Harry Caray changed the world of sports broadcasting forever with a style that reflected his true love of baseball. Caray was a man who spoke his mind. It is this aspect of his personality that endeared him to most, but ostracized him from others. There were many sportscasters who dreaded working with him, because he took over the booth. He was certainly larger than life, and had the life to prove it. He impressed many with his personalized broadcasting style and brought a whole new dimension to the game of baseball. Most say he brought baseball to life.
Harry Carabina started his meager beginnings in St. Louis, Missouri in the year 1914. He was born to Italian-French-Romanian immigrants. His father died before he was two years old and his mother died when he was ten. He went to live with an aunt near by and spent time in several foster homes. It was this start in life that made Caray realize he could never take anything for granted. He worked hard for everything he wanted in life and he enjoyed that life to the fullest.
Cardinal Dreams and Reality
Caray did well in sports, and turned down an athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama in hopes of making it with the St. Louis Cardinals. That dream never came true. He was forced to face the reality he was not going to make it into professional baseball. He took a job as a sales correspondent, which he enjoyed. He would sometimes take afternoons off and go see a ball game. He would come alive at the ballpark; he loved every aspect of the experience. Caray liked the sound of the crowd, the smell of the food in the stands, and anything else that went with a baseball game. A thought occurred to him one day while listening to a game on the radio: either he just happened to attend all the exciting games, or the radio broadcasts were boring. He felt they did not truly convey the excitement of the game. So, he took his correspondence skills and put them to work for his own cause. He wrote to Merle Jones, the general manager of KMOX of St. Louis, and told him how he felt about the baseball broadcasts.
Jones was impressed with what Caray wrote and called him. They discussed the letter and Jones encouraged Caray to get some experience. Caray took his advice, getting a job at WJOL in Joliet, Illinois. Caray said in an interview with Mike Eisenbath of the St. Louis Post, "Before the first month was finished, people thought I was pretty good." He went from there to WKZO in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he worked as a sports editor and news director with Paul Harvey. These positions gave him the experience he needed to break into the broadcasting business.
In 1945 he moved back to St. Louis where he was given the position of broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals on KMOX-TV and Radio. At that time he was still Harry Carabina, and the manager asked him to shorten his last name. He legally changed his name to Caray for his broadcasting career. He remained with the Cardinals for twenty-five seasons. Eisenbath stated, "During the height of his time with the Cardinals, Caray could be heard on more than 175 network affiliates … and fans could pick up KMOX almost everywhere in the country." Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stated, "Caray wasn't just the voice of the Cardinals, he was what baseball sounded like." Due to the breadth of the broadcast, as well as Caray's unique style, Eisenbath said, "Caray might strike a familiar chord with more baseball fans than any other sportscaster."
In 1969 Caray was fired from broadcasting for the Cardinals. Some say it was due to a scandalous affair with an executive's wife, others say it was due to him offending someone with his no-nonsense style of broadcasting. Nonetheless he was angered by the decision and to show his disapproval, was seen at his termination press conference holding a Schlitz beer, a competitor to Budweiser, who sponsored the Cardinals.
Moving On and Up
Caray went on to broadcast one season with the Oakland A's, but in 1971 began work with WFLD in Chicago as a broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox. He worked at Comiskey Park for eleven seasons. John M. McGuire of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, "Caray's firing was the best thing that could have happened to him. Because Chicago and Caray were made for each other." At one point during his tenure with the White Sox, the team's owner fired him because of his tendency to speak his mind on the air. When the White Sox were bought out months later, he was rehired. O'Neill stated, "Flaws in Caray's character are what made him so endearing."
Caray had made quite a name for himself in the broadcasting business. O'Neill explained, "For those who could not get to a game, listening was just as good, maybe better." O'Neill noted that throughout the years, "he became beloved as a symbol." Most people either loved him or hated him. He was one of a kind, and his broadcasts showed that style only he had. Not only that, but "he loved people from all walks of life," long time friend Otis Dunlap stated in an interview with McGuire. Dave Luecking with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stated that "he considered all the fans his best friends." He never held back his disappointment with a player who made a bad move, nor held back praises when a home run was hit. In fact, he coined the phrases "It might be … it could be … it is! A homerun!" and "Holy Cow!" "Harry's passion for the game is so real. People identify with that," shared Bob Costas in an interview with Luecking.
Caray left the White Sox in 1982 to go across town to start broadcasting for the Chicago Cubs on WGN-TV. It was there he stayed until his death. In fact, according to Rod Beaton of USA Today, when asked when he was going to retire, Caray was quoted as saying, "I'll keep going until I die on the job someday." Caray endeared himself to the infamous Cubs fans immediately. One of the traditions was for him to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at the bottom of the 7th inning. That tradition started when he was singing in the broadcast booth one day and owner Bill Veeck got a kick out of his enthusiasm and turned on the PA system for everyone to hear.
|1914||Born March 1, in St. Louis, Missouri|
|1924||Mother dies, moves in with an aunt in Webster Groves|
|1932||Starts first job as a sales correspondent|
|1941||Begins broadcasting career with WJOL in Joliet, Illinois|
|1945||Begins broadcasting for the St. Louis Cardinals on KMOX-TV|
|1969||Fired from broadcasting for the Cardinals|
|1970||Broadcasts for the Oakland A's on KNRB radio|
|1971||Begins broadcasting for the Chicago White Sox|
|1975||Fired from White Sox by John Allyn|
|1975||Marries Delores, also known as "Dutchie"|
|1976||Bill Veeck buys the White Sox and rehires Caray|
|1982||Begins broadcasting for the Chicago Cubs on WGN-TV and radio|
|1987||Opens his restaurant, Harry Caray's, on Kirk Street in Chicago|
|1987||Suffers from a stroke|
|1989||Writes book Holy Cow!|
|1989||Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1995||Suffers a heart attack|
|1997||Starts only broadcasting for Chicago Cubs home games|
|1998||Dies from complications resulting from a heart attack|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1988||Elected to the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame|
|1989||Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame|
|1989||Awarded the Ford Frick Award|
|1989||Elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame|
Fun and Family
Caray was known for more than his broadcasting. He was also known for his drinking and socializing after hours. He was dubbed "the mayor of Rush Street" due to his partying nature. He even opened his own restaurant in 1987, aptly named Harry Caray's. But his carefree nature caught up with him, when in that same year he had a stroke. The stroke took him "out of the game" for several months. It was the first time he had missed an opening game in decades. The Cubs brought in big name celebrities to fill the gap while he was gone, but there was no replacing Caray. When Caray came back to work on May 19, 1987, the mayor announced it to be Harry Caray Day. Caray even received a call from President Ronald Reagan, who expressed how much he missed his broadcasts.
In 1991 he was fortunate enough to broadcast a game with his son, Skip, and grandson, Chip. It was the Cubs against the Braves. Skip was an announcer for the Atlanta Braves and Chip was working with Fox Sports Net. Caray and Chip were to broadcast together again in the 1998 Cubs season. Unfortunately, just six short weeks before their partnership was to begin, Caray passed away.
Caray suffered a heart attack on February 14, 1998, while dining with his wife, Dutchie. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. The incident caused brain damage and he was put on life support, but four days later was taken off life support and died on February 18, 1998.
Caray had touched many lives over his career, and thousands mourned his passing. Ned Colletti stated, "The city of Chicago lost an icon. There are thousands of announcers, but only one Harry," in an interview with Rod Beaton of USA Today. "Cubs baseball will never be the same," stated Marty Brennaman in the same interview. Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News was shocked by Caray's death and stated, "How can Harry Caray be dead if he was bigger than life?" Beaton was equally shocked. He admired Caray and remembered, "Caray made people feel good about themselves, about baseball, even about the often hapless Cubs." When asked by Beaton, Cubs general manager Ed Lynch said, "He's one of the biggest personalities in baseball in the last 100 years."
The Ultimate Fan
Caray was not only an excellent broadcaster because of his excitement for the game, but also because of the way he truly cared for the fans. Bob Patterson summed it up best in the interview with Beaton, stating, "We always knew that Harry was in our corner. He was really appreciative of the game, the players and the fans." The game of baseball will never be the same without him.
Related Biography: Broadcaster Steve Stone
Steve Stone was born July 14, 1947. He made his debut as a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants April 8, 1971, where he remained for an additional season. In 1973 he pitched for the Chicago White Sox, staying only one year, but returning for two more seasons in 1977. From 1974 to 1976 Stone played for the Chicago Cubs, where he was fated to return as a broadcaster with Caray in 1983. He completed his career as a pitcher with the Baltimore Orioles. During his tenure with the Orioles he received the Cy Young Award, and pitched three perfect innings in the All-Star Game in 1980. Stone lead the Orioles to a pennant, before retiring from pitching due to arm problems. Stone worked as a sportscaster with WGN until 2000, working with Chip Caray his final two years after Caray's death. He left WGN for two years to work as a competition consultant in 2000, but returned to broadcasting for the Cubs with Chip Caray in the 2003 season.
Stone put up with Caray's antics for 15 seasons while working for WGN as a baseball analyst. In an interview with Paul Lomartire of the Palm Beach Post, Stone said that Caray "was a unique character, charismatic character. People just gravitated towards him." Lomartire surmised that for Stone, "moving to the TV booth alongside Caray was a daily lesson in unpredictability." Stone wrote of Caray's unpredictability and magnetic character in a book titled, Where's Harry? The title of the book, Stone explained, came from people always asking him "where's Harry?" whenever Caray was not around. Stone writes, "Harry was more entertaining than 99.99 percent of the people in the business and the fans worshipped him."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY CARAY:
(With Bob Verdi and David Israel) Holy Cow! Random House, 1989.
Caray, Harry, with Bob Verdi and David Israel. Holy Cow! New York: Random House, 1989.
Newsmakers. Issue Compilation. Detroit: Gale Group, 1988.
Newsmakers, 1998. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998.
Stone, Steve, with Barry Rozner and Bob Costas. Where's Harry: Steve Stone Remembers His Years With Harry Caray. Taylor Publishing, 1999.
Wolfe, Rich, and George Castle. I Remember Harry Caray. Sports Publishing, Inc., 1999.
"Baseball loses Harry Caray/Broadcaster dies after suffering brain damage." Minneapolis Star Tribune (February 19, 1998): 08C.
Beaton, Ron. "Harry Caray—1920-1998: Baseball loses a legend Cubs announcer to be remember for his love of game." USA Today (February 19, 1998): 01C.
Caesar, Dan. "For grandson Chip, Harry's memory is a bittersweet legacy to carry." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (August 7, 1998): D3.
Clarke, Norm. "Talk of the town." Denver Rocky Mountain News (February 20, 1998): 6A.
Costas, Bob. "Notebook/Eulogy:Eulogy." Time (March 2, 1998): 25.
Eisenbath, Mike. "It might be: It could be, it is—Harry Caray!" St. Louis Post—Dispatch (May 12, 1994): 01D.
"Fans and friends and family say goodbye to Caray." Chicago Tribune (March 1, 1998): F10.
"Harry Caray, Death of a baseball legend: Caray larger than life." Atlanta Journal and Constitution (February 19, 1998): E03.
Lomartire, Paul. "Caray memories written in Stone." Palm Beach Post (May 12, 1999): 15C.
McGuire, John M. "Caray's resonant voice still has strong echo here." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (February 22, 1998): F3.
McGuire, John M. "In new book, people recall Harry Caray Fondly … and sometimes not so fondly." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (August 26, 1998): E1.
Moore, Terence. "Harry Caray, Death of a baseball legend: Caray larger than life." Atlanta Journal and Constitution (February 19, 1998): E03.
"One-of-a kind Caray was "life of baseball"." Denver Rocky Mountain News (February 19, 1998): 17C.
O'Neill, Dan. "Caray was what baseball sounded like." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (February 20, 1998): D1.
Rogers, Prentis. "Legacy to Caray on: Family trade: Chip Caray planned to be his grandfather's partner; instead he's his successor." Atlanta Journal and Constitution (March 31, 1998): E05.
"Sound off." St. Louis Post - Dispatch (February 28, 1998): 4.
Wulf, Steve. "Bonus Piece: As Harry Caray often says, "it might be.… it could be.…," Sports Illustrated (November 2, 1992): 74.
"Famed Sportscaster Harry Caray dies." Reuters (February 18, 1998).
Fisher, Janon. "Holy cow! Harry Caray got death threats." APBNews.com. http://www.apbnews.com/media/gfiles/caray/index.html (October 27, 2002).
"Harry Caray." National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. http://www.niashf.org/inductees/caray_harry.html (October 27, 2002).
"In memory of the late Harry Caray." Harry Caray Virtual Memorial Web site. http://digitalsol.com/harrycaray/ (October 27, 2002).
Sciutto, Jim, Asha Blake. "Legendary sports announcer Harry Caray Dead at 77." ABC World News This Morning (February 19, 1998).
"U.S. Sportscaster Caray's condition still critical." Reuters (February 17, 1998).
Sketch by Barbra J. Smerz