Even before the
World Series got under way Wednesday, it was shudderingly clear that one result
was as predictable as bunting on the commissioner's box: millions of television
and radio listeners, whose eardrums may have healed in the year since the
Cardinal-Boston Series, are once again going to be exposed to a feverish clamor
coming from a Cardinal delegate to the NBC broadcasting team. It was equally
certain that across America the baseball public would then divide into two
camps—those who exclaimed that by God! Harry Caray was almost as exciting as
being at the park and those who prayed he would be silenced by an immediate
attack of laryngitis. Caray, should you be among the few who still have not
heard him, is an announcer who can be heard shrieking above the roar of the
crowd when a hitter puts the ultimate in wood to the ball: "There she
goes...! Line drive...! It might be...it could be...it is! Home run...! Ho-lee
cowl!" You may not know that with a second home run his more dignified
colleagues have preferred to flee the broadcasting booth before the ball has
cleared the fence.
In the past decade
the trend of play-by-play broadcasting has been decidedly in the direction of
mellow, impassive reporting, a technique that strikes Harry Caray as being
about as appropriate as having Walter Cronkite broadcast a heavyweight
championship fight. "This blas� era of broadcasting!" Caray grumbles.
" 'Strike one. Ball one. Strike two.' It probably hurts the game more than
anything, and this at a time when baseball is being so roundly criticized."
Never one to burden himself with restraint, Caray more or less began hoisting
the 1968 pennant over Busch Stadium clear back in early July when, following a
Cardinal victory, he bellowed, "The magic number is 92!"
The fact is that
Harry Caray's 24 years of broadcasting St. Louis baseball have been one long
crusade for pennants, a stance that might be expected to have endeared him to
all Cardinals past and present, but which, on the contrary, has left a
scattered trail of athletes who would have enjoyed seeing him transferred to
Ping-Pong broadcasts in Yokohama.
got against you anyway, Meat?" asks Mrs. Jim Brosnan in a passage from The
Long Season, a reminiscence her pitcher-husband wrote in 1960.
"To hell with
Tomato-Face," answers Brosnan. "He's one of those emotional radio guys.
All from the heart, y'know? I guess he thinks I'm letting the Cardinals down,
and he's taking it as a personal insult."
ought to spit tobacco juice on his shoe, or something. It's awful the way he
blames you for everything."
Brosnan's peevish prose with equanimity now that Brosnan is out of baseball.
"I've seen him many times since," he says, "and we get along
splendidly. Of course," Caray adds, repaying Brosnan with a needle straight
to the ego, "he doesn't throw the home run ball anymore."
In the prudent
little world of sports announcers most men stand ready to go to the North Pole,
if necessary, to avoid any conflict. The announcer is hired and fired by the
ball club or sponsor, or by the two in concert; he is, in short, an
organization man, whose paycheck is a writ of mandamus that says, "Be
positive." Inasmuch as the Cardinals are owned by a brewery,
Anheuser-Busch, Inc., and in a sense are a continuous promotional campaign for
its various beers, their announcer figures to be positive through hell, 6% and
10-game losing streaks. But the trouble with Harry Caray—born, orphaned at 10
and raised in St. Louis—is that he has never got it through his head that he is
not still sitting in the bleachers, still endowed with the right to issue a
"Harry is a
fan," says Cardinal Manager Red Schoendienst. "Hell, he dies with the
Cardinals." Their acts of heroism move him to deafening cheers, but their
failures make his teeth grind. And because his exasperation leaks from his lips
into his microphone, he has been despised by more than one Cardinal manager,
denounced in print by a clutch of Cardinal players and called onto the carpet
so often that it is almost threadbare. Pinching his forefinger and thumb
together, Caray says, "I can't tell you how many times I've been this close
to getting fired."
A fairly typical
example of Caray's attraction to turbulence involves Eddie (The Brat) Stanky.
As he lunches at Busch's Grove, a posh suburban St. Louis restaurant not owned
by Cardinal President Gussie Busch, Caray traces Stanky's antipathy toward him.
Caray's face is, as Brosnan suggested, right off a tomato counter, but at 51, a
thickset man measuring a fraction of an inch under six feet, he is a picture of
sophisticated leisure. Fresh from a $15 tonsorial treatment by Walter of the
Colony Salon, his wavy hair is graying gracefully. He wears a black blazer,
white turtleneck, tattersall slacks, white loafers and, of course, large
sunglasses. He orders another Scotch sour—"Have Otis make it," he
specifies to the waiter—and then delves to the bottom of the Stanky-Caray
Seventeen Years War.