Harry Caray, who took millions of fans out to the ballgame on radio and television, died Wednesday, four days after collapsing at a Valentine’s Day dinner. He was believed to be 77.
In a career spanning almost 60 years, the often offbeat Hall of Fame broadcaster covered baseball’s greats from Musial to Mays to Maddux. Holy Cow! as he would say.
“We’re going to miss old Harry,” Hall of Famer Stan Musial said. “He was always the life of the party, the life of baseball.”
Caray had a heart attack Saturday at a nightclub-restaurant while with his wife, Dutchie, near their winter home. He died of brain damage caused by the attack, said Harlan Corenman, Eisenhower Medical Center spokesman.
A broadcaster since 1941, Caray became a household name through his Chicago Cubs’ games for WGN-TV, carried nationally by many cable systems. He was immediately recognizable for his thick, oversized glasses and raspy, sing-along rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” over the public address system during the seventh-inning stretch.
Caray was a broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals for 25 years and for the Chicago White Sox for 11 years before moving across town to Wrigley Field in 1982.
During his 15 years with the hapless Cubs, he was fond of spelling names backward and mentioning fans, including his favorite bartenders, who were visiting the ballpark.
“Happy Birthday to So-and-So. … Happy Anniversary to So-and-So. That’s always been my way of acknowledging the fans,” he wrote in his 1989 autobiography, “Holy Cow.”
Another favorite Caray exclamation was “It might be, it could be, it is - a home run!” and he’d shout “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” after each Chicago home victory. He said he developed his trademark phrases during a semipro baseball tourney at Battle Creek, Mich.
“Nobody could sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ like he could,” said First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, a lifelong Cubs fan. “And I hope he’s doing a seventh-inning rendition in heaven.”
Jack Buck, also a member of the announcer’s wing of the Hall of Fame, remembered auditioning for the job he got with the Cardinals in 1953.
“They sent me a tape of him and said, ‘We want you to be like him,”’ Buck said. “But there was no way I could do that. There’s only one guy who could broadcast like him.”
Added longtime Dodgers announcer Vin Scully: “He could be critical, contentious and bombastic, or he could be lovable and full of praise. … People in the bleachers, as well as the man in the box seat, knew they shared their love of baseball with a true fan.”
In Chicago, few sports figures were as loved as Caray. Fond of beer, he was known around town as the “Mayor of Rush Street,” a popular nightclub district, and his downtown restaurant has remained popular since its 1987 opening.
In later years as Caray’s health began to fail, his broadcasts were full of scrambled names and other mistakes. He often complained that criticism of his broadcasting skills began only after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.
Caray had recently reduced his broadcasting on WGN. He cut out road trips in 1997, saying they were “a grind for ballplayers, and they can be pretty tough on announcers, too.”
And in December, it was announced that his grandson, Chip Caray, would join him and analyst sidekick Steve Stone in broadcasting Cubs home games. At the time, the veteran broadcaster said he had no plans to leave the booth anytime soon, but he admitted the station probably had a successor in mind when it hired his grandson.
This wasn’t Caray’s first bout with health problems.
He had a stroke in February 1987 while playing cards with friends at the Canyon Country Club in Palm Springs, Calif., where he and his third wife, Dutchie, lived in the off-season.
It was the first opening day in the broadcast booth Caray had missed since World War II. During his absence, he was replaced as WGN-TV play-by-play man by Stone and a throng of pinch-hitters, including comedian Bill Murray and columnist George Will.
Caray returned to the booth May 19 of that same year, and President Reagan telephoned Wrigley Field to welcome him back.
Caray was born Harry Christopher Carabina in St. Louis. His precise age was unclear; he brushed aside questions about it. The Cubs media guide said he was born March 1, 1920, but other accounts had him as much as five years older.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said it had a copy of his birth certificate that listed his birth date as March 1, 1914, which would have made him 83.
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