Harry Caray was a larger-than-life character, a Chicago icon, and a superb baseball announcer.
Caray covered five major league teams in a broadcasting career that spanned more than five decades. He got his start in St. Louis, where he called Cardinals games on KMOX radio for a quarter century while– for two years–also calling the St. Louis Browns [who moved to Baltimore in 1953 and became the Orioles]. After one season in Oakland, Caray moved to Chicago, where he was the voice of the White Sox for 11 years. Prior to the 1982 season, Caray moved to the North Side, where he called Chicago Cubs games for the last 16 years of his hall-of-fame career. Not smooth like Red Barber or silky and melodic like Vin Scully, Caray’s style was loud and bombastic. The one and only, Caray made millions of people happy. Many would contend that listening to Harry broadcast baseball on radio was more vivid and exciting than attending the game, opening every broadcast with, “Hello again, everybody…”
A man of the people, Caray was often more popular with fans than the ballgame itself. Complete strangers called him by his first name. He kept a fishnet in the booth that he used to catch foul balls. Caray often called games shirtless from the bleachers, drinking beer with the fans as they cooled themselves beneath a shower head he had installed in the centerfield seats at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Caray was the consummate homer, unabashedly rooting for the team for which he worked. He was also critical of home team blunders. “That and a quarter will get you a cup of coffee,” to describe a weak infield pop-up that ended an inning while leaving a baserunner stranded. Outspoken, opinionated and sometimes outrageous, Caray was the best ambassador baseball ever had.
Harry was beloved. He clowned with comedian Bill Murray, was friends with Sinatra, and once interviewed President Reagan in the booth at Wrigley Field. In the mid-1960s, Harry was in Memphis to broadcast a St. Louis University basketball game. The phone rang in his room at the Peabody Hotel. “Harry,” the voice said, “this is Elvis Presley. I grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, listening to you call Cardinal games on KMOX. I think you’re the greatest. I’m sending a car over right now to bring you to Graceland.” There the two sat till the early-morning hours, eating barbeque, drinking Budweiser and talking baseball. The King of Rock and Roll wanted to meet the King of the Airwaves.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on this date in 1914, Harry Christopher Carabina was the son of an Italian father and Romanian mother, both of whom passed away before Harry was eight. He was raised by his Aunt Doxie in a tough, working class section of St. Louis and would sneak into Cardinals games at Sportsman Park. “For as long as I could remember, baseball had been the most important part of my life,” Caray recalled decades later. “It filled a lot of emptiness for me. It filled a great void in my life. And I loved it.” He played semi-pro baseball before going to work in his late teens at radio stations in Joliet, Illinois, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. While at WCLS in Joliet, he changed his name from Carabina to Caray, believing it sounded better on the air. He then returned to St. Louis, where he landed a job with KMOX Radio as the voice of the minor league hockey Flyers.
In 1945, the 31-year-old Caray caught his break when he landed the job calling Cardinals games on KMOX, the team’s 50,000-watt flagship station that reached 14 middle American states. Jack Buck became his partner in 1954, and the two combined to form one of the greatest duos in the history of baseball broadcasting. Caray did Cardinals games for 25 years and covered three World Series. He also called basketball, doing play-by-play for the St. Louis [now Atlanta] Hawks and St. Louis University Billikens. Caray was the radio voice of the University of Missouri football team and announced three Cotton Bowl games for CBS. His longest tenure was with the Cardinals, who fired Caray following the 1969 season. After one miserable year as the voice of the Oakland A’s, he returned to the Heartland in 1971 and went to work for Bill Veeck’s Chicago White Sox.
Harry Caray was a perfect fit for the White Sox. The South Side faithful loved his joviality and public carousing. Caray shared his personal life with listeners, recanting his late night soirees from previous evenings. He became known as the “Mayor of Rush Street,” the hub of Chicago’s night life district. In 1977, he was joined by Jimmy Piersall, and the tandem became immensely popular in the Windy City. Sipping Falstaff beer while promoting the brand over the air, he would implore White Sox hitters for a home run late in a game. “Oh, for a long one.” During his tenure with the Sox in the 70s, Caray began singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. Accompanied by the legendary Nancy Faust on organ, he would reach his hand-held microphone out the booth window, encouraging to sing along. While the park organ held the opening cord of the song, Harry would begin with his trademark opening. “All right! Lemme hear ya! Ah-One! Ah-Two! Ah-Three!” Caray continued the tradition at Wrigley Field when he bolted for the North Side after the 1981 season.
In 1982, Caray replaced the great Jack Brickhouse on Chicago Cubs telecasts. WGN-TV was a “superstation” that was broadcast across the United States and Harry Caray became as popular nationally as he had been on the South Side. A 1980s Budweiser ad campaign described him as a “Cubs fan and a Bud man” in a Blues Brothers-style parody of Soul Man. Along with the two Mikes—Jordan and Ditka—Caray became one of the biggest sports personalities in Chicago. The Caray broadcasting legacy continued when his son, Skip, became play-by-play man for the Atlanta Braves in 1976 and grandson, Chip [Harry Christopher III], joined 15 years later. One of Harry’s proudest moments came in May 1991, when he worked a few innings in the same broadcast booth with his son and grandson during a Cubs-Braves game. Chip was hired to work alongside his grandfather on Cubs telecasts for the 1998 season, but heart problems took Harry in February of that year. Chip Caray served as the voice of the Cubs until 2004, when he left to join his father covering Atlanta Braves baseball.
Carl Sandburg called Chicago the “City of Broad Shoulders.” No one, it seemed, had broader shoulders than Harry Caray. He called more than 8,300 games in his 53-year big league career and never missed a game in his first 41 seasons in the booth. With oversized glasses and booming voice, Caray had a zest for life. His voice can be heard calling a Cubs game attended by Ferris Bueller on his epic day off in 1986. Caray’s signature catchphrase, “Holy Cow!” is often impersonated and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” became his best-remembered trademark. After his death, the Cubs began inviting guest celebrities to lead the singing and still show footage of Caray singing on the jumbotron at Wrigley Field as fans sing along. Harry Christopher Carabina was a two-time Missouri Sportscaster of the Year and ten-time Illinois Sportscaster of the Year. He was elected to the American Sportscasters Hall of Fame in 1989 and National Radio Hall of Fame in 1990. Mr. Caray received the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.