Appeal Sports Writer
Holy Cow! I can still remember getting caught up with the Chicago Cubs during their 1984 pennant run when WGN-TV brought their games to cable here. Or might have been a matter of getting caught up with Harry Caray?
You couldn’t help but like the Cubbies or feel the heart break, right along with old Harry, when they lost to the San Diego Padres in the NLCS that season, falling short of getting to the World Series for the first time since 1945. Remember, the Cubs had the best regular season record in the National League that season (96-65). They took a two-game lead in the best-of-five series, and took a 3-0 lead to the bottom of the sixth inning in Game 5 with Rick Sutcliffe on the mound at Jack Murphy Stadium. Instead, the Padres scored two runs in the sixth and four runs in the seventh to win the game, 6-3, and earn the right to play the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
But win or lose, it was always worth watching the Cubs play if only to see the seventh inning stretch when Harry would lead his rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” for the Wrigley Field fans, with his trademark twist of … “Root, root, root for the Cubbies.”
That’s what made Harry so special in the broadcast booth. He always called it like he saw it. If the play was good, he said so. If it wasn’t, he pulled no punches. He quite simply was baseball’s biggest fan, a quality he brought to viewers before he passed away on Feb. 18, 1998, less than two weeks before his 84th birthday.
He was always there for the fans, a point brought out in Steve Stone’s book, “Where’s Harry,” provided to me by John DeVon of Dayton, who has been a die-hard Cubs fan since 1945.
Stone, a one-time Major League pitcher and 1980 Cy Young Award winner, was Harry Caray’s WGN partner for 15 years. He writes: “Harry taught me that I was there in the booth for the fans, and not for anyone else. … I think Harry felt like he was the voice of the fans and that he was the voice of the common man.”
There may not have been a better example than on May 19, 1987, the day Harry returned to work for the first time since he suffered a serious stroke. Harry missed the first seven weeks of that season, and on his first day back, he received a telephone call in the booth from President Ronald Reagan.
Reagan, a Cubs fan and one-time broadcaster, called as the home half of the first inning was about to begin. Stone writes: “He went on and on with glowing praise reserved more for ex-presidents and heads of state than a baseball play-by-play man, but that’s the effect Harry had on people – even the president.”
Then Harry suddenly interrupted the president. Stone writes: “‘Excuse me, Mr. President,’ Harry said, ‘but Bobby Dernier just got a bunt single and I gotta get back to the baseball game.’ … Click! … He hung up on the President of the United States. Harry was probably the only man in the country who felt a Bobby Dernier bunt single was more important than talking to the most powerful man in the world. But that story typifies how Harry viewed life. There was nothing more important to him than the game of baseball, and when it was time to call baseball, Harry called baseball – president or no president.”
Harry was with the St. Louis Cardinals 1945-69, the Oakland Athletics in 1970, the Chicago White Sox from 1971-81 and the Cubs 1982-97. Of Harry’s death in 1998 after suffering a heart attack in Palm Springs, Stone writes: “The baseball world shuddered. … A country mourned. … A family wept. … And I cried.”
But baseball is still here and a new season has just begun. Where’s Harry? He’s there every time the Cubs faithful stand in the seventh inning and sing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.”
n Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-1220.
Birthname: Harry Christopher Carabina
Born: March 1, 1914, St. Louis
Died: Feb. 18, 1998
Honors: Inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame’s broadcasters’ wing in 1989. Inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990.