By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
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By Chris Parker
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There was a time when the biggest action of any game day in Comiskey Park took place an hour before the White Sox game, when Caray arrived on the field.
There was always a ballplayer or manager who had a complaint to make to Caray about something he had said over the air the day before.
He has never been shy about placing blame for bad fielding, lack of hustle and bad managing where he thinks it belongs. Players feared him. Their wives hated him. Caray flares back when you ask him about his style.
"Hell, you can't lie to the fans. They got eyes. They know what's happening out there. If you lie to them, you lose your credibility."
Jimmy Piersall, who now coaches the outfielders in spring training for the Cubs, was Caray's partner in the booth for several exceedingly tempestuous years with the White Sox. Piersall was so wildly outspoken that Caray often asked him if he had forgotten to take his lithium pills that morning. But Caray backed Piersall up in everything he had to say. His only advice to Piersall was: "When you say something, be sure you have something to say."
Piersall, it turned out, had plenty to say.
The pair turned White Sox games into a wondrous circus.
There was a day when umpire Joe Brinkman called out a Sox first baseman named Mike Squires on a called third strike.
Here's what happened next. Umpire Brinkman looked up at the broadcast booth only to see Piersall standing up and grinning down at him. Piersall gestured with his two hands a foot apart to show Brinkman that the pitch was that far outside and should have been called a ball.
Instead of ignoring Piersall, Brinkman took umbrage. He held his own hands apart and did an imitation of Elvis Presley with his hips, showing Piersall what he thought of him.
Unabashed, Piersall jerked his thumb in the classic umpire's signal to depart the premises.
And then Dale Ford, the first-base umpire, saw Piersall gesturing and immediately began complaining that Piersall was making obscene gestures.
At this point, most lead announcers would think it was time to make peace. But not Caray.
"Jimmy never did anything wrong," Caray piped up. "Besides, what are the umpires doing looking up at the broadcast booth? No wonder they blow so many calls."
Piersall, who was a precious gem, might still be in the booth with Caray if he hadn't been so hell-bent on telling the truth.
Caray got Piersall through dozens of scrapes. There was the time Piersall called owner Veeck's wife "a boring woman who should stay in the kitchen where she belongs." And then there was the biggest flap of all when Piersall talked about the players' wives.
"They're just horny broads that wanted to get married, and they wanted a little money, a little security, and they wanted a big, strong ballplayer."
Tony La Russa was manager of the White Sox at the time, and he wanted Piersall fired.
Piersall remembers how Caray reacted during that period when perhaps both of their jobs were on the line.
"To me," Piersall says of Caray, "the definition of a friend is someone who, when you're really down, is truly loyal to you and simply wants to help you, and that's what Harry Caray was to me."
@body:Nobody has been broadcasting baseball longer than Caray, who started in St. Louis in 1945. He is very much aware that next season will be his 50th year in the booth.
"I'm the only guy who started as the lead man from the start. All the others, like Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell, were second and third men before moving up."
He still remembers what it was to be broadcasting baseball in his hometown of St. Louis, an Italian kid who came from an even more depressed neighborhood than Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola.
"What do those guys know?" Caray said. "Compared to my neighborhood, their Dago Hill was like Beverly Hills."
There was a time when Caray and Garagiola were on the outs. That was when Garagiola was his color man in St. Louis and went to the front office to try to get Caray's job.
"Reinsdorf may be the smartest man in the country," Caray said, "but I don't know about the way he makes it.
"The taxpayers of Illinois paid $350 million for that Sox ballpark and it doesn't cost Jerry a penny. He makes so much money, he could pay for that out of petty cash. I'd like to know how many payoffs under the table he had to make to politicians to get that deal done."
The talk got around to ballplayers Caray has seen in his time. He was the Cardinals' announcer during the career of Stan Musial. He also worked the American League before and after Mickey Mantle was in his prime.