It seems that one
day in 1951, when Stanky was on his last legs as a New York Giant second
baseman and Caray was at the mike during a Giant-Cardinal game, an umpire gave
Stanky the heave-ho. His replacement then made a sensational play to snuff out
a Cardinal rally. "Great stop!" Caray cried into his mike. "There's
a case where the Giants get a big break. If Stanky's not out of the game, it's
a base hit!"
The next year
Stanky—a clean-living, churchgoing family man but equipped with a blowtorch
temper—became the Cardinals' manager. "You're the guy," he groused at
Caray, "who said I couldn't get off a dime."
not," Caray fired back. "I didn't say anything about a dime. I didn't
mention the word." Much preferring offense to defense, Caray then drove
Stanky to the wall, so to speak, by railing, "When you deliberately twist
someone's words, doesn't it hurt your conscience, you being such a devout
man?" In the ensuing years the dialogue between manager and broadcaster
lacked flavor only in that the two antagonists did not wear spurs on their
heels, but somehow Stanky never got around to taking a punch at Caray. "Oh,
no," says Caray over his Scotch sour at Busch's Grove. "Nor I at
As the Cardinals
sank toward seventh place in Stanky's fourth season as manager, Gussie Busch's
Anheuser-Busch lieutenants took a hard look not only at Stanky but at Caray as
well. "Stanky was very unpopular with the fans," Caray recalls, adding
with heavy sarcasm, "and the reason he was unpopular was me." Caray
fingers Busch's top public-relations adviser, one Al Fleishman, as the man who
advanced this theory in high councils, although Fleishman maintains he did
nothing of the sort. "Fleishman's approach was that I should be more
sympathetic to Stanky," Caray insists. "I can't recall ever criticizing
his managing tactics. I got enough headaches as a broadcaster without worrying
about Stanky's image. He'd step onto the field and there would be a loud boo.
The thinking was that there was something I could do to keep that boo from
being so audible over the mike."
In the end it was
Stanky who was fired, but the two continued to search out one another's jugular
vein from a distance. The Cardinals, bewildered by a slump last May, could cure
themselves by consulting Harry Caray's keen baseball mind, Stanky acidly
suggested in a radio appearance. KEEP UP THE WONDERFUL WORK, Caray wired Stanky
as the White Sox, with Stanky as manager, staggered through a torrent of
defeats that led to Stanky's resignation.
One reason that
Caray has been able to survive the acrimony of field managers and high-echelon
counselors in the Anheuser-Busch palace is that for two decades he has
possessed the most fanatical following of any broadcaster in baseball. Through
a network of 124 stations in 14 Midwestern, Southern and Southwest states, his
unabashed trumpeting of Cardinal rallies brings genuine excitement to small
towns and villages. Moreover, untold numbers of Cardinal fans, long since
transplanted to the distant East or Northwest, sit glued to car radios to pick
up the extremely powerful nighttime signal of Caray's St. Louis station, KMOX,
which under the right conditions can be heard in 45 states. " Cardinals win!
Cardinals win! Cardinals win! Cardinals win!" the faithful hear Caray
scream as if he were on closed circuit to the Home for the Deaf. When he
appears at smokers and Elks Club gatherings in the provinces, grown men beg him
to describe an imaginary home run. He does, and as the imaginary ball clears
the imaginary wall the grown men bolt to their feet cheering.
No sir, Caray is
having none of that drawing-room dignity affected by the boys with pear-shaped
tones. Nor, as he settles into his Busch Stadium chair for a series with the
Giants, is he having any of that kid-glove technique the ballplayers love so
Cline, who's modeled a few uniforms," Caray announces in the first inning.
"His name reminds you of Ty Cobb." Then the withering appendage:
"And he's batting .185." From the enemy Caray soon turns to the home
team. "Here's slumping Orlando Cepeda, with two strikes on him and two
runners waiting to be driven in. Struck him out, on a bad ball!" Back to
the Giants. At bat is Willie Mays, of whom broadcasters speak encomiums. Steve
Carlton fires. "Hooo! What a cut he took!" Carlton fires again.
"Hooo! What a cut! Man, I've never seen Mays take a more vicious cut in his
life. Looked like he left both his feet!" Carlton fires a third time, and
Mays lands among the mortals. "Struck him out—on a bad fastball over his
Although one might
interpret these outcries as nothing more than blunt reportage, legions of
ballplayers categorize such technique as the work of a "ripper." In the
peculiar accountancy of many baseball players all criticisms and harsh truths
are entered upon the memory with indelible ink, while compliments are apt to
fade away like dandelion chaff in a spring breeze. ("And the funny thing
is," points out a San Francisco Giants official, "that ballplayers take
it for granted that every nice word said about them is absolutely
accurate.") Sensitivities being what they are, it was not surprising that
Tracy Stallard, pitching for the Cardinals three years ago, rose to a boil when
Caray said of him over the air, "I'm surprised more clubs don't bunt on
him. He's slow fielding bunts and slow covering first base." To St. Louis
Globe-Democrat baseball writer Jack Herman, Stallard issued a furious
denunciation of Caray, who was deeply wounded when he read Herman's story.
Caray hints he'd done Stallard personal kindnesses. "He's a real nice kid,
he really is," Caray adds. "He's a big, good-looking guy, a night
person, my kind of guy." One night, shortly after Stallard had leveled his
blast, Caray was standing at the bar of a St. Louis club. Stallard, seated at a
table with a young lady, arose and strode to the bar. "This girl I'm with
would like to meet you, Harry," he said. "Would you sit down with us
for a minute?"
To the real nice
kid Caray answered, "Drop dead."