Harry Caray, Last of a Kind
by Richard Shereikis
Harry Caray's was the first baseball voice I ever heard, over 50 years ago in my grandfather's living room. My grandfather had spent his youth in Lithuania, so he had never played. But he'd come to know and love the game through the exploits of his son, my uncle, who was a stalwart on local sandlot teams in the small Southern Illinois community where they lived. Harry Caray was the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals in those post-War days.
My grandfather was my idol, a strong, quiet man who, like most of his neighbors, took up his lunch pail every morning and headed for the coal mines. Years later, people told me he had been the strongest man in town and the sergeant-at-arms at union meetings.
For a while, I remember, he thought the games were rigged, probably because he distrusted owners and businessmen, and he figured they had corrupted the game, just as they messed with his life in the mines he worked in. "That guy Musial could get a hit any time he wants to," my grandfather would say, "but somebody's fixin' things so that doesn't happen, to make the standings tighter."
But Harry Caray's enthusiasm helped curb my grandfather's cynicism, as he followed the fortunes of the Cardinals' perennial pennant races.
Musial had help from the likes of Red Schoendienst and Mary Marion at second and short, from Whitey Kurowski at third, from Enos Slaughter and Harry Walker and Erv Dusak in the outfield. And Joe Garagiola caught a stellar pitching staff led by Howie Pollet, Harry Brecheen, Murry Dickson, and Al Brazle, whose collective earned run average was well under 3.0, and who, among them, won 64 games.
This was before television, so Harry Caray's voice brought these men to life for me and the millions of fans who caught the Cardinals on radio all over the South and Middle West.
But Harry Caray brought more to the game than numbers. He brought spirit and enthusiasm, so a listener could "see" the action.
When Musial hit a long, deep drive, and Harry drew it out with his patented, "It might be! It could be! It is! A home run!" you got a sense of the scene: of the ball floating majestically, of the outfielder tensed at the wall, of the exhilaration when Musial's blow landed safely in the stands.
Harry's voice stayed with me, even when I'd return to Chicago after the visits to my grandparents' house in the summer.
Bert Wilson was doing the Cubs' games, and while he shared Harry Caray's enthusiasm, he was too much a Cubs fan, not as much a pure baseball fan. Harry liked the Cardinals to win, of course, and he didn't take losing easily; but Bert Wilson made it sound like his world might end if the Cubs didn't stage a miraculous rally every game.
And Bob Elson, "The Commander," the White Sox announcer in those days, was just too laconic for a kid who wanted excitement.
When Harry got canned by the Cardinals and became the voice of the Cubs, the team I'd had the misfortune to adopt as my own, it was like going home again.
Even after his stroke and his other problems, even after he started mispronouncing names, and mis-identifying players, and getting stirred up about "long fly balls" that turned out to be pop-ups to the second baseman, Harry Caray's voice and spirit were a reminder of a different time, in baseball and in America, before the shills and the technocrats took over.
Even at his best, Harry wasn't much of an analyst, like Joe Morgan and others today who speculate endlessly on strategy. He wasn't really a raconteur, like Vin Scully, the greatest announcer of all, who can weave a story about a game 40 years ago into the fabric of his play-by-play and make it all seamless.
Harry Caray was a lover of the game itself. He was partisan, sure, shamelessly rooting for the Cardinals, the White Sox, the Oakland A's, and the Cubs, when those organizations were paying his salary. But you could tell that his feelings were real.
Most of all, he loved the game for all the joy and disappointment it could bring in a world where things have grown more sterile and predictable. If you watch travesties of sports broadcasting, like last season's World Series, when Bob Ueker and Joe Morgan took all the fun out of the game; or this winter's Olympics, where Jim Nantz showed all the sincerity and passion of a game show host, you feel even more the loss of a Harry Caray, who could make my grandfather believe in baseball.
Now that Harry has called his last game, there aren't many left who can bring baseball alive the way he did.
He was one of a kind: he loved what he did - but knew it was only a game.
Shereikis is NBT's movie professor. But if there's anything he loves better than movies, it's baseball.
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Volume VI Number 8
February 26-March 4, 1998
New Bay Times
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