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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Legend Named Harry

"The Mayor of Rush Street"

Too bad that Harry Caray is not around to enjoy this season as sportscaster of the Chicago Cubs. I can hear him now....."Cubs win!!!! Cubs win!!!". We all loved his renditions of "Take me out to the ballgame" which he sang along with the fans in the bottom of the seventh inning. Probably could call him eccentric.

Harry was born on March 1, 1914 in St. Louis, Missouri and passed away on February 18, 1998 in Rancho Mirage, CA. was a radio and TV broadcaster for four Major League franchises; the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Oakland A's (one year) and the Chicago White Sox (eleven years).

He caught his first big break when he landed the job with the Cardinals in 1945. and quickly proved to be as much an expert in selling the sponsor's beer as he was in promoting KMOX. He lasted 24 years with the Cardinals.

In 1969, he became an announcer for the Oakland Athletics, lasting only one year as he and Charlie 'O fell out of favor with one another. Apparently the feeling was mutual; Finley later said "that shit [Caray] pulled in St. Louis didn't go over here.") As had happened in St. Louis, Caray became popular with Chicago listeners and enjoyed a reputation for joviality and public carousing (sometimes doing home game broadcasts bare-topped from the bleachers). He wasn't always popular with players, however; Caray had an equivalent reputation of being excessively critical of home team blunders and for continuing criticism of certain players after even one on-field mistake. He wasn't always popular with players, however; Caray had an equivalent reputation of being excessively critical of home team blunders and for continuing criticism of certain players after even one on-field mistake. In 1970, he took a job as a Chicago White Sox announcer.

In 1976, during a game against the Rangers, Harry had former outfielder Jimmy Piersall (who was working for the Rangers at the time) as a guest in the White Sox booth that night. This odd couple proved to work so well, that Piersall was hired to be Harry's partner in the White Sox radio and TV booth beginning in 1977. Piersall and Caray became very popular, and are and still fondly remembered by White Sox fans to this day. They made the White Sox broadcasts interesting even if the team was not doing well. You can just imagine how wild these two must have sounded together.

Caray went from local favorite to national phenomenon, however, after joining the Cubs following the 1981. At the same time White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was unsuccessfully floating a pay-TV scheme for White Sox games, thereby rendering Caray all but invisible, the Cubs' television outlet, WGM had now become among the first of the cable TV superstations, offering their programming to providers across the United States for free, and now Harry was to become as famous nationwide as he'd long been on the South Side and, previously, in St. Louis

The Cubs won the NL East in 1984 and captured WGN's nationwide audience. Millions came to love the microphone-swinging Caray, continuing his White Sox practice of leading the home crowd in singing "Take Me out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch, mimicking his mannerisms, his gravelly voice, his habit of mispronouncing or slurring some players' names (which some of the players themselves mimicked in turn), and even his trademark barrel-shaped wide-rimmed glasses. Ca Nicknamed "The Mayor of Rush Street" which referenced Chicago's famous tavern-dominated neighborhood and Caray's well-known taste for Budweiser. Illness and age began to drain some of Caray's skills, even in spite of a remarkable recovery from a stroke in 1987. There were occasional calls for him to retire, but he was kept aboard past WGN's normal mandatory retirement age, an indication of just how popular he really was.

His famous 7th inning singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" came about almost by accident, during his tenure with the White Sox. Habitually singing the song in the broadcast booth when it played by organist Nancy Faust, Caray was doing it one afternoon when WMAQ radio producer/broadcaster Jay Scott decided to open the booth mikes on him without his realizing it. (Scott had suggested the idea in a memo some years before, but Caray had rejected the idea. He accepted it once it caught on with the home fans.) For the rest of his career, Caray enthusiastically led the song's singing during the seventh-inning stretch, using a hand-held microphone and holding it out outside the booth window. And, he inserted the home team's name for "the home team" in the song's lyric, a practice that has been copied by fans all around baseball singing the same song.

Caray had a home in Palm Springs, CA along with his legal residence in Chicago. On the day he passed away, he was at a Palm Springs restaurant, celebrating Valentine's Day with hsi wife, Dutchie, when he collapsed and was rushed to hospital in Rancho Mirace, never regaining consciousness, dying of cardiac arrest with resulting brain damage four days later.

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