t know what family life was about. He didn’t prioritize that, in a lot of ways. You know, for Harry, it was beer, babes and baseball, in that order. Family at times really suffered. I think that as I got into the business, and I started doing games and started to make my way up the ranks, as it were, I think he came to understand me in a way that he wasn’t able to understand me, because I was doing something that he could relate to.

Very late in his life, I think he came to understand the importance of family and legacy and all that kind of stuff. Looking back, I wish we’d been able to share some of those moments together in Chicago when I was there, because that was the original plan. And obviously, that never happened.

(NOTE: Chip was hired to begin calling Cubs games with his grandfather in 1998. But Harry passed away approximately six weeks before the season began.)

MLB.com: What do you think that day meant to your dad?
Chip Caray: Anytime your kid does something, it makes you feel good. You’re happy for your child. When I came to the Braves for the first time, in ‘91, he had a very honest conversation with me. He said. “Look, you’re my kid, I’ll do everything I can to help you. You have to help yourself, obviously, but I’ll do everything I can to help you. But if you run afoul of a coach or manager, general manager or something, I can’t help you.”

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 13, 2021 at 12:44 PM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: chip caray, harry caray

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   1. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: May 13, 2021 at 03:00 PM (#6018726)
From a family perspective, to be honest with you, I didn't know Harry very well. And any chance I got to spend time with him was more to try to understand him than to really know him. I didn't have a great deal of touchstones with him. I didn't have Christmases or Thanksgivings. I mean, I probably had three meals with him in my life that I can remember.

   2. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 13, 2021 at 03:48 PM (#6018733)
There have been a bunch of old Cubs and White Sox games put onto YouTube recently, and watching them makes it clear that Harry Caray was the best baseball broadcaster ever. No one ever had more fun being at the ballpark, or projected his joy as well as Harry. He was criticized with the White Sox for being hard on the players, but his frustrations come through mostly because he wanted them to win so bad. Nobody was ever more into the game they were broadcasting than Harry was.

WGN brought Harry on to do the Cubs games in 1982 when Jack Brickhouse retired. What I didn't realize till recently was that Harry was actually two years older than Brickhouse. When that "big break" came for him, Harry was already 68 years old.
   3. Jesus Luzardo Maraschino Posted: May 13, 2021 at 05:22 PM (#6018751)
Loved Caray and always watched him when I was home sick from school. My favorite all time is Vin Scully because he had crazy baseball and personal knowledge about both teams. Some scrub gets called up from AAA and Vin would tell you about the time the scrub got his pilots license or whatever. He was also never a homer and would say funny stuff like "Dueces wild!" when the count was 2-2 with 2 outs.
   4. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: May 13, 2021 at 05:37 PM (#6018752)
I didn't have Christmases or Thanksgivings. I mean, I probably had three meals with him in my life that I can remember.
That makes me sad for their family. I was lucky enough to grow up very close to both sets of grandparents, and I have all kinds of great memories.
   5. Walt Davis Posted: May 13, 2021 at 05:46 PM (#6018754)
I dunno. I was always under the impression that Harry's "love" of baseball was more an act than reality. It's probably fair to say he loved being at the ballpark (see booze and babes) and I think he was fully aware how lucky he was but the game itself? Not so sure.

I'd be curious which games you'd seen. I didn't watch a LOT of Sox games but I found Harry near intolerable. He was great at being the "fan in the booth" but that has positives and negatives. It wasn't just that he was critical of Sox players, he sounded downright depressed at times. Harry the Sox announcer in a game they were getting blown out or played like crap or in Sept of a lost season -- that was dreadful.

He mostly figured out not to do that with the Cubs, he stayed cheerful most of the time, he and Stone would talk about various Chicago "celebrities" and restaurants during blowouts and lost Septs. He obviously loved being a celebrity. Teaming Harry with a baseball know-it-all like Stone ended up working quite well, at least one guy in the booth might be telling you something useful while the other guy was trying to get you to laugh. I ended up liking Harry just fine but boy did I object when the Cubs hired him.

What I didn't realize till recently was that Harry was actually two years older than Brickhouse.

News to me but then Brickhouse always looked about 20 years older than he was. Brickhouse was a dreadful bore and they pared him with a terrible color guy when I was a kid (Jim West?). The Cubs radio team of Boudreau, Lloyd and Pettit were much better -- at least they seemed to like each other and have the occasional bit of fun.
   6. McCoy Posted: May 13, 2021 at 05:55 PM (#6018755)
Steve Stone wrote a book about his time with the Cubs and Harry and while he wasn't going to stick the knife in it is clear that Harry wasn't a complete human being. Very old school in that Harry looked out for Harry and did what made Harry happy regardless of the damage it would cause.
   7. Tyhand7 Posted: May 13, 2021 at 06:16 PM (#6018760)
Boudreau? He was the worst. At least when he was on the TV broadcast.
   8. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 13, 2021 at 06:31 PM (#6018761)
I always thought of him more as a Cardinals announcer because my introduction to him were the several World Series in the 60s. He was even more critical of Cardinal players
   9. The Honorable Ardo Posted: May 13, 2021 at 06:58 PM (#6018764)
Harry had no rehearsed smoothness whatsoever. He was a walking hot mic. But it wasn't a shtick; his authenticity resonated with a lot of people who weren't super serious baseball fans.

Chip's account of him reminds me of my late grandfather, who also grew up without a dad in white, working-class, urban poverty and (while very successful in his career and moderately wealthy) wasn't close to his sons or grandkids.
   10. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 13, 2021 at 08:50 PM (#6018776)
Happy Father's Day everybody!
   11. Brian C Posted: May 13, 2021 at 09:34 PM (#6018780)
It's probably fair to say he loved being at the ballpark (see booze and babes) and I think he was fully aware how lucky he was but the game itself? Not so sure.

This seems unfair, really. I would agree that he wasn't a student-of-the-game type, but he was obviously emotionally invested in the goings-on of the game beyond just the beer and the women.

Honestly the Harry Caray phenomenon is kind of weird. He was a popular broadcaster for a long time and was already an old man before coming over the to the Cubs, where he more or less became an instant icon. How often does that happen? But I guess his personality was perfect for the Wrigley scene, and the superstation carried him out nationally, and his arrival coincided nicely with renewed attention being paid to the Cubs more generally. I would have been astonished as a kid in 1986 to learn that he was only with the Cubs for 4 years at that time - he was already such a fixture. And now he's been dead for considerably longer than he worked for the Cubs, and you'd think that he spent 60 years calling their games instead of 16.
   12. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 13, 2021 at 09:49 PM (#6018783)
Did WGN help his icon status? That's how a lot of people in my generation (Gen-X) remember him fondly. Kinda of a grandpa who is funny when he drinks a bit too much who was on in the afternoons when you came home from school.
   13. Dog on the sidewalk has an ugly bracelet Posted: May 14, 2021 at 12:17 AM (#6018792)
That, plus Will Ferrell as Caray pondering hot dog self-cannibalization are how this older millennial remembers him.
   14. rr: cosmopolitan elite Posted: May 14, 2021 at 12:18 AM (#6018793)
Re #8: Caray is in Jim Brosnan's 1959 book The Long Season, during the first sequence of the book when Brosnan is with the Cardinals (he was traded to the Reds in June of 1959). The players who are quoted about Caray really bag hard on him, but in fairness a lot of it was from Caray bagging on underperforming or marginal players (Brosnan pitched below his talent in St. Louis and also hated Solly Hemus, the manager).

I read that book before Caray joined WGN, and that contrasted with Bill James, who worshipped Caray and called Vin Scully "a hack in love with the sound of his own drone", an amusing example of anti-coastal regional bias, sort of a mini-reverse of coasters clowning on "flyover country."

Anyway, I was never that impressed with Caray as an announcer, (I preferred Skip Caray on TBS to Harry on WGN) and contra Scully, Caray had a dirty old man vibe IMO, but I can see why so many Midwesterners loved the guy: 9, 11 and 12 have it right, and Caray called games for the Cardinals, Cubs, and White Sox. That is a large legacy.

   15. Walt Davis Posted: May 14, 2021 at 12:29 AM (#6018794)
he was obviously emotionally invested in the goings-on of the game

Emotionally invested in the Cards ... then the White Sox ... then the Cubs? It was a schtick, one he was very good at. There's nothing wrong with that, the guy's job was to entertain and engage fans. I also don't mean to suggest he disliked baseball, he enjoyed the game ... I'm just saying it wasn't a priority in his life.

Did WGN help his icon status?

He wouldn't have an "icon" status if not for WGN. Sure, he'd have been as fondly remembered among White Sox fans as Hawk if he had stayed with the White Sox for another 15 years or whatever but he'd have no national exposure, comedians outside Chicago never would have been doing Harry Caray impressions. If the Cubs weren't national, I don't think Harry gets a statue. Which relates back to my first point. I'd say Harry's #1 concern in life, at least post-1984, was Harry Caray the brand and that brand was life of the party.
   16. The Yankee Clapper Posted: May 14, 2021 at 12:38 AM (#6018796)
I always thought of him more as a Cardinals announcer because my introduction to him were the several World Series in the 60s. He was even more critical of Cardinal players.
Caray’s rumored affair with Susan Busch, wife of August Busch III, oldest son of then Cardinals president Gussie Busch, seems to have caused his firing. Someone should have told Harry that was frowned on, eh?
   17. McCoy Posted: May 14, 2021 at 08:29 AM (#6018810)
Harry's schtick wasn't for me but then again I was 7 years old so it wasn't targeted towards me anyhow. Him and Arne putting babes in bikinis in front of cameras flew right over my head at the time.

80s Cubs baseball had a very Mad Men feel to it.
   18. The Duke Posted: May 14, 2021 at 09:10 AM (#6018814)
16. Yeah, the rumor is of course that Busch had Harry run down in a hit and run and then ran him out of town. Like all rumors, probably not true but I’d like to believe it is.

   19. Rally Posted: May 14, 2021 at 09:17 AM (#6018815)
I loved listening to Harry. I was 11 years old the summer he started calling Cubs games, and that was the first time we had cable TV.

It always kind of seemed strange to find out that I was experiencing something novel. At the time I just figured I was getting to see something that Chicago-based Cub fans had watched for several decades. Harry certainly didn't come across as an ex-Cardinal or ex-White Sock guy. I thought his level of enthusiasm for the Cubs could only be a product of a lifetime of Cub-rooting.
   20. SandyRiver Posted: May 14, 2021 at 09:19 AM (#6018816)
Re #8: Caray is in Jim Brosnan's 1959 book The Long Season, during the first sequence of the book when Brosnan is with the Cardinals (he was traded to the Reds in June of 1959). The players who are quoted about Caray really bag hard on him, but in fairness a lot of it was from Caray bagging on underperforming or marginal players (Brosnan pitched below his talent in St. Louis and also hated Solly Hemus, the manager).

One gets the sense that the feeling was mutual - totally different personalities. And Caray was a big Solly Hemus fan, at least in 1959. The "hard on players" example I recall from Brosnan's book was when a young pitcher made his MLB debut late in a blowout and the first batter looped a hit into center field, upon which Caray moaned, "How con anyone expect Solly Hemus to produce with material like this?" - thus skewering the poor kid in the public opinion.
   21. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 14, 2021 at 10:13 AM (#6018823)
My favorite comment from Harry in the games I watched came after yet another Cub had just swung through a 3-2 pitch way out of the strike zone to end an inning and kill a rally. Harry muttered, almost to himself, "Boy, it's hard to walk our guys." Now that's analysis.
   22. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: May 14, 2021 at 10:25 AM (#6018825)
I preferred Skip to Harry as well, though I don't know how much of that stems from being a kid in Atlanta in the 80s.

WGN brought Harry on to do the Cubs games in 1982 when Jack Brickhouse retired. What I didn't realize till recently was that Harry was actually two years older than Brickhouse. When that "big break" came for him, Harry was already 68 years old.
This blows my mind. Like, I should have known this already but didn't and had never thought about it.
   23. Hank Gillette Posted: May 14, 2021 at 03:54 PM (#6018859)
WGN brought Harry on to do the Cubs games in 1982 when Jack Brickhouse retired. What I didn't realize till recently was that Harry was actually two years older than Brickhouse. When that "big break" came for him, Harry was already 68 years old.


Sort of like when Warner replaced the 42-year-old Christian Bale with the 44-year-old Ben Affleck as Batman.
   24. BillWallace Posted: May 14, 2021 at 06:18 PM (#6018886)
Prompted by this thread and with some time to kill, I'm watching an old Caray broadcast from 1980 (White Sox). It's a nothing midsummer game between two nothing teams (though it's the game after a brawl that generated an arrest warrant for a sucker punch).

Honestly I'm enjoying Caray quite a lot. He's doing it from the center field bleachers and involving the crowd, commenting on random passers-by and doing his schtick but he's still calling the game closely and not short-changing the fast-moving action. He's high energy and entertaining and I dig it. I wonder if he could even do what he does in today's glacially paced games because there'd be so much more time to fill.

Other than the delightful pace, the quality of the baseball is atrocious. Errors, bad base-running. Hard to judge the hitting and pitching but it doesn't look great. Looks like a modern replacement player would be a hall of famer in this era.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XScxNYdmymE
   25. SoSH U at work Posted: May 14, 2021 at 06:21 PM (#6018888)
22. Skip was wonderful.
   26. Slivers of Maranville descends into chaos (SdeB) Posted: May 14, 2021 at 07:14 PM (#6018893)
Looks like a modern replacement player would be a hall of famer in this era.


Tim Raines had an OPS+ of 135 in 1981 as a 21-year-old, and 138 in 1993 as a 33-year-old, was an all-star both seasons.

Ivan Rodriguez had an OPS+ of 98 in 1993 as a 21-year-old, and 97 in 2006 as a 34-year-old, was an all-star both seasons.

Yadier Molina was playing at 23 in 2006, with a 57 OPS+. He is still playing, and currently has a 151 OPS+ (he was at 82+ last season).

It doesn't seem like overall talent is improving at the rate required to make a replacement player in 2021 a HOFer in 1980.


   27. Brian C Posted: May 14, 2021 at 09:07 PM (#6018900)
Emotionally invested in the Cards ... then the White Sox ... then the Cubs?

Why not?
   28. BillWallace Posted: May 14, 2021 at 09:53 PM (#6018905)
It doesn't seem like overall talent is improving at the rate required


I know timelining conversations have been done to death and I don't claim to be an expert so I dont intend to get too into it. But firstly it's not just the natural talent but also the training methods etc. Didn't a lot players in the 80s train in the offseason by getting drunk and fishing? Maybe your examples of the guys who stuck around were guys who adapted to a stronger game and other guys didn't adapt. I don't really know, I'm exaggerating for sure, but it sure does look like a much lower level.

I know also that the quality of the fields contributes to fielding looking a lot worse bitd.
   29. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: May 15, 2021 at 01:49 AM (#6018916)
During the pandemic I watched a whole lot of baseball on YouTube, that's where I discovered the Harry Caray/Jimmy Piersall combo for the late 1970's/early 1980's White Sox. I probably have watched all the White Sox Harry Caray/Jimmy Piersall games available since then. Though I knew who Harry Caray was, not having grown up with cable and from the West Coast, knew little else, and only knew Jimmy Piersall from the name, didn't know anything else about him. I found their calling of the game to be really good, they had good banter, they were involved, Piersall had a lot of good insights, Harry's shtick was entertaining (and maybe less over-the-top than his later Cubs years, don't know), they criticized players when they deserved it.

The baseball was way different back then (and these games were all from before I was old enough to watch baseball on television except for the Game of the Week during the day on Saturday), people swung at a lot more (bad) pitches, there were more errors, people took what seem like insane chances on the basepaths, there was more bunting, all sorts of stuff that seems ill-advised from the modern perspective, and players weren't in near the shape nor well trained as they are today. However, the pace of the game was excellent and you can tell the announcers get into it because the frequency and content of action allows them to.

But I just watched recently on MLB.TV the White Sox 13, Twins 9 "slugfest", which featured fast-working lefties Keuchel and Happ - the game moved pretty fast, there were lots of balls-in-play, it seemed promising, and indicated that maybe it is the pitchers that control the pace mostly - food for thought?
   30. GregD Posted: May 15, 2021 at 01:58 AM (#6018917)
people swung at a lot more (bad) pitches
that’s my memory too. It’s hard to square with the increased K rates today but I feel like it’s unusual to see someone swing at a ridiculous pitch now. In the eighties and nineties it was notable when a guy didn’t chase ridiculous pitches, in my memory. The patience hitters have now on near miss pitches is kind of awe inspiring to me today
   31. Lonnie Smith for president Posted: May 15, 2021 at 08:09 AM (#6018919)
22, 25, and other Skip well-wishers) he was the best. Best Caray by far and best approach for television in the era of miserably bad Braves teams (1970s with brief Murphy peak then straight through to 1990), while he and the Perfesser made great adjustments on the radio side for a more traditional broadcast. You felt as a viewer the Georgia humidity hanging over old Fulton County Stadium like a damp blanket of shame. Fewer words? Yup. Less was more, back in the day, and Skip had the sense that you could see the atrocity as well as he could. But he wasn't ashamed -- no one made you feel the pride when those players managed to string together something resembling professional baseball skills. And no one was more delighted when the team turned the corner in 1991. Skip was the voice of every fan that endured awful times for something magical and then something impossibly sustainable.

As the child of alcoholics myself, I recognized some boozy-plus behavior in his delivery too often in the bad days. High functioning, he seemed to keep his edge, at least until the booth added Simpson and Sutton after Ernie Johnson Senior stepped away. TBS suffered from the too-many-voices problem that characterized modern TV broadcasting by then, but never did Skip fail to enjoy the good times of Cox and the super rotation. Every division title and pennant was a treat via his journalism: "all we need to get out of this jam is a 6-4-3 double play..." was his talisman phrase and today is still my own quiet oath to make life's discomforts more manageable.
   32. smileyy Posted: May 16, 2021 at 02:58 AM (#6019012)
people swung at a lot more (bad) pitches


...or in the words of Harry Caray "Ohh he had a cut!"
   33. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 16, 2021 at 09:08 AM (#6019016)
The baseball was way different back then (and these games were all from before I was old enough to watch baseball on television except for the Game of the Week during the day on Saturday), people swung at a lot more (bad) pitches, there were more errors, people took what seem like insane chances on the basepaths, there was more bunting, all sorts of stuff that seems ill-advised from the modern perspective, and players weren't in near the shape nor well trained as they are today. However, the pace of the game was excellent and you can tell the announcers get into it because the frequency and content of action allows them to.

I'm not sure whether players swing at fewer bad pitches now than they did 40-some years ago, but everything else there rings true. The raw talent today is better than ever, but it's easier to come up with pitchers who can throw 95+ and nasty than it is to find batters who can hit those pitchers when they vary their speed and location.

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