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Caray's detractors insist that he can damn a ballplayer in his broadcasts without misstating a single fact but merely by employing the inflection of disgust. It is said, for example, that simply by repeating time and again the number of base runners ex-Cardinal Ken Boyer left stranded, Caray planted St. Louis fans squarely on Boyer's back. Around the National League ballplayers do takeoffs on Caray's narration of a Boyer turn at bat. "It's the last of the ninth," goes one version. "The Cardinals have the tying run on second. Two out. Boyer's the hitter. We'll be back in one minute with the wrap-up."
"Listen," says Caray in defense of himself, "I don't believe any ballplayer ever put on a Cardinal uniform who shouldn't have known that I wanted his success as much as he did. But I refuse to fool the audience. These ball club-controlled announcers think they can, but they're crazy."
Put in perspective, Caray's skirmishes with players and managers are infrequent happenings spaced over a broadcasting career of more than two decades; yet, because he works in a world of play-by-play pacifists, he emerges as a sort of Roland daring the Saracen jockos to take him on 50 at a time. Still, a great many ballplayers like him. A fun-loving man who talks the earthy language of the ball field, he hears raucous, good-natured greetings as he approaches enemy dugouts. "Harry is my friend," says Cepeda with evident sincerity. Caray seldom passes a ballplayer's restaurant table without sending over a round of drinks, and when players find themselves short of cash on the road they know he always will come up fast with $100.
Up in Caray's booth the athletes are not always getting the short end of his critical stick—not by a long shot. "I have never seen a better play!" he bellows orgiastically as Mike Shannon makes a rather pretty play along the third-base line. Second Baseman Julian Javier charges a slow roller and goes into the Hall of Fame alongside Napoleon Lajoie and Frankie Frisch. "Beautiful! Ho-lee cow, he got him! There's no play he can't make, that Javier!" A batter pops a foul back toward Caray's booth, whereupon Caray, who may have stripped to his shorts in St. Louis' hot, humid climate, seizes a long pole, a fishing net attached to its end. He crashes over an empty chair to his right, lunges halfway out of his booth in an unrewarded attempt to snare the foul and then returns to his chair grimacing, having given his elbow a terrific crack on the railing.
To Caray's left in the booth sits a mountain of unopened fan mail, and beside that rises a growing hill of messages scrawled on crumpled pieces of paper and bits of cardboard. The messages, constantly being delivered by an usher, come from fans who have traveled to Busch Stadium from outlying points. (Surveys have shown that 40% of the Cardinals' summertime crowds come from Caray's out-of-town strongholds.) "My favorite town!" he crows as he glances at a note and reports the name of a fan in attendance from Monkeys Eyebrow, Ky. or Number Nine, Ark., at which the high-powered public-relations firm of Fleishman, Hillard, Wilson & Ferguson, the P.R. men representing Anheuser-Busch, scowl, calculating that for every fan Caray mentions he offends 20 others.
"Fleishman said this bit isn't class," Caray snorts. "I said, 'You're talking about people who come to the ball park. If I got a guy here from Timbuktu, I'll help him to be proud of Timbuktu.' I told Fleishman, 'Class, my ass!' "
An analysis of Caray's audience impact—one that is repeated so often it is almost a refrain—is that Cardinal fans either love Caray or hate him, there being no middle ground. The haters, most of whom seem to be concentrated in St. Louis, where big-city sophisticates doubt his melodramatic word pictures, worry Fleishman, the Philistine in Caray's nightmares. " Anheuser-Busch's motto is 'Making Friends Is Our Business,' " Fleishman points out. A tanned, slightly paunchy man with white hair and a cigar clenched in a curled forefinger, Fleishman recalls that Caray, in reply to a critical letter from a woman listener, exploded on the air, denouncing the woman in terms that judges save for those who molest old ladies. Top-level conferences had to be called. Indeed, when Caray's eye lights on a harsh fan letter, he is apt to dictate a reply that is doubly nasty. His secretary, Mrs. Bea Higgins, surreptitiously throws the dictation into the nearest wastebasket and sends out a gentle thank-you-for-your-interest note instead.
Fleishman, meanwhile, denies that he has ever tried to have Caray fired ("Never, never—that's not my role!") and, in fact, relates that when Anheuser-Busch purchased the Cardinals in 1953 it was he who convinced Gussie Busch to keep Caray at the mike. Of course, he did not foresee the fun to follow. "About six years ago," Fleishman says, "Harry called me a liar in a dispute over a contractual matter. I said, 'The fact that you call me a liar doesn't make me one. Only the facts can do that.' This was in Mr. Busch's presence." Busch wearily ordered them to knock it off and shake hands. "But we've really gotten along—amazingly enough," Fleishman says.
Caray agrees this is so. "But I never walk with my back to him," he says.
Unable to purge himself of his unruly bleacherite ways, Caray goes on inviting little enemy fires around his existence which, on an annual income somewhat in excess of $100,000, is cushy indeed. Besides broadcasting Cardinal baseball, he does a daily 10-minute sports show on KMOX and broadcasts University of Missouri football. "When he hollers 'Touchdown!' " says one Caray critic, "your ears can fall off." The father of five children, two by his present wife, Marian, and three by an earlier marriage, Caray lives in an exclusive suburb called Ladue, in a 10-room colonial-style house with heated swimming pool, three French poodles, a black Labrador retriever and a shaggy Sicilian donkey named Buzzy. The donkey is a result of a conversation Gussie Busch and Caray had at the side of the Caray pool.