|Born||Harry Christopher Carabina
March 1, 1914
St. Louis, Missouri,
|Died||February 18, 1998 (aged 83)
Rancho Mirage, California,
Harry Caray, born Harry Christopher Carabina, (March 1, 1914 – February 18, 1998) was an American baseball broadcaster on radio and television. He covered four Major League Baseball teams, beginning with a long tenure calling the games of the St. Louis Cardinals, then the Oakland Athletics (for one year) and the Chicago White Sox (for eleven years), before ending his career as the announcer for the Chicago Cubs.
Caray was born Harry Christopher Carabina of French-Romanian and Italian parentage in one of the poorest sections of St. Louis. He was an infant when his father died. He was taken in by his aunt upon the death of his mother when he was only ten. As a young man, Caray played baseball at the semi-pro level for a short time before auditioning for a radio job at the age of 19. He then spent a few years learning the trade at radio stations in Joliet, Illinois and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Caray did play-by-play for the St. Louis Hawks professional basketball team (now the Atlanta Hawks), the University of Missouri football team and he announced three Cotton Bowl games.
Caray caught his break when he landed the job with the Cardinals in 1945 and, according to several histories of the franchise, proved as expert at selling the sponsor's beer as he'd been in selling the Cardinals on KMOX. Caray was also seen as influential enough that he could affect team personnel moves; Cardinals historian Peter Golenbock (in The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns) has suggested Caray may have had a partial hand in the maneuvering that led to the exit of general manager Bing Devine, the man who had assembled the team that won the 1964 World Series, and of field manager Johnny Keane, whose rumored successor, Leo Durocher (the succession didn't pan out), was believed to have been supported by Caray for the job. Caray, however, stated in his autobiography that he liked Johnny Keane as a manager, and didn't want to be involved in Keane's dismissal. As the Cardinals' announcer, Caray broadcast three World Series (1964, 1967, and 1968) on NBC.
After the 1969 season, Caray was unexpectedly fired as the Cardinals' lead broadcaster (his broadcast partner Jack Buck replaced him). Golenbock, other Cardinal historians, and Caray's former wife have suggested the cause was a purported affair Caray had with the daughter-in-law of Cardinals owner August A. Busch, Jr. (who also owned Anheuser-Busch brewery, the club's broadcast sponsor); Caray first called it a business grudge while never necessarily denying or affirming the rumors. He was with the St. Louis Cardinals for 25 years, his longest tenure with any sports team.
He spent one season broadcasting for the Athletics before, as he often told interviewers, he tired of owner Charles O. Finley's interference and accepted a job with the Chicago White Sox. (Apparently the feeling was mutual; Finley later said "that shit [Caray] pulled in St. Louis didn't go over here.")
However, there were some reports that Caray and Finley did, in fact, work well with each other, and that Caray's strained relationship with the A's came from longtime A's announcer Monte Moore, because Caray was loose and free-wheeling, while Moore was more conservative.
Caray Joined the Chicago White Sox in 1971 and quickly became popular with the South Side faithful and enjoying a reputation for joviality and public carousing (sometimes doing home game broadcasts bare-topped from the bleachers). He wasn't always popular with players, however; Caray had an equivalent reputation of being excessively critical of home team blunders and for continuing criticism of certain players after even one on-field mistake. During his tenure with the White Sox, Caray was teamed with many color analysts who didn't work out well, including Bob Waller, Bill Mercer and ex-Major League catcher J. C. Martin, among others. But in 1976, during a game against the Texas Rangers, Caray had former outfielder Jimmy Piersall (who was working for the Rangers at the time) as a guest in the White Sox booth that night. The tandem proved to work so well, that Piersall was hired to be Harry's partner in the White Sox radio and TV booth beginning in 1977. Piersall and Caray became very popular, and are still fondly remembered by White Sox fans to this day.
Among many of Caray's experiences during this time with the White Sox include Disco Demolition Night. On July 12, 1979, what began as an effort to sell seats at a White Sox/Detroit Tigers double-header turned into tens of thousands of eager fans storming the outfield at Comiskey Park in between the games of the double-header. Caray tried to calm the crowd by leading the park in the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” but order could not be restored. Eventually the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of the double-header.
Caray increased his renown after joining the North Side Cubs following the 1981 season. In contrast to the "SportsVision" concept, the Cubs' own television outlet, WGN-TV, had become among the first of the cable television superstations, offering their programming to providers across the United States for free, and Caray became as famous nationwide as he'd long been on the South Side and, previously, in St. Louis. In fact, Caray had already been affiliated with WGN for some years by then, as WGN actually produced the White Sox games for broadcast on competitor WSNS-TV, and Caray was a frequent sportscaster on the station's newscasts. Caray succeeded longtime Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse, himself a beloved announcer and Chicago media fixture.
The timing was fortuitous especially when the Cubs ended up winning the National League East division title in 1984 and radio station WGN's nationwide audience. Millions came to love the microphone-swinging Caray, continuing his White Sox practice of leading the home crowd in singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch, mimicking his mannerisms, his gravelly voice, his habit of mispronouncing or slurring some players' names (which some of the players themselves mimicked in turn), and even his trademark barrel-shaped wide-rimmed glasses.
Caray's national popularity never really flagged after that, although time eventually took a toll on him. Nicknamed "The Mayor of Rush Street", a reference to Chicago's famous tavern-dominated neighborhood and Caray's well-known taste for Budweiser, illness and age began to drain some of Caray's skills, even in spite of a remarkable recovery from a 1987 stroke. There were occasional calls for him to retire, but he was kept aboard past WGN's normal mandatory retirement age, an indication of just how popular he really was.
His famous seventh-inning stretch singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" began during his tenure with the White Sox. In the broadcast booth, Caray made a habit of privately singing along with the song while long-time Comiskey Park organist Nancy Faust was playing it for the public. One afternoon, Caray was singing to himself when WMAQ radio producer/broadcaster Jay Scott decided to open the booth mics without letting Caray know that he was doing this. (Some years before, Scott had suggested the idea in a memo, but Caray rejected this. He accepted the idea once it caught on with the home fans.) For the rest of his career, Caray enthusiastically led the song's singing during the seventh-inning stretch, using a hand-held microphone and holding it out outside the booth window. And, he inserted the home team's name for "the home team" in the song's lyric, a ritual still practiced by many baseball fans around the country.
Many of these performances began with Caray speaking directly to the baseball fans in attendance either about the state of the day's game, or the Chicago weather, while the park organ held the opening chord of the song. Then with his trademark opening, "All right! Lemme hear ya! Ah-One! Ah-Two! Ah-Three!" Harry would launch into his distinctive, down-tempo version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". For the lyrics "One, Two, Three, strikes you're out...." Harry would usually hold the microphone out to the crowd to punctuate the climactic end of the song. And if the visitors were ahead in that game, Harry would typically make a plea to the home team's offense: "Let's get some runs!"
The seventh-inning stretch routine became Caray's best-remembered trademark; after his death, the Cubs began a practice of inviting guest celebrities, local and national, to lead the singing Caray-style. The use of "guest conductors" continues to this day.
During the 2009 NHL Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, as the Chicago Blackhawks hosted the Detroit Red Wings on New Year's Day 2009, former Blackhawks players Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Denis Savard and former Cubs players Ryne Sandberg and Ferguson Jenkins sang a hockey-themed version of the seventh-inning stretch; "Take Me Out to the Hockey Game" used lines such as "Root, root, root for the Blackhawks" and "One, two, three pucks, you're out".
Caray had a number of broadcasting partners and colleagues through the years, some of whom made known their dislike of the man. He had a particularly frosty relationship with Milo Hamilton, his first partner with the Cubs, who felt Caray had pushed him out in St. Louis in the mid-1950s. Hamilton was fired by WGN in 1984; he claimed that station officials told him that the main reason was that Caray didn't like him.
Caray's longtime St. Louis partner, Jack Buck, was guarded in his comments about Caray in his own autobiography, while acknowledging that he sometimes felt held back by Caray. However, Caray also didn't lack for broadcast companions who played well with and off him. With the White Sox, his longest-lasting partner was Jimmy Piersall; with the Cubs, he was teamed for 14 years with former pitcher Steve Stone.
Caray was known for his unabashed homerism. While advertisers played up his habit of openly rooting for the Cubs from the booth (for example, one Budweiser ad described him as "Cub Fan, Bud Man" in a Blues Brothers-style parody of "Soul Man"), he had been even less restrained about rooting for the Cardinals when he broadcast for them. He said later that his firing from the Cardinals changed his outlook and made him realize that his passion was for the game itself, and the fans, more than anything else. He was also well-known for his frequent exclamation of "Holy Cow!" As he noted in interviews and in his autobiography Holy Cow!!, he trained himself to use this expression, to avoid any chance of using profanity on the air. Caray also avoided any risk of mis-calling a home run, using what became a trademark home run call: It might be . . . it could be . . . it IS! A home run! Holy cow! In Holy Cow!, Caray said he first used the "It might be..." part of that expression on the air while covering a college baseball tournament in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the early 1940s. He also said that was probably the first time he said "Holy cow!" on the air.
In 1987, the Cubs had Ryne Sandberg, Jim Sundberg, and Scott Sanderson on the roster. Caray had suffered a stroke in February and often confused these names and it was not uncommon for him to refer to "Jim Sandberg", "Ryne Sanderson", or "Scott Sundberg". He also once pronounced pitcher Jason Isringhausen as "Jason....Ice-ring-hoisen." Caray was intrigued by unusual names, and one of his frequent on-air bits was to try to pronounce a multi-syllabic name backwards. This bit became more challenging for him in the 1987 season but he kept on trying, even poking fun at himself. Two player names he took delight in pronouncing backwards were Toby Harrah and James 'Truck' Hannah. Even short names sometimes amused him: once, when Manny Mota had just lined out to a Cardinals fielder who did not even need to move his feet to make the catch, Harry proclaimed: "'Mota' spelled backwards is 'atom' ... and that's where he hit it, right at 'im'!"
Caray had a reputation for mastering all aspects of broadcasting - writing his own copy, conducting news interviews, writing and presenting editorials, covering other sports such as University of Missouri football, and hosting a sports talk program.
He was considered a fan's broadcaster above all, along the lines of such announcers as New York/San Francisco Giants legend Russ Hodges or Pittsburgh Pirates legend Bob Prince, and that didn't always earn him respect to equal his popularity. However, Caray never pretended to be the kind of objective announcer that such broadcasters as Red Barber and Vin Scully prided themselves on being regardless of their team attachments.
Though best known and honored for baseball work, Caray had also called Missouri Tigers football, St. Louis University Billiken basketball, Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks basketball in the 1950s and '60s. Nationally, he broadcast eight Cotton Bowl Classic games (1958–64, 1966) on network radio.
Caray maintained a winter home in Palm Springs, California, along with his primary residence in Chicago. As discussed in Steve Stone's 1999 book, Where's Harry?, Caray was at a Rancho Mirage restaurant on February 14, 1998, celebrating Valentine's Day with his wife Dutchie, when he collapsed, and in the process allegedly hitting his head on the side of a restaurant table, and was rushed to nearby Eisenhower Medical Center. He never regained consciousness, dying of cardiac arrest with resulting brain damage four days later. Caray's funeral took place in downtown Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral on February 27, two days before he would have turned 84. Many celebrities and athletes were in attendance, including Sammy Sosa and former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka.
Following his death, during the entire 1998 season the Cubs wore a patch on the sleeves of their uniforms depicting a caricature of Caray. Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa dedicated each of his 66 home runs that season to Caray.
Caray had five children, three with his first wife, Dorothy, and two with his second wife, Marian. He married his third wife Delores "Dutchie" (Goldmann) on May 19, 1975. His son Skip Caray followed him into the booth as a baseball broadcaster with the Atlanta Braves until his death on August 3, 2008, and his son Chris had a long career with Maritz Travel before passing away at an early age from brain cancer. His daughter, Patricia, worked for Coca-Cola in Atlanta before retiring to Bradenton, FL, where she currently resides.
Caray's two daughters with wife Marian both opted for careers in the healthcare field. Michele lives in St. Louis, MO and works as a registered nurse with OptumHealth Behavioral Solutions, a division of UnitedHealth Group. Daughter Elizabeth lives in Phoenix, AZ and works as a pharmaceutical representative for Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Caray's broadcasting legacy was extended to a third generation, as his grandson Chip Caray replaced Harry as the Cubs' play-by-play announcer from 1998 to 2004. He later returned to work with his father Skip on Atlanta Braves broadcasts, where he had worked for awhile in the early 1990s. In what Harry Caray said was one of his proudest moments, he worked some innings in the same broadcast booth with his son and grandson, during a Cubs/Braves game on May 13, 1991. On-air in a professional setting, the younger men would refer to their seniors by their first names. During 1998, Chip would refer to the departed Harry in third person as "Granddad". His half-brother Josh is a broadcaster and producer for WLAQ radio in Rome, Georgia, calling the Class A Rome Braves baseball and Rome High School football.
Another of Caray's grandsons, Eric Stanger (son of Patricia Caray) is also enjoying a very successful career in the radio business, as Director of Talk Programming for ABC Radio Networks, and Director of Affiliate Relations for the syndicated radio personality Sean Hannity.
On October 23, 1987 Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse opened in the Chicago Varnish Company Building, a Chicago Landmark building that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are now six restaurants, and an off-premises catering division which bear the Harry Caray name. The original restaurant has received numerous awards for its food and service, and features many items of memorabilia, even a statue of a "Holey Cow" (complete with holes) wearing the trademark Harry Caray eyeglasses.
On June 24, 1994, the Chicago Cubs had a special day honoring Harry for 50 years of broadcasting Major League Baseball. Sponsored by the Cubs and Kemper Insurance, pins were given out to some unknown number of fans in attendance that day. The pins had a picture of Harry, with writing saying "HARRY CARAY, 50 YEARS BROADCASTING, Kemper MUTUAL FUNDS" and "HOLY COW".
Caray's style became fodder for pop culture parody as well, including a memorable Saturday Night Live recurring sketch featuring Caray (played by Will Ferrell) as a host of a space and astronomy TV talk show, in which his questions to scientists and professors included whether or not they would eat the moon if it were made of spare ribs and turning hot dogs into currency (20 hot dogs would equal roughly a nickel). The sketch continued after Caray's death. When asked by Joan Allen (impersonating NASA flight director Linda Ham) about his death, Will Ferrell as Caray replied, "What's your point?" The Bob and Tom Show also had a Harry Caray parody show called "After Hours Sports" which eventually became "Afterlife Sports" after Caray's death. On the Nickelodeon series Back at the Barnyard, news reporter Hilly Burford bears a strong resemblance to Caray, both in appearance and speech. In 2005, the cartoon Codename: Kids Next Door had two announcers reporting a baseball game. One was a parody of Caray, the other, Howard Cosell. The most widely-accepted impersonation of Caray in Chicago was done by Jim Volkman, heard most often on the Loop and AM1000. Also, comedian Artie Lange, in his standup, talks about Caray.
Recent Chicago-area TV and radio ads for AT&T's Advanced TV have featured comedian John Caponera impersonating the post-stroke version of Harry Caray. However, due to a complaint by Caray's widow, AT&T had withdrawn advertising featuring Harry Caray.
Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs pitcher, is known for his Harry Caray impression, most notably, he announced the Cubs' starting lineup while speaking like the post-stroke version of Caray before a nationally televised baseball game on Fox Sports.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn officially declares March 1 Harry Caray Day, 03/01/2010.