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HARRY HAS HIS OWN WAYS
Myron Cope
October 07, 1968
Raucous, fun-loving St. Louis broadcaster Harry Caray, whose loud cry, 'Ho-lee cow!' thrills millions of Series listeners—and drives other millions up the wall—peels when it is hot, shags foul balls with his net and calls himself the last of the nonconformists
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October 07, 1968

Harry Has His Own Ways

Raucous, fun-loving St. Louis broadcaster Harry Caray, whose loud cry, 'Ho-lee cow!' thrills millions of Series listeners—and drives other millions up the wall—peels when it is hot, shags foul balls with his net and calls himself the last of the nonconformists

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"You're staying right here," Busch commanded. With that, he threw his arm around Caray and growled, "You son of a bitch. Are you afraid I'm going to fire you? Hell, if you'd have given me any other answer to that question about Lane, you would have been fired."

In retrospect Caray suspects—and Busch confirms the suspicion—that Busch knew of his admiration for Lane and deliberately had been putting his veracity to a test. "You see," says Caray, "everybody's got the idea that you gotta be a yes-man to Gussie Busch. Hell, he's the most democratic bastard in the world."

Certainly Caray stood in need of the democratic tycoon's goodwill when, four years later, the brewery hierarchy sat down to what one of them—a man named Curt Lohr—has described as the Court Martial of Harry Caray. The prelude to this crisis sounded when Caray popped up before his Sports Digest mike and read an editorial from a Lexington, Ky. newspaper condemning the St. Louis Hawks basketball club and the Boston Celtics for a lackluster exhibition they had played in Lexington. "The gist of it was that you saw more action in a University of Kentucky practice session than in an NBA game," Caray says. In almost less time than it takes to say "I'll have a Bud," the long tentacles of the advertising industry had Caray by the throat.

Gardner Advertising of St. Louis, you see, had just come off a hard sell to Hawks club owner Ben Kerner, persuading him to switch Hawks broadcasts from Falstaff to Busch beer. Caray's Sports Digest also was sponsored by Busch. So Kerner bearded the Gardner boys in their lair and said in effect, "First you tell me how much you love me and in the next breath you're letting that guy blast my property." Gardner raced into conference with Anheuser-Busch executives, then fired off a telegram to Caray informing him that he was suspended indefinitely from the air.

Caray at once suspected a plot to rid the airwaves of him once and for all. "I think it was a squeeze play," he says. Kerner, he believes, was trying to pave the way for his friend Buddy Blattner to seize Caray's chair in the Cardinal broadcasting booth. "And the agency felt that I'm hard to control." For four months Caray remained suspended while broadcasting people, a species that by instinct can spot a vulture 20 yards and beat it to a dying body, buzzed excitedly that Caray was a goner.

Finally, the Gardner admen called for a meeting to settle his fate. Busch presided, surrounded by his big guns in advertising, P.R. and beer sales. Through the room ran the sentiment that life would be simpler if Caray's contract were terminated. But then, as Busch patiently heard each man in turn, he at last got to Curt Lohr. Lohr, a stocky, fair-skinned man who at the time headed the brewery's sales in the St. Louis area, spoke his piece bluntly.

"All Caray did," he said, "was read an editorial that was printed in a newspaper that already had been read wherever it was circulated. What this boils down to is a personality clash. A good company does not deal in personalities."

Now Busch himself spoke. "Has everybody had his say?" he asked. "O.K., then pack up your briefcases and get the hell out of here. You've taken up enough of my time. If you think I'm gonna fire the greatest broadcaster in baseball just because you people can't get along with him, you're crazy."

Actually, with each passing crisis, Caray has seemed to grow stronger. He wound up, ironically, doing telecasts of Ben Kerner's Hawks games, while his eldest son, Skip Caray, did the Hawks' radio broadcasts. Busch gives Caray absolute freedom of speech, although Busch points out that "I can go crazy when he gives it that 'Ho-lee cow, it's going out of here!' and then it's a foul ball." In recent years both insiders and the general public have come to suspect that Caray is a power behind the Cardinal throne—a voice in Busch's ear telling him which Cardinals to value and which to get rid of. Cardinal Public Relations Director Bob Harlan recalls that when he spoke at a smoker in a southern Illinois town, a fan in the audience asked him if it was Caray who persuaded the club to trade Ray Sadecki to San Francisco for Orlando Cepeda. "Nobody laughed, either," says Harlan.

"Caray plays cards with Gussie, doesn't he?" notes a St. Louis sports-writer pointedly. Caray not only does, Busch agrees with a wry smile, but vehemently accuses him of cheating.

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