He was my grandpa, well not really, but kind of. He was your dad, kind of. He was someone’s best friend, he was Dutchie’s husband and most of all, he was adored by throngs of fans throughout the country. Harry Caray may be the most visible baseball commentator of his time. Fans of all teams know Harry, not just fans of the Cubs. This evening, as thousands of people gather throughout the country to raise their glass in honor of Harry, I wanted to take an opportunity to tell you who he was to me Unfortunately I never got to know any of my grandparents very well, and in a way, Harry filled this void. As I have written before, I used to come home from school in the mid-80′s and watch the Cubs with my mom. Homework waited for the beloved and that is when my obsession began. Harry was larger than life, a fun-loving, gentle and caring man that looked like any other ‘old’ person to a 7 year old. It was then when I started considering Harry a member of my family. (Remember I was only 7, this was not that odd.) I became a Cubs fanatic at a young age and I welcomed Harry into the kitchen every weekday afternoon that I could. His voice was synonymous with fun, his excitement was contagious and his frustration was evident. “He POPPED it up.” Harry was a Cubs fan, no matter what.
Everyone knew his calls….
“There’s a drive, way back, it might be, it could be, it is! Home run, holy cow!” (Please note the batter was crossing home plate before he was done with the line)
“Hey Arne, check out the…….”
“Let’s get some runs!”
“Sandberg spelled backwards is….” (You all know how that ends)
But what people forget most was how good of an announcer Harry once was, prior to joining the Cubs. Sure, he was older and had trouble enunciating certain words, or maybe it was the Budweiser, but in his younger years he was a statistically accurate and structurally sound broadcaster. I remember hearing Bob Costas speak about Harry near the time of his death and he went on to talk about his technical expertise and how good he truly was. Cubs fans, myself included, do not remember this, but it never took away from my feelings towards him. We all remember him wiping the beer off of his face in 1989 in Montreal eternally repeating, “Cubs win, Cubs win!”
I have so many memories of Harry packed into a 10 year span that it would take days to share them all, the ludicrous comments and the hilarious comments, the great pride as well as the bitter despair. He was a huge reason the Cubs took over Chicago in the early 80′s. He was a bigger star than most of the players, but yet he always had time for everyone. Pete Vonachen, his best friend, delivered the eulogy at Harry’s funeral. He told many stories that conveyed Harry’s true personality, from talking to painters perched on a scaffold to simply riding up the Wrigley ramps with a few children. When I was 8 years old attending a game, Harry’s golf cart drove past my family on its way to the booth. Trust me, my parents thought it was just as cool as I did. To eulogize this man must have been a huge challenge, there is just so much to say, but Mr. Vonachen did it in a touching, lauding and eloquent way.
Even though it is fun to look towards the booth in the 7th inning and see Mike Ditka or Will Ferrell, all 40,000 fans would prefer Harry.
“Hey the Cubs lost, but I got to see Harry sing.”
One of the many Lovable Loser mantras!
I was a freshman in college when Harry passed away in 1998. I remember watching the news and being just stunned. It was like a member of my own family was gone, creating a void that may never be replaced. The first person I used to talk to when I got home from school was my mom, the second, Harry Caray. I remember reading blogs about Harry for days after, though I think they were just called internet comments at that point in time. I realized I was not the only one who felt this way about Harry and, in fact, there were thousands who were similar.
Years will go by and broadcasters will change, but it is hard to imagine having someone who is larger than life. Please do not get me wrong, I have a great deal of respect for Len Kasper and think he is one heckuva broadcaster, but he will never bring the same type of ebullience to the booth that Harry did. A baseball game became a dramatic movie, unfolding before our eyes day after day. He charisma held your attention and his hope made you believe. Though I was watching on TV, his spirit made me feel like I was there in person and that may have been his greatest gift. He brought the game to life and he put it in my heart, and for that, I will always be thankful. Harry Caray is the reason I am a baseball fanatic.
So, as we all pause this evening to pay our respects to Harry, we do it for a person who truly was a “CUB FAN AND A BUD MAN!”
Stay Classy Harry!
Holy Cow….I Miss Harry!!! (from February 2006)