For a full minute
Griesedieck stared at Caray. Finally he said, "Dammit, you're
Off and running,
Caray battled the competition—play-by-play man Johnny O'Hara and his famous
sidekick, folksy Dizzy Dean'—with his breathless excitement. It is said that
Dean, seated in a booth adjacent to Caray's, one day overheard Caray describe a
routine infield play in terms suited to a miracle of acrobatics, whereupon Diz
leaned into Caray's booth and slowly shook his head, as if to say, "Are we
broadcasting the same game?"
The next year,
1946, Caray made his big breakthrough. That season the Cardinals forged into
the thick of the pennant race, whipping public interest to a fever pitch.
Accordingly, the radio stations decided that on days when the Cardinals were
playing on the road and the Browns were idle or rained out, the Cardinal game
would be broadcast in "recreated" form—that is, the announcers would
broadcast from their St. Louis studios, giving the play-by-play as it came in
on a Western Union ticker. The chief flaw in this arrangement was that the
ticker frequently broke down, sometimes for as long as five minutes, leaving
the listening audience with deadly stretches of silence or meaningless helpings
of trivia from the announcers. Caray, however, put his wits to work.
"I developed a
helluva flair," he says. "When the ticker slowed up or broke down, I'd
create an argument on the ball field. Or I'd have a sandstorm blowing up and
the ballplayers calling time to wipe their eyes. Hell, all the ticker tape
carried was the bare essentials—B1, S1, B2, B3. So I used the license of
imagination, without destroying the basic facts, you understand. A foul ball
was 'a high foul back to the rail, the catcher is racing back, he can't get
it—a pretty blonde in a red dress, amply endowed, has herself a souvenir!'
" It sold Griesedieck beer.
Also it sold Caray
to Cardinal club owner Sam Breadon the next year when Breadon assigned
exclusive radio rights to a single station. Choosing Caray's Griesedieck beer
over O'Hara's and Dean's Falstaff, Breadon told Caray, "You put people in
my ball park." In the years since, Caray has proceeded on a course that
somehow has continued through four Cardinal presidents—Breadon, Bob Hannegan,
Fred Saigh Jr. and Busch—and enough strife to reduce the ordinary play-by-play
man to quivering jelly. Regarded, for example, as a second-guessing so-and-so
by onetime Cardinal Manager Eddie Dyer, Caray reported to club headquarters one
day in 1950 for a press conference at which Dyer was scheduled to announce his
resignation. "Stay out of the room," Saigh told Caray, blocking the
entrance. Dyer had warned Saigh that if he laid eyes on Caray he would
punctuate his swan song by belting him in the teeth.
said Caray. "He saw me yesterday. He had a chance to punch me
"Do me a
favor," Saigh said wearily. "Just stay away, will you?"
The St. Louis
press devoted generous space, possibly with relish, to Saigh's quarantining of
Caray in an anteroom. Understandably, the newspapermen bore him little love,
for on his increasingly popular afternoon sportscast, Sports Digest, he had
adopted a tired, but nevertheless effective, artifice: "You won't read this
in the papers, but"—as if to convey that only he shared his information
with the public.
Though his radio
fans multiplied, Caray's pugnacity inevitably carried him to a precipice
overlooking oblivion, where he teetered on an evening in 1957. That year
Cardinal General Manager Frank Lane resigned, embittered by interference from
Busch's brewery lieutenants. Soon after Busch held a formal dinner party at his
home, Grant's Farm. The guest list consisted of the Carays and a dozen
important St. Louis men and their wives. During cocktails Busch hovered about
Caray, repeatedly asking him, "What do you think about Lane? Don't you
think we're better off?"
Busch's questions, but Busch persisted into dinner. "All right," said
Caray finally, "if you're forcing me to, I think Frank Lane would have been
great, just perfect, if there weren't so many stumbling blocks thrown into his
path. Hell, are you kidding?" he roared at Busch. "Who the hell do you
have who can carry Frank Lane's briefcase?"