Caray On: Baseball's first family of broadcasting still going strong
On Father's Day, the Caray men will once again be strewn across baseball's landscape. Let's peruse the family AM-FM-TV tree:
Skip, the patriarch for a decade and Braves radio announcer, actually gets to relax at home in Atlanta while the Braves are in Anaheim. Harry's kid doesn't go on the road anymore, a concession to age (68) and health.
Chip, Skip's oldest boy who does Braves radio and TV as well as the TBS game of the week on Sundays, will be in Cincinnati for the Red Sox-Reds game.
And Josh, the broadcast baby who is Skip's son from his second marriage and Chip's half-brother, will be in Columbus, Ga., doing play-by-play for the Class A Rome Braves. He may not see Skip until Monday, but has already bought a fine Father's Day gift. "It's actually one I'm proud of," he said, smiling. "It's better than a tie."
Of all the Caray men, Josh has the fondest Father's Day memories, the fewest regrets. Harry was an orphan. Skip and Chip were both children of divorce, and Chip's childhood, growing up in St. Louis with his mother and sister while his father was back in Atlanta, was hardly idyllic. Neither was Skip's first go-round at fatherhood, which was marred by too much distance from his children and too much night-life for himself.
But this year, this Father's Day, there will be no separation anxiety. No road trip guilt trips. No missed phone calls. No one asking, "Mom, where's Daddy going?" as 5-year-old Chip did in 1970, watching his father drive angrily away from the family's suburban Atlanta home, then hearing his mother's reply:
"He's going on a long road trip."
A 10-day road trip that became an eternity.
"When I came along, it was like a second chance for my dad and he really went after it full force," said Josh, Skip's son with his second wife, Paula. "You always had to be flexible with baseball people, but when I was growing up, Dad was pretty good about spending time with his family.
"If the Braves were home on Father's Day, we'd usually go over to his mother's house -- my grandmother Dorothy's house -- after the game," said Josh. "I was such a big baseball fan growing up, I usually went to the game and then saw him afterward. I don't have one bad Father's Day or Christmas or birthday memory."
For Skip, Father's Day has evolved over time. He's now come to terms with it, not always ones of endearment. "It's been different ever since my Dad died," said Skip, who stood on the sidewalk in a bitter Chicago winter, consoling mourners -- many complete strangers -- after Harry's funeral mass in 1998 and still misses Harry.
"You'd give anything you've got to be able to make that Father's Day call now," says Skip. "Every year, you get a little depressed. But those times you forgot to call. Or you're on the road and you're in a rush, and then you call the next day but it's not the same. And you know you screwed up. You should've taken the time, and taken a cab from the stadium -- not the team bus -- and taken the time to call him. And those were the days before cell phones."
As a kid, Skip adored his dad, the play-by-play prince of the airwaves in St. Louis for Gussie Busch's Cardinals. Skip was 6 or 7 that morning he was walking to school in suburban Webster Groves and saw a larger-than-life front-page headline in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat:
"Caray's Wife Tunes Him Out."
That's how Skip found out his parents were getting divorced. He was horrified, and recalls that upon arriving at school, "People stared at you like you had two heads." During Cardinal broadcasts, Harry always said during a station break, "It's 8:30. Goodnight, Skip, and..." But that was no substitute for seeing your dad every day, missing him most every night.
In May 1998, in Skip's first trip to Wrigley Field after Harry's death, he intended to leave the broadcast booth during the seventh-inning stretch, to visit the bathroom while a celebrity "guest conductor" took Harry's microphone and led the crowd in singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
That was also Chip's first season as a Cubs play-by-play man, the one in which he was not only to work alongside his grandfather but finally get to know America's most famous beer drinker. Instead, Chip was working with Steve Stone that Friday afternoon when Skip decided to stay put. "The hell with it," he said. "Let's face up to it and get it over with."
And so Skip didn't skip out on Walter Payton's musical stylings, which were anything but sweetness and light.
"Well," Skip said on the air, "they finally found someone who could sing it worse than my father."
There would be no father-and-child reunion that Father's Day, either.
"The last 50 years of his life," Skip said, "I don't think we were ever together on Father's Day."
In May 1991, however, there had been an unprecedented meeting of the mouths: three generations of Carays -- Harry, Skip and young Chip -- worked a Braves-Cubs game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It remains the only time three generations of a baseball broadcast family have called a game together.