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THE BIG WIND IN CHICAGO
Ron Fimrite
September 18, 1978
White Sox announcer Harry Caray, a fan's fan, has swept the Windy City by storm, stirring things up on the airwaves and on State Street
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September 18, 1978

The Big Wind In Chicago

White Sox announcer Harry Caray, a fan's fan, has swept the Windy City by storm, stirring things up on the airwaves and on State Street

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It was the shank of a summer evening in Chicago—and Harry Caray, the inimitable White Sox broadcaster, was sauntering up State Street sipping a banana daiquiri. Harry's wee-hours constitutionals, particularly those undertaken in the drinking quarter where State and Rush streets converge, have become the occasion for impromptu civic celebrations. Hordes of revelers trail him along the streets, shouting, "Hey, Harry," or chanting his name, "Har-ree...Har-ree." Cabdrivers stall traffic to hail him. Barflies press against dusty windows seeking a glimpse of him. "Hey, Harry" is a cry strangers to the Windy City hear about as often in the witching hours as they expect to hear "stick 'em up."

In the face of such adulation, Harry exhibits a generosity of spirit common only to those who know they deserve the best. He stops to chat and sign autographs. His manner is engaging, familiar: "Hiya, sweetheart.... Whaddya say, pal?" Earlier in the evening, Harry had hit a couple of spots, and in each he was accorded the sort of welcome John Travolta might receive should he appear in the girls' locker room of a small-town junior high school. "Hey, Harry!" "You're the greatest, Harry." "Hey, Harry, say hello to the people of the world." This had been a day like any other in his life, which is to say, utterly chaotic, a continuing test of his pluck and durability.

Harry had arisen brightly that morning after a revivifying four hours of sleep. He placed a call to Jon Matlack, the Texas Ranger pitcher, identifying himself as Brad Corbett to the hotel operator when informed that Mr. Matlack was not in his room. It is Harry's conviction that even baseball players will return telephone calls if the caller is someone of recognizable financial clout, and Corbett is the principal owner of the Texas baseball team. Harry wanted to discuss with Matlack some intemperate remarks the pitcher had made to the press, to the effect that Harry should be "killed" or, at minimum, have "his lights punched out" for saying on the air that the tumultuous booing Matlack's teammate, Richie Zisk, had received from Chicago fans was richly merited.

Zisk, a White Sox player last year, had himself been critical of Chicago fans, a sin in Harry's eyes comparable to denouncing the game itself. Matlack returned the call and Harry said he would see him in the visitors' clubhouse at Comiskey Park that evening. There Harry found Matlack to be more contrite than murderous. Zisk was less conciliatory, but he concluded a protracted harangue ambiguously by insisting, "You say anything you want, Harry. O.K.?" Harry, ever unflappable, agreed he would do just that. When the crowd booed Zisk even more ferociously that night, Harry apologized, in a way. "There must be something wrong with your television sets," he advised his listeners.

After the game, Harry had a grand time recounting these infantile confrontations in the Bards Room, Comiskey Park's press lounge, but he had tired of the subject by the time he sat down to his midnight supper at the Cafe Bohemia with a party that included his third wife, Dutchie; Fred Brzozowski, a part owner of the Sox; and restaurateur Jimmy Gallios. Dutchie (real name, Delores) is a St. Louis girl who has known Harry long enough to be more amused by his indefatigable pub-crawling than intolerant of it. She can even stay with him on the shorter stretches. Harry is a stocky man of at least 59, with curly gray hair, a florid complexion and lips that, when still, are seen to be thick. He wears enormous spectacles, which give him the aspect of a gigantic guppy. And yet his is a pleasant face, one that scores of women seem to have found agreeable.

The party at the Cafe Bohemia moved right along, largely thanks to Harry, who urged Gallios, a dark, wry man, to recall his misadventures in pursuit of a striptease artist named Justa Dream. It was for love of the ravishing Justa, lamented Gallios, that he purchased the disreputable cocktail lounge in the old Hotel Majestic where she performed. It was not, he said, a prudent investment, particularly after the place nearly burned down when a customer threw a monkey into the light fixtures in back of the bar.

Later, Harry deposited a mildly protesting Dutchie—"Harry, don't you ever give up?"—in their apartment in the Ambassador East Hotel and set off on his rounds. His last stop was the Hotsie Totsie Club on Division near State, where he was literally served one for the road. Normally a Scotch, vodka or beer man, Harry favors a banana daiquiri as a nightcap, and since it was closing time at the Hotsie Totsie and he is, after all, Harry, he was allowed to transport the confection with him from the premises.

He was walking and sipping and talking with a companion when he was approached on State Street by two professional women, who embarked upon a familiar spiel. There were lamentations over the plight of the lonely middle-aged man and pointed suggestions as to how this deplorable state might, for one evening at least, be alleviated. The conversation had not gone far when one of the women stopped abruptly in mid-pitch. "Hey." she chirped, "you're Harry Caray, aren't you?" Harry cheerfully confirmed his identity. "How 'bout that," the woman said to her co-worker. " Harry Caray." A somewhat restructured conversation ensued, much of it pertaining to baseball. Harry complimented the women on their pleasing appearance and the eloquence of their presentation. He was a married man again, he said apologetically, so any association beyond the agreeable one they were now enjoying would be indiscreet. The women wanted no more of him, they protested, than an autograph. Harry signed an old dance bid or something, and the women continued on their appointed rounds.

"That was nothing," said Harry. "About seven years ago my car stalled outside the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, where I used to spend a lot of time. I was sitting there, about four in the morning, cursing my bad luck, when these two guys came up to me. Each of them stuck a gun in my ribs. Hoo boy! Then one of them said, 'Hey, Harry. It's you, isn't it? What're you doing out this late? Are you one of us?' I'd been a broadcaster in St. Louis for 25 years, you know, so I was pretty well known there. Well, this guy put his gun away and we just stood there jawing about baseball. They forgot they were mugging me, and I forgot I was being mugged. We were all just fans. I signed a couple of autographs, and they took off without taking a nickel."

If nothing else, such escapes from the clutches of the lawless serve to dramatize Harry's extraordinary popularity in the communities where he broadcasts. But popularity is too pallid a word to describe Harry's relationship with his listeners. He seems to them not so much an announcer doing the old play-by-play as one of them who has somehow gained access to a microphone. His grievances, his prejudices, his obsessions are theirs. When the team is going badly, Harry howls with despair along with them; when it is going well, he exults as they do. The fact is, Harry is a fan. He is a survivor of a time when baseball announcers were neither retired athletes nor be-wigged egomaniacs but somewhat truer voices of the people.

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