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.
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.
Augie Busch, the owner of the Cardinals, refused, and Garagiola left to take a job with the Today show in New York, where he became a big television star.
Harry knows how to keep grudges. He still dislikes White Sox and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf with great intensity.
"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.
Does he worry about the huge salaries being paid?
"Not at all," he said. "There must be enough money to pay them or the owners would be screaming."
He is convinced that baseball is being played better now than at any time in his memory.
"People keep asking me about who the best ballplayers were. I say we have one right now at second base for the Cubs. I don't ever remember seeing a player who could do more things.
"Sandberg can hit for power, hit for average and he can make the plays in the field better than anybody else. Not only does he have a great glove, but he has a great arm, too. For my money, Ryne Sandberg is a Hall of Famer."
Hints keep being made that perhaps Caray would like to take it easy, to go off and sit in the sun for his remaining years.
Despite his tough exterior, Caray's feelings can be hurt. And for a guy who has been on the road all his life, he is remarkably sensitive about his family life.
"The thing I'm proudest of," he said, "is that my son Skip is the lead announcer for the Atlanta Braves and my grandson Chip will be doing the games for Seattle this season."
Don't look for a day any time in the future when the name Caray is not associated with major league baseball. And don't expect Harry to go away anytime soon. He's still much too feisty, and a new season's under way. This is a man who's settled in on the job for life.
Take me out to the ball game
Take me out to the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack
I don't care if I never get back . . .
At the old ball game.