It was October 1969 when Harry Caray was fired as the Cardinals’ lead broadcaster, one of the most controversial — if not the most controversial – moves in the history of sports broadcasting in St. Louis. The firing of the immensely popular broadcaster, which didn’t hesitate to speak out after 25 years on the air, has never been fully explained. But it was well documented that he had fallen out with Gussie Busch, boss of the Anheuser-Busch brewery that owned the team.
Now, more than half a century later, another Harry Caray is said to be carrying the load in one of the team’s broadcast booths. It was announced on Monday afternoon that the team’s telecaster, Bally Sports Midwest, had reached an agreement to hire Harry “Chip” Caray III – grandson of the broadcast icon and son of popular baseball announcer Harry “Skip” Caray Jr. – to play Cardinals -by-play announcer. The deal has been in the works for more than a week.
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He replaces Dan McLaughlin, who walked by “consensual decision” last month after his third drunk driving arrest in just over 12 years.
It will be a homecoming for 57-year-old Caray, who graduated from Parkway West High School in 1983 before attending the University of Georgia and has spent his entire professional career elsewhere – including in Chicago to broadcast the Cubs , and more recently in Atlanta, where he has been a Braves broadcaster for the past 18 years while following the lead of his St. Louis-born father there.
“I’m thrilled to death St. Louis is home in so many ways,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “Being able to come back and hopefully continue what the old classic car started in 1945 is a real thrill for all of us in the family.
“I fell in love with the game there. My joke is that I think I was conceived after one game at Sportsman’s Park and went to a million games at Busch Stadium II. As a guest broadcaster on both the Cubs and the Braves, you come to St. Louis… and you have 48,000 people screaming who not only appreciate what their team is doing, but when your man on your team makes a great game, they applaud him and appreciate it because they love the sport, they love the game. The old movie line, ‘How can that not make you fall in love with baseball?’ That’s how I grew up.”
He said he’s part of a “generation that knew the starting lineup of the 64 Cardinals before you knew the ABCs, it’s all part of our DNA growing up in that part of the world. To be welcomed into this brotherhood is a great honor and humbling and very, very exciting.”
Caray brings a great resume and voice to St. Louis. Joe Buck says Caray will be a great fit.
He should know. Buck’s father, Jack Buck, worked with Caray’s grandfather on the Cardinals’ radio booth for a decade and a half before rising to No. 1 following his partner’s firing. Later, Joe Buck was a fixture on the Cards roster of announcers early in his career before rising to national prominence, currently as ESPN’s play-by-play announcer for “Monday Night Football.”
“I’ve always loved Chip,” said Buck, whose journey to the top of the network sportscasting business began at Fox, for which Caray was part of the mix when baseball was added to the lineup in 1996, starring Buck. “That name (Caray) carries a lot of weight and he has done well with it. He’s very talented. I’ll be happy to listen to him.”
Buck was emphatic that listeners will be pleased with what they will hear, too.
“I know the fans of St. Louis and the Cardinals will welcome him with open arms,” Buck said. “He’s one of us. His full name is Harry Caray, for God’s sake.”
Caray was apparently rooted in Georgia, and people in his career phase don’t typically leave voluntarily to start fresh in a market more than 500 miles away. So why take the step?
“It’s the Cardinals, it’s the gold standard,” he said. “It’s home. It’s a franchise so intertwined with our family history. There is so much attractiveness there,” which has to do with his mother, aunts and uncles living in the area. “The opportunity to go to a baseball-crazy place and start a new chapter and continue the great tradition started in so many ways by Harry and Jack (Buck) is incredibly appealing. These jobs don’t come around often. If there was one job I would consider leaving Atlanta for, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I made it very clear that I would have liked to have stayed in Atlanta for the rest of my career. I said that very loudly. … When the cardinals call, you have to listen. You called, I listened. I’m eternally grateful to be able to come home.”
He speaks of receiving a similar call more than three decades ago.
“What’s so funny about our business is how it comes full circle,” Caray said. “Thirty-two years ago he was offered a job with the Cardinals in broadcasting. I couldn’t accept it for a myriad of reasons. It’s one of those jobs you never think will come back, and I promised myself that if the opportunity ever came up I’d at least look at it.”
Caray will be working for Bally Sports Midwest, not the team (although it helped with the hiring process). Jack Donovan, BSM’s general manager and senior vice president, said “over 70” people applied for the position.
“There was a lot of interest,” he said, adding, “We have the best man. … He’s very good at what he does. … He brings a lot of enthusiasm and he wanted the job. We want someone who wants to be here, and he certainly does.”
Donovan says he’s happy with the way things worked out.
“We’ve gone to the forefront of those that are out there,” he said. “We have the best guy.”
McLaughlin had played all of BSM’s 150 or so games in recent seasons, but Donovan said it hasn’t been decided yet whether Caray will have the full load. He also said the number of games hasn’t been set for analysts either. Brad Thompson and Jim Edmonds are expected to return, with Thompson likely to have a heavier schedule than last season.
His own man
While his grandfather was bombastic and a showman, Caray’s father was the complete opposite with a much more reserved approach but with a decidedly dry sense of humor, which he skillfully used to punctuate his descriptions. Chip falls somewhere in between, with a strong voice that adapts to the situation when needed, but not overbearing or overbearing. And he knows the game — and what’s important in his new role is having a deep knowledge of Cardinals history.
“Chip brings a wealth of experience to the booth and has a great grasp of the franchise’s history and heritage,” Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said in a statement.
Caray chuckled when asked how he thought his father and grandfather would react if he took the job at Cardinals TV.
“My standard joke with something like this is, ‘I hope they’re looking down and not up and smiling,'” he said. “I know my father and grandfather were very proud of me.”
He’s certainly not a broadcast-style clone of either.
“I’m very much my own person,” he said. “I’m not Harry Caray, I’m not Skip Caray. I think I’m a combination of both, but I’m very much my own person. I’ve worked very hard to find my own way in this business because It’s a personality driven by personality. In doing so, I knew how much the city of St. Louis meant to all of us – we were all born there, we all fell in love with baseball there, my dad played with the Cardinals on the side – Back in the ’60s, around the time I was born, everyone knows Harry’s story and his 25-year tenure there.
“I’m hoping there’s a ‘Holy Cow’ and ‘Cocktail Hour’ kind of combination of those phrases from the two because I know they were happy I decided to stay in the family business and I think they would be even prouder to know that I did it the way I do best, and I am.”
And he enjoys this individuality.
“That’s the fun part of the job, you put your personality on the line every day and people either like you or they don’t like you,” he said. “But at least you’re authentic.”
Caray won’t have much adjustment time. The first televised broadcast of BSM’s spring training is scheduled for February 25, the start of the team’s Grapefruit League.
“I’m over the moon excited and excited,” he said.