Harry Caray Almost Killed 49 Years Ago Today!

 Harry Caray Almost Killed 49 Years Ago Today!

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 Salute to Hall-of-Famer Harry Caray!

Now that the 2017 World Series is over (and congrats to all the Astro fans!), it’s time to take care of some unfinished business.

For the longest time I’ve been wanting to turn the spotlight on the many wonderful baseball broadcasters who, over the years, have done so much to make the game fun and exciting.  And, as we all know, there’s been some great ones.

If you’re like me, you may prefer the old days when “homers” weren’t so polished, politically correct, and weren’t afraid to actually have a good time at the game. It’s baseball, it’s supposed to be fun!

They also weren’t afraid to inject a large dose of their own personality into their calls. Most would outwardly root for their team. They would get emotionally “worked up” when good things happened on the field; and visibly upset when the team played poorly or lost a close lost. The best ones always knew how to pass this excitement along to their audience…and the game was always fun listening either on the radio or watching on TV.

On the one hand we have old-school announcers like Russ Hodges with his memorable call in 1951 (no matter how many times I’ve heard it, I still get goose bumps!): “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” We also have Harry Caray slobbering out: “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win! after every Cub victory. Or Ken Harrelson with his signature home run call: “You can put it on the board…Yes!!”

On the other hand, we have announcers who prefer to let the camera pan the stands and let the “crowd paint the picture” after an exciting finish to a close game.

It’s just personal preference. You’re certainly free to disagree. But for my money, I’ll take the “homers” any old day…

And what better example is there than Harry Caray!

I chose to start this series on broadcaster with a tribute to Harry, because today is the anniversary of the day back in 1968 when Harry almost “met his maker” a bit prematurely. On November 3, 1968, 49 years ago, Harry was struck by a car at 1:15 A.M, trying to cross the Kings Highway near the Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis. Let’s not ask what Harry was doing out at that hour, trying to cross a busy highway!

It was a rainy Sunday morning and Harry was lucky to survive. He was reportedly knocked 40 feet in the air and suffered two broken legs, a broken nose, and a dislocated shoulder. I wasn’t surprised to read that his hospital room became “party central.” He somehow recovered from all this to make it to the Cardinals’ Opening Day! Always the showman, Harry dramatically threw aside his two canes and walked to the broadcast booth under his own power after a pre-game tribute.

Harry spent 55 years in the broadcast booth (1942-1997) calling games for the Cardinals (1945-1969), Browns (1945-’46), Athletics (1970), White Sox (1971-’81), and Cubs (1982-’97). Harry had many broadcast partners over the years. His first was Gabby Street, who old-time baseball fans will recognize at the Cardinals’ manager in the pennant years of 1930 and ’31. Other notable partners include Joe Garagiola, Jack Buck, Jimmy Piersall, and Steve Stone.

The fun-loving Harry Caray may be most remembered for his “rendition” of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” sung during the seventh inning stretch. It began while he was with the White Sox. It was show-boat owner Bill Veeck who came up with the idea. He noticed Harry liked to hum the song along with organist Nancy Faust. Harry initially wanted no part of it; but Veeck could be persuasive, and Harry reluctantly agreed. The rest, as they say, is history: the shtick become famous and continued after Harry joined the Cubs in 1982. Thanks to WGN, it gathered a much larger audience and became Harry’s trademark. The tradition is still continued today under the (obnoxious) “guest-conductor” at Cub home games, 20 years after Harry’s death.  

Over his career, Harry Caray added a lot to the baseball lexicon. Here’s just a small sampling off the top of my head of some great “Harryism”:

“Ho-o-ly Cow!”

“Ah…you can’t beat fun at the old ball park!” (Usually said after the camera panned on some pretty young thing).

“Honestly compels me to say…” (Usually said after some egregious Cub error).

Steve, why don’t you say on the air what you tell me between innings…” (Said to partner Steve Stone

“It might be! It could be! It is! (Harry’s signature home run call)

“On the run! On the run! On the run! Sensational catch…!”

“All right! Lemme hear ya! Ah-One! Ah-Two! Ah-Three…!” (Harry’s intro to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”).

Harry Caray was the Ford Frick Award winner in 1989, and was inducted to the broadcast wing of the Hall of Fame.

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Information: Excerpts edited from the Harry Caray Wikipedia page.

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I’m a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

4 Comments

  1. Rik · November 4, 2017 Reply

    Grew up listening to Gene Elston and Loel Passe but was exposed to Harry as a kid through my grandmother, a Cardinal fan living in Oklahoma
    Another shtick of Harry’s that I recall, at least during his days with the Cubs, was to announce how a player’s name spelled backwards would sound. I recall him doing Galarraga and it sounded as if he was gargling rocks

  2. Ed · November 4, 2017 Reply

    Another of my favorite Harryisms was, “That wouldn’t have been a home run in a phone booth.”

  3. Gary Livacari · November 10, 2017 Reply

    Here’s some interesting word on Harry Caray from one of our readers, Pat Kennedy:

    “I’m a 63-year-old die-hard Sox fan…emphasis on the “die”. My Dad immediately after WWII had a job in Peoria where Cardinal games were easily heard on the radio.

    When I was a kid growing up in Chicago, my Dad would occasionally bust into his Harry impersonation (after a few Old Styles!). I remember thinking there is no way anyone can be that crazy of an announcer. My only opportunity hearing Harry as a kid was when NBC would allow the local announcers do a few innings on the World Series telecast (so for Harry this would be ’64, ’67, & ’68). Because these were nationally televised broadcasts, Harry had to be a bit subdued, but you could tell there was ‘crackling’ excitement in his voice. After this initial exposure, I would on occasion at night tune in KMOX to hear him, and would realize my Dad was pretty accurate with his impersonation (I would also do this to listen to Dan Kelly – St. L Blues announcer…another classic btw!).
    When I was in high school, Harry came to the White Sox…OMG!! Harry initially only did radio, and had an attendance clause in his contract…are you kidding me?!? He immediately became the pied-piper, and it was Harry, Dick Allen, and Roland Hemond that saved the Sox from leaving town. His broadcasts on radio gave me, my buddies, and my dad…goose-bumps! He had incredible enthusiasm, energy, honesty, and love for baseball. I spent more than a couple afternoons out in centerfield when Harry did his broadcasts from out there (with his cooler loaded with Falstaff Beer…that he handed out to patrons!!…try doing that today).

    It wasn’t long before Harry was on TV as well, splitting time between TV and radio. In ’77 (South-Side Hit Men!) was when he was paired with Jimmy Piersall! Wow…what a summer, and what a combo! Harry and Jimmy together were amazing. The both of them actually elevated each other. They were enthusiastic and brutally honest…and the fans loved them!

    Harry eventually left the Sox because of the new owners “failed” pay-per-view attempt called SportVision. There was also mutual contempt between both sides…bad move!

    I have several CD’s with Harry clips from his days with the Sox, and at his peak prime with his hometown team the Cardinals. The Cardinal material is as good, if not better, than when he was with the Sox. You can find a lot of this on the internet, you just need to hunt for it.

    A couple summers back I visited the Cardinal HOF and made a point to introduce myself to the Mgr. Director. I told him his HOF was void of the voice of the Cardinals for 25 years, and he and his assistant agreed. I told him there was a ton of material out there, and would loan what I have if they desired…hopefully, they get it done.

    Anyone with the amazing DVD “When It Was a Game” will spot in Part II, multiple, beautiful, color clips from Sportsman Park of the ’46 – playoff game against the Dodgers, and World Series between the Red Sox and Cardinals. The camera is positioned at field level behind home plate looking straight down the 1st base line…and low and behold what do you see 310 ft. away…a yellow Griesedieck Beer sign promoting Harry Caray and Gabby Street doing Cardinal games on WTMV 1490 and WEW 770!!

    Great stuff…wish I was there…someday…

    Miss you Harry!!”

    Pat Kennedy

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