Farewell to Skip Caray
Early last week I was sitting in my regular spot in the press box at Turner Field when Skip Caray stopped by during a mid-game break. Skip did that often, to say hi to our friend Patty Rasmussen, who writes for the Braves' magazine ChopTalk, or to crack on some sorry play on the field. Mostly, though, it was to tell us his latest joke.
I don't remember the zinger that particular day. It was irreverent, I'm sure. Skip's gags were regularly squirm-on-your-seat edgy. They were sometimes a little corny. And they were always -- or nine out of 10 times, anyway, which even Skip would have had to say was a nice average -- good for a decent-sized laugh. In other words they were, in many ways, a lot like Skip.
On Sunday the voice of the Braves' radio and television broadcasts for more than three decades died in his sleep at his suburban Atlanta home. He was a few days short of his 69th birthday. It was front-page stuff in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. On Monday morning the local TV news programs led with the story.
Skip started announcing Braves' games in 1976 and quickly grew into one of the most recognizable baseball voices in America, thanks to the reach of cable station TBS. He was what his dad, Harry, had been for so many years to Cubs' fans. He was what Ernie Harwell was to Tigers' fans, what Vin Scully is to Dodgers' fans, what Marty Brennaman is to Reds' fans and what every hometown announcer should strive to be: a clear, honest, entertaining pipeline from the team straight to his audience.
On the air, Skip ripped when people needed ripping. He cheered when cheering was called for. His style grated on many -- happens to them all, sooner or later -- but he always stayed true. He was sarcastic sometimes, but never bombastic. He was the sound that many Braves' fans will remember when they reflect on the team's unprecedented string of 14 straight division titles.
Skip was there through the awful '80s. He was there when Sid slid in 1992, when a rookie named Chipper Jones debuted in 1993, when the Braves won the Series in '95, when Maddux and Glavine and Smoltz were in their prime. And thanks to Skip the fans were, too.
I'd known Skip for only the past few years, through Patty. But he jabbed at me playfully like he'd known me for decades. We'd get together occasionally in the offseason for a lunch with Patty and Jack Wilkinson, a former AJC reporter (who wrote a touching Father's Day story on the Carays for SI.com). The lunches never disappointed.
I'll miss those get-togethers. I'll miss the jokes around dinner in the press dining room. I'll miss the dry delivery, the Broadway songs (yep) and all the great stories. Skip could sure weave a story.
My condolences go out to Skip's family, his friends and his co-workers, including his son Chip and his longtime broadcast partner Pete Van Wieren. And I can't help but think, too, of all the fans that lived and breathed summer nights with the Braves over the years through Skip's smooth, smart-aleck, funny, spot-on commentary.
Listening to the Braves will never be the same.