Volume 3, Number 3
He was the doddering old man who mispronounced words, forgot names, and seemed to have a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. He drank too much, smoked smelly cigars, ate red meat, and stayed out all night long. He chased women until old age finally slowed him to a crawl, and even then he talked a good game. He was the uncle all the relatives were ashamed to talk about, which automatically made him your (and secretly, everyone else's) favorite uncle. He was one of the few people you will meet in this life who you are always happy to see enter a room, and always a little bit sad to see leave. He was the type of person for whom no introduction can be too overdone, or drag on too long, not even this one. He was Harry Caray, and he will be missed.
As trite as it sounds, as often as we hear it whenever a noted sports personality passes on, the game will truly be poorer without him. Harry was a throwback to a bygone era, a time when baseball was a game, not a business. When players needed a checkbook, not an agent, to keep track of their money. A time when a parent didn't need to decide between taking his son to a ball game or to college. And every time we tuned in to WGN and heard his gravelly old voice we were transported back to that time, even those of us who may not have been around back then. That was Harry's magic, the ability to create an atmosphere of good old-fashioned fun around a baseball game just by being himself.
If Harry had a secret, that was it, he was himself. For all 162 games of a Cubs season, he was himself. Just turn on the microphone and spend the next three hours talking about the baseball game. If that seems easy, then maybe you can explain to me why so few announcers have mastered it. For all his flaws, we loved Harry simply because we felt like we knew him. He made us smile. He made us chuckle. He was willing to allow us to laugh at his hapless Cubbies, and at himself.
For the next few weeks you'll all be hearing people tell you about their favorite Harry Caray moments. Some of you may get tired of this. Screw you. Just this once, with just this one wonderful person, let us misty-eyed sentimentalists lick our emotional wounds by telling and re-telling these stories. I'll go first.
For me, my favorite Harry Caray story happened about a dozen years ago. I forget who they were playing, but the Cubs were suffering through a miserable season (surprise) and were on this day suffering though yet another merciless thrashing. As is customary in sports broadcasting, when faced with a blowout and the prospect of waning viewer interest, the camera began to scan the audience for attractive women, cute children, amusing drunks, or other such items of interest. As luck would have it, the camera's eye settled on a young couple seated way up in the upper reaches of the sparsely-populated Wrigley Field. As our screen was filled with the amorous young couple engaged in a fierce lip-struggle, Harry was heard to proclaim:
"Now there's a real baseball couple! He kisses her on the strikes and she kisses him on the balls!"
Of course, as was the beautiful thing about Harry, he had no idea what he was saying until after the words had escaped his lips. Above the sound of Harry's sputtering attempt to retract the offensive statement you could hear the TV crew's roaring laughter, and poor Steve Stone nearly having a heart attack. It took Stone fully through the next TV break to regain his composure, and once again, Harry had managed to salvage a thoroughly forgettable Cubs blowout and turn it into an event which I can recount for you more than a decade later.
So when you raise your glasses in Harry's memory tonight, think of him the way he would have wanted you to. Smiling, singing, slightly tipsy, and entirely happy. He lived more in his 78 brief years on this planet than most of us could in a hundred and fifty. His last conscious hours he spent doing what he loved: eating, drinking, and carousing. And though I don't know this for certain, it is my belief that his last act as he lie sprawled on the table where he collapsed, was to catch one last peek at that waitress's caboose.
That's how I want to remember Harry.