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June 22, 2012

HOVG Heroes: Skip Caray


My father was one of the most unique people I have ever met, simply because he was able to establish himself as a great broadcaster by taking on a style drastically different from the one my grandfather portrayed.

Harry was bombastic, Skip was mellow.

Harry was a homer, Skip was cavalier.

Harry lived and died with every pitch, Skip took every game in stride.

To listen to the two, you would have never known they were related. But regardless of style, dad achieved iconic status by simply being himself. To make things more impressive, while Harry built his legacy in the thriving baseball metropolises of St. Louis and Chicago, dad did it in a city that, until 1991, had as much interest in baseball as America has in water polo.

In 1976, the Atlanta Braves were on the verge of moving to Toronto when Ted Turner, in sheer brilliance (and maybe lunacy), bought a floundering baseball team that had drawn a mere 534,000 fans the year before. Turner then took his acquisition a step further and, in an unprecedented move, put the vast majority of his team’s games on a nationwide superstation (TBS). Mind you, this was before ESPN, FOX Sports, or even WGN. Turner was the first to promote nightly, televised major-league baseball. In so doing, he may well have saved the future of the Atlanta Braves.

But in order for this endeavor to work, Turner needed voices; ringmasters for the beautiful circus that is baseball. He wound up finding three men, so different in style, he covered the spectrum in broadcasting decorum.

1) Ernie Johnson Sr.-Before his son became the host for TNT’s "Inside the NBA," Johnson was the Braves version of Vin Scully. A former player and WWII vet, Johnson brought the grandfatherly, campfire, story-telling vibe that so many try to emulate, but so few accomplish.

2) Pete Van Wieren-"The Professor" as he was affectionately known was just that; a professor of baseball. Pete could recite box scores, game stories, and historical occurrences at the drop of a hat. There was no one who out-prepared Pete Van Wieren. He was simply one of the great broadcasting minds of his generation.

3) Skip Caray-The "Voice of Braves Fans." The smart-aleck cynic who would crack jokes and make fun of the team’s misfortunes, which were quite frequent in his first 15 years in the booth. As Pete was reciting a statistic, or Ernie was telling a story, dad was talking about the guy in the stands with the funny hat.

And that’s the way it was. Three men, three different personalities who came together to bring some of the best baseball broadcasting there has ever been. Quite remarkable when you consider just how bad the Braves were in the 70s and 80s. As dad said just before a game during one of those low years: "Like lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field."

So what made my dad special? Very simple; he didn’t care what you thought, he didn’t care what you said, and he didn’t care how he was perceived. He took what he saw on the field and said whatever was on his mind. Did he make enemies in the process? Yes. Would my dad’s style work today? No. But it worked at a time when those Braves broadcasts needed some humor to make those difficult summers bearable. Even Ted Turner saw it. Dad would rip his own boss’s ball club and be allowed to do it because, quite frankly, it was the truth.

He brought laughter when, as a Braves fan, there wasn’t a lot to laugh about, which I suppose is what made him so endearing to fans. He wasn’t afraid to say what the typical fan sitting in aisle 102 would. That’s why he was the "Voice of Braves Fans."

Whether or not my father gets into the Hall of Fame is irrelevant. Fans of his say it’s an injustice that he’s not in already. But really, when you consider that other greats such as Johnson, Van Wieren, Tom Cheek, and Joe Nuxhall haven’t gotten their just dues, there really isn’t that much to complain about.

Dad was inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame in 2004 and that was good enough for him. I just hope that the folks at ESPN and FOX remember that the pioneers to nightly baseball broadcasts were my dad, Pete, Ernie, and Ted Turner. If not for them and the success they created, who knows what would have become of sports networks. The chances they took and the broadcasts they gave paved the way for the 24-hour sports news cycle.

As for me, I miss my father. He was a strong guide early in my career and every success that I garner is lessened by the fact that he is gone. But I am strengthened in knowing that he brought so many smiles and so much excitement to so many people.

And if the Braves can ever achieve another World Series win, many fans are going to reiterate a phrase that my father made so popular:

Braves Win! Braves Win! Braves Win!


Josh Caray is a veteran minor-league broadcaster who, currently, is working as a news reporter for All News 106.7 FM in Atlanta.  Feel free to check out Caray's Friday Five from April 2011.


John Sharp said...

Josh, great story about your Dad. I came to Jacksonville, FL. in DEC 1980, and in the spring of '81 I was introduced to every day baseball on TV on TBS. Your Dad, and those terrific partners made watching baseball on TV fun. I'm a Detroit Tigers fan, but 31 years ago I became a fan of your Dad and Braves baseball.

Dick Allen Hall of Fame said...

Very nice Josh!

I learned to love baseball listening to your grandfather call the White Sox in the mid 1970's and grew to understand and appreciate the game listening to your father call the Braves in the 1980's.

Keith said...

I grew up in Atlanta and Skip was the best. I compiled some funny Skip quotes from fans at the Braves website and I was amazed at the outpouring of love for Skip from all over the country after he left us.

- Fans favorite Skip moments -

- The Braves were playing the Reds I believe and a relief pitcher whose last name was Coffee had just entered the game for the Reds. Skip comes back after the call to the bullpen and says, “Well, the Braves are going to try to cream coffee here in the 7th.”

- A couple years ago the Braves were beating up on the D-back's and they brought in a reliever with a funny name... Skip says "Look out boys, here comes Lou Poot!"

- "Its a partial sellout." - Skip trying not to say the game had only drawn 6000 fans.

- My wife was watching the Braves one night and she said the camera had somebody picking their nose and Skip said "I sure hope they find what they are looking for."
My wife said she laughed so hard at Skip that she was crying.

- Braves playing the Giants at Fulton Co Stadium and it’s August so the Braves are way, way out of the race. About 2,000 people left in the stands and the game is in
about the 15th inning. Pete mentions that the such and such senior citizens home is at the game. Skip says “they were young when they got here”.

- At the start of their first game ever vs. the D-Backs, Skip looks right into the camera and said “Hello Braves fans, the next person who says it’s a dry heat gets it in the neck."

- I remember years ago, Bob Horner had an infield hit and was running to first. Skip said, “Bob Horner has deceptive speed, he’s slower than he looks.”

- Skip hated the Wave. As part of his anti-Wave campaign, he sarcastically told his radio audience he would queue them up when the Wave came around so they could participate … unless, of course, they happened to be driving on the connector.

- The camera pans over to catch a glimpse of Chip Caray calling a Cubs game and Skip says calmly “Ugly little booger, isn’t he?”

- When Skip used to do games with the Aflac duck and it would squawk across the screen he'd tell the duck to shut

- And who could forget years ago when they would do the home run challenge and Skip would always read “Today’s contestant is Betty Hayes, who lives in a post office box in Cairo, Georgia.”

- Skip won me over as announcer when the Braves were losing by 10 runs in the 7th and he said, “This is as much fun as writing an alimony check”, he became my hero!

- Skip's Atlanta traffic reports: "285-Bad, 85-Bad, 75-Bad"

- My favorite Skip line… one game in San Francisco, the Braves had about eight hits, all of them doubles. “That’s not the Braves’ record for doubles,” Skip informed us. “Interestingly enough, that record was also set right here in San Francisco … one night over at Lefty O’Doul’s.”

- I'll never forget the day Skip announced that the crowd had "just started the first Don Sutton permanent wave of the day".

- Skip told so many great jokes, but one stands out in my mind: His attempt to interview the San Diego Chicken was typically hilarious. Of course, the mute chicken (Ted Giannoulas) never answered Skip's only question: "Why did you cross the road?" That routine epitomized Skip and his inimitable humor.

- My favorite Skip saying was when he was doing the Hawks solo and the Hawks were really stinking it up one night and Skip retorted "I’m just sure that this was not
what Dr. Naismith had in mind when he invented the game.”

- When talking about Chipper Jones' availability due to an injury, he said, "He is listed as day to day. But then again, aren't we all?"

- My favorite Skip Caray line: "The windup, and the pitch...right down the middle...for a ball???"

Keith said...

More Skip moments....

- One of my favorite moments was when the Braves went to Phoenix for the first time, and upon viewing the womanless, man-filled pool, he said, "..when I heard that there was a pool in this ballpark, this picture was not what I had in mind."

- On this particular day, the cameras panned to a well endowed woman with a low cut top going up the stadium stairs with a handful of drinks and food. She lost her
balance and almost lost everything (including her top). At this point Skip said, "We almost had a baseball first there. Two out before the start of the game".

- On opening a telecast for an afternoon "Businessman's Special" ...."Welcome to Braves baseball, and yet another afternoon "Businessman's Special"....the day that all 40 year old executives bring their 26 year old daughters to see our Braves."

- My favorite memory of Skip is probably early 80’s, Skip is doing an onfield post-game TV interview with Dale Murphy at Wrigley Field. Skip had on a really loud pink shirt. Some guy in the stands kept yelling, “Hey more pink shirts!!” Murphy was laughing so hard he couldn’t even answer any of Skip’s questions. Skip yells at the guy “OK, no more pink shirts, go out and play in the traffic will ya?”….By this point Murphy has completely lost it and can’t talk at all….Skip looks at him, dead serious, and says, “Murph I’m trying to make a living, help me out here will you?"

- My favorite Skip saying was when he was doing the NBA Hawks solo and the Hawks were really stinking it up one night and Skip retorted "I’m just sure that this was not
what Dr. Naismith had in mind when he invented the game.”

- "It's blue seat night, folks. Dress like a blue seat and get in free."

- "Giovanola to Graffanino to Pecorilli...double play. Somebody get me some pasta!"

- I remember watching the Braves when the subject of the Morman religion came up. Skip's question, "If you have seven wives, does that mean they each get their own
credit card?"

- During the 1999 pennant race: "We're ready for the first pitch, but we're waiting for ESPN to get its act together. Then again, we've been we've been waiting for 20 years."

- I remember a Braves game on back in the 80s against the Mets at Shea. The cameras showed a horde of fans coming off the subway beyond the outfield fences and Skip nonchalantly quipped: "I wonder how many of them still have their wallets".

- Back in the mid-80's when the team was awful, at the beginning of the game said: "Like lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field".

- On the statue of Stan Musial in front of Busch Stadium: “Man, that thing’s so ugly, even the pigeons ignore it….I hear Stan’s a bit of a magician – maybe he tried to
make it disappear.”

- "Wednesday night is Ladies' Night at the ballpark. Bring your wife, your girlfriend, or both."

- During a Hawks-Celtics TV game from Boston, the camera paused on a gentleman of advanced years with his arm cozily draped around a blonde in her 20’s and Skip commented, “How nice of that man to bring his niece to the game!”. Skip owned one of the quickest wits in broadcasting and was always an absolute pleasure to be around.

- Ted Turner reportedly told Caray to cool it with the criticisms that Caray heaped down on the Braves in the 70s. Caray responded by saying, “Have you seen the
standings recently?”

Turner said, “Good point. Say whatever you want.”

Keith said...

Last ones....

- After the Ted Turner issued ban on the use of the word “foreign” on the Turner family of networks - "I think Terry Pendleton has an international object in his eye.”

- One day, at Skip & Pete's BBQ @ Turner Field, my son & I got an autograph from Skip. He asked if we were going to try the BBQ. We said yes, and he said "good, because I need the money".

- The commercials between the innings had just ended, and the game resumed. As that happened, the camera had been aimed at some gorgeous blonde in the stands (I assume it was the girlfriend/wife of a player who was known to the broadcast team). Skip said "You know what's wrong with that folks?.... Absolutely nothing."