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Awesome Men Throughout History: Harry Caray

Caray

Well, we’re now more than halfway through August and the Orioles are still playing relevant baseball (or at least, they were when I originally wrote this), so I’ve been watching a lot more baseball than usual. However, I’ve been watching with the TV muted because all the play-by-play guys are awful, and in general I really miss the days when sports broadcasters were allowed to have personalities that weren’t attached to them by the network rivet gun. In other words, I miss Harry Caray.

Caray is known to most people as one of Will Ferrell’s wacky SNL impersonations, but he was actually a real person who did radio and TV commentary for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Oakland Athletics, and most famously for the Chicago White Sox and Cubs, respectively. He may not have always been the easiest person to work with (fellow broadcaster Milo Hamilton would be the one to ask about that), but he was an enthusiastic and lovably eccentric commentator who wrote his own copy and editorials and cheered for his teams as much, and sometimes more, as their own fans did.

Indeed, Caray’s homerism (aka irrational sports fandom) was his calling card, and he’s quoted as saying that “[his] whole philosophy is to broadcast the way a fan would broadcast.” His other trademarks of mispronouncing players’ names (Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg was dubbed “Ryne Sanderson” and “Ryne Sandbag” by Caray), criticizing the home team whenever they screwed up, and yelling “holy cow!” whenever something cool happened were most likely born from this philosophy of his.

Caray’s style was often criticized as unprofessional, but I disagree. While I can understand why some people would prefer the dry, almost academic commentary of guys like Vin Scully, it’s way more fun when the guy calling the game is excited about what’s happening. Good energy spreads as quickly as bad energy, after all, so if the broadcasters are genuinely into it, the fans watching at home will be, too. Not to mention that it’s almost mean to begrudge anyone making their own fun when their home team is the Cubs. Yeesh.

Caray was also known for leading the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch, which began as a practical joke when someone turned on the stadium PA while Caray was singing it to himself in the broadcast booth. Though he was initially embarrassed, Caray quickly embraced it and made a home game tradition of it, even leaning out of the booth window with a microphone to really get the fans going.

But while Caray may have called games like one of the fans, he drank like one of the boys. His after-hours carousing was the stuff of legend, and he was nicknamed “the Mayor of Rush Street” for his nightly contributions to the art and craft of getting fall-down hammered on Budweiser, of which he was particularly fond. Even the stroke he suffered in 1987 didn’t slow him down much.

Oh, and before I forget, Caray was also there for the Disco Demolition Night fiasco, where White Sox fans rioted after a disgruntled radio DJ blew up a pile of disco records as a publicity stunt to promote a double-header against Detroit. Caray and broadcast partner Jimmy Piersall tried telling the fans to leave over the stadium’s PA system, but things had already gone too far and the police had to clear out the stadium in riot gear.

I’ll leave you with a compilation of Caray’s classic calls, which stands on its own merits as a tribute to his awesomeness. Cubs win.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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