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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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Suspecting a Busch blacklisting, Harry departed St. Louis after 1969 and took up with an unlikely new employer—Charles O. Finley. The anticipated clash of monster egos never fully materialized; Harry and Charlie got on famously during Harry's brief stay in Oakland. Harry did. however, come a cropper against a more fragile personality. Monte Moore had been Finley's announcer since Kansas City days, and he was understandably piqued at being supplanted as the No. 1 man by the rogue from St. Louis. "I could feel the knife in my back every time I walked into the booth," says Harry of his single season in Oakland. "We couldn't go on like that." Besides, Moore was a teetotaler and something of a Bible thumper. The situation was clearly intolerable. So Harry left the A's and joined the then downtrodden White Sox in 1971.

The terms of his new contract were unusual in that they were geared to Harry's reputation for putting "fannies in the seats." Stu Holcomb, then the Sox' executive vice-president, inserted an attendance clause that called for Harry to be paid a base annual salary of $50,000 with bonuses of $10,000 for every 100,000 spectators the Sox drew in excess of 600,000. In pre-Harry 1970 the Sox drew 495,355. In Harry's first year attendance climbed to 833,891. In 1972 it was 1,186,018, and in '73 it reached 1,316,527, the highest since 1960. Harry was by then making more in bonuses than he was in salary. The attendance provisions were discontinued after the '73 season.

Harry himself was nearly discontinued two years later by the team president. John Allyn. Harry had been feuding with Tanner, and Allyn made it abundantly clear whose side he was on during a television interview. Harry was watching another show when a newspaper friend called to suggest he catch his boss. Harry switched channels in time to see the end of an interview in which Allyn said that if he owned the team in 1976. Harry would not be back. It was Allyn, of course, who did not come back. The Sox were sold in '76 to a group headed by the redoubtable Veeck, and last year a team attendance record of 1,657,315 was established.

Even with Allyn and Tanner gone, Harry was not assured of a job. Veeck had been operating the perennially impoverished Browns in St. Louis at the same time that Harry was winning fans for the Cardinals. Harry sensed that the new White Sox president still held an old grudge against him, and at the outset of their interview nothing was said to disabuse him of this unpleasant notion. "Here I am talking to the man who ran me out of St. Louis," Harry recalls Veeck saying. "Yeah, me and Gussie Busch's millions," Harry retorted. Veeck laughed. Harry stayed. But the suspicion remains that Veeck might yet resent being upstaged in his own park. Would not the peg-legged entrepreneur prefer to be up there himself leading the cheers and songs?

"No, that's not Bill's style," says part owner Brzozowski. "Actually, his ego and Harry's go on like this." He moves his hands upward and parallel. "They don't cross." And Veeck does seem to appreciate Harry's antics, which, in Harry's view, is merely demonstrating good business sense. "I'm a walking advertisement for the White Sox," says Harry humbly. "That I relate to people is one heck of an asset to the team. And I don't make a nickel off the Sox anymore." Indeed, Harry is now paid by his radio and television stations, not by the White Sox; Veeck retains only the right to refuse his services.

Harry's current earnings for broadcasting Sox games—all of them on radio, 140 on television—are, by his accounting, as high as or higher than those of any announcer in baseball. He is probably worth it. "He's the most knowledgeable broadcaster in the game," says his color man, Jimmy Piersall, himself a personality of authenticated flamboyance. "A lot of play-by-play men have to pick your brains for information. Otherwise they're dead. Harry just knows the game."

It is Saturday, the day Harry does his broadcast from the centerfield bleachers in Comiskey Park. On this particular Saturday he is dressed in a powder-blue polo shirt and white shorts supported by a cloth belt emblazoned with the words HOLY cow. "When you got good wheels," says Harry, defending his apparel, "you show 'em."

Harry arrives at the ball park to the sounds of a familiar refrain: "Hey, Harry...Har-ree." He breezes through the crowd, signing programs and baseballs, commending a girl for looking smashing and advising her boyfriend that "with eyes like yours, pal, you could hit .300 in the big leagues." An elderly woman embraces him as he passes through the press gate. She is wearing a T shirt on which is written BEAUTY IS SKIN DEEP, UGLY GOES RIGHT TO THE BONE. Harry hugs her back. He enters the Bards Room, pausing long enough to down a screwdriver and distribute recordings of a new disco version of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, on which his superimposed voice shouts, "Holy Cow!" "The record's great," Harry tells the newsmen. "You can hardly hear me." He rejoins the fans, passing through the stands to the playing field. Along the way there is more handshaking, backslapping and choruses of "Hey, Harry."

Harry's high good humor is threatened when he is told by one of his television people that Veeck has ordered the bleachers closed because of a threat of rain. Harry bounces into the dugout and telephones Veeck in the Bards Room. "Bill, what's this about the bleachers being closed? Yeah, yeah, I know, but there's bright sunshine out here now." This is almost true.

Harry bounds out of the dugout. "O.K., O.K., the bleachers are open. Gotta do some work now." He will do interviews with fans, one for radio, one for TV. For radio, he picks an elderly gent named Francis Cavanaugh, who says he first saw a White Sox game in 1922. Harry asks him how good Babe Ruth was. "Best I ever saw," says Mr. Cavanaugh, whom Harry is now calling "my good friend." Harry gives his guest a digital watch and a hearty handshake.

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