By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
Remember the look of wonder, then the smile on Richard Dreyfuss' face when he saw the actual aliens at the end of Close Encounters? That's the look.
--Alan Solomon in the Chicago Tribune
Harry Caray hustled into the lobby of the Safari hotel in Scottsdale. There was a big grin on his face. He waved enthusiastically to everyone who greeted him. The Safari is one of those worn-out places that looks like Humphrey Bogart might have slept in it one night. But certainly not two nights in a row. The Safari is Caray's favorite joint.
"Hi, Harry!" perfect strangers shouted at him.
"How ya doin'?" Harry called back. He actually seemed to mean it.
At the start of his 49th season of broadcasting major league baseball, Caray's is one of the most recognizable faces and voices in all of professional sports. He is even better known than the Chicago Cubs' stars whose actions he describes.
On a postseason Caribbean cruise with Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe, it was Caray who was greeted with wild applause as the Cubs' group came down the gangplank to the island of Tortola. Thanks to his WGN-TV baseball broadcasts, Caray is recognized all over the world.
But he is not universally loved. Caray is much too outspoken for that. He has broadcast for five teams: the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals, the Oakland A's, and the Chicago White Sox and Cubs. At each stop, he left behind players and club officials smarting over what they considered his outspoken criticisms of their failings.
When it's over for him, Caray will not go quietly into that good night clutching a gold watch for his services. He won't need it. He's already been elected to baseball's Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. Thanks to his business investments, he's independently wealthy. "Are you ready for some breakfast?" Harry asked. "I know a place. Let's go upstairs."
Caray led the way to the elevator. We rode up two floors and marched into an empty barroom.
"Can we get something to eat?" Caray asked.
"Not now," the bartender said.
"Fine. Mix us a bloody mary, then. That will loosen us up."
Caray was in a crotchety mood.
"Did you watch the Academy Awards? Hell, there's no big stars anymore. Nicholson is the closest thing to it. Maybe Bobby De Niro. And we don't have any songs. How can anybody like something like 'Achy Breaky Heart'? Hell, there are no singers. My only present-day favorite is Neil Diamond, and he's almost in the past. There's no Sinatra, Tony Bennett or Vic Damone."
I have known Caray more than 20 years. When he first came to Chicago to work for the White Sox, he'd just escaped from Charles O. Finley's zoo in Oakland. Finley lived in Chicago and listened to the A's games every day over long-distance telephone from his insurance office.
Finley would call Caray on another line between innings to give him suggestions as to how to call the game. He even had Caray's number-two man serving as a spy, relating everything that Caray was doing and saying when he wasn't on the air.
Caray's trademark expression, developed during 25 years in St. Louis, was "Holy cow." Finley, who had a mule for a team mascot, was unrelenting in his attempts to get Harry to change that expression to "Holy mule." It's easy to understand why Caray was eager to bail out of Oakland.
"People don't realize that I always sang 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game' during the seventh-inning stretch. It's just that nobody ever heard it. I was in Chicago for six years and only my sidekick, Jimmy Piersall, heard me. Then Bill Veeck took over the club.
"So in the first game, Veeck can see me singing. From his vantage point in the press box, he can see people underneath me in the stands singing, too. They can hear me through the floor.
"So next night, without my knowing it, Veeck hides a public-address microphone in the broadcast booth. Jesus Christ, I start singing in the seventh inning and suddenly my voice is booming back at me with about 8,000 other voices.
"So when the game is over, I go up to Veeck and ask, 'What the hell was that all about?'
"Harry,' he says, 'I've been looking for a guy to do that for 40 years. As soon as I heard you sing, I knew you were the guy.'"
Caray raised up in his chair.
"I'm getting all pumped up," Caray said. "Here's an owner who really appreciates me.
"Then Veeck says, 'And you know why? Because no matter where they're sitting, in the grandstands or the bleachers, they know they can sing better than you do and so they freely join in. If you had a good voice, it would intimidate them.'"
"And that gives you an idea of the public relations genius of Bill Veeck."
@body:Caray took a slug from his 10 a.m. drink.
"This is a hell of a bloody mary," Caray said, lifting his glass to the waiter. "You can accept that remark in lieu of a tip."
Caray reminded me of a lunch date we'd had 20 years before in Chicago.
"You picked me up in the lobby of the Ambassador and I had a hangover, remember? Then we stopped for bloody marys at three different places on Rush Street on the way to the Barclay club. I don't know how the hell you ever wrote your column that night."
I asked him if the ballplayers were still complaining about his criticizing them from the broadcast booth.