It was in October 1969 when Harry Caray was fired as the Cardinals’ lead broadcaster, one of the most controversial — if not the most controversial — moves in St. Louis sportscasting history. The dismissal of the immensely popular broadcaster who didn’t hesitate to speak his mind, after 25 years on the air, never was fully explained. But it was well documented that he had a falling out with Gussie Busch, head of the Anheuser-Busch brewery that owned the team.
Now, more than half a century later, another Harry Caray is set to carry the load in one of the team’s broadcast booths. It was announced Monday afternoon that the team’s telecaster, Bally Sports Midwest, has finalized an agreement to hire Harry “Chip” Caray III — grandson of the broadcasting icon and son of well-known baseball announcer Harry “Skip” Caray Jr. — as its Cardinals play-by-play announcer. The deal has been in the works for more than a week.
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He replaces Dan McLaughlin, who left by “mutual decision” last month following his third drunken-driving arrest in a little more than 12 years.
It will be a homecoming for Caray, 57, who graduated from Parkway West High School in 1983 before going to the University of Georgia and having 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 last 18 years as he followed his St. Louis-born father’s lead there.
“I’m thrilled to death, St. Louis is home in so many ways,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “To be able to come back and hopefully to continue what the old old-timer started back 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 a game at Sportsman’s Park and I went to a zillion games at Busch Stadium II. As a visiting broadcaster both with the Cubs and Braves, you come into St. Louis … and you’ve got 48,000 screaming people who not only appreciate what their team is doing but if your guy on your team makes a great play they applaud it and appreciate it because they love the sport, they love the game. The old movie line, ‘How can you not fall in love with baseball because of that?’ That’s how I grew up.”
He said he was part of a “generation that knew the ’64 Cardinals’ starting lineup before you knew the ABCs, that’s all part of our DNA in growing up in that part of the world. To be welcomed into that fraternity is a great honor and humbling and very, very exciting.”
Caray brings a big-time résumé, 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 in the Cardinals’ radio booth for a decade and half before ascending to the No. 1 spot after his partner was fired. Then Joe Buck later was an integral part of the Cards roster of announcers early in his career before soaring to national prominence, currently as ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” play-by-play announcer.
“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 its lineup in 1996 with Buck in the lead role. “That (Caray) name carries a lot of weight and he’s done good by it. He’s very talented. I’ll enjoy listening to him.”
Buck emphatically said listeners will be pleased, too, with what they will hear.
“I know St. Louis and Cardinals fans will welcome him with open arms,” Buck said. “He’s one of us. His full name is Harry Caray for God’s sake.”
Caray seemingly was entrenched in Georgia and people at his stage of their career usually do not voluntarily leave to start anew in a market more than 500 miles away. So why make the move?
“It’s the Cardinals, it’s the gold-standard place,” he said. “It’s home. It’s a franchise so entwined with our family history. There’s so much that is attractive there,” what 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 that was started in many ways by Harry and Jack (Buck) is incredibly attractive. These jobs don’t come around often. If there was only one job I’d consider leaving Atlanta for, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I made it very clear that I would have loved to have stayed in Atlanta for the rest of my career. That’s something I was very vocal about. … When the Cardinals call, you have to listen. They called, I listened. I am eternally grateful I am able to come home.”
He talks about getting a similar call more than three decades ago.
“What’s so funny about our business is how things come full circle,” Caray said. “Thirty-two years ago he was offered a Cardinals broadcasting job. I couldn’t take it for a myriad of reasons. It’s one of those jobs that you never think is going to come back around and I promised myself if ever an opportunity arose I’d at least take a look at it.”
Caray will be working for Bally Sports Midwest, not the team (though it had input into the hiring process). BSM general manager and senior vice president Jack Donovan said there were “north of 70” people who applied for the job.
“There was a ton of interest,” he said, adding “we got the best guy. … He’s very good at what he does. … He brings a lot of enthusiasm and he wanted the job. We want somebody who wants to be here, and he certainly does.”
Donovan says he is pleased with the way things worked out.
“We went to the top echelon of who is out there,” he said. “We got the best guy.”
McLaughlin had been doing all of BSM’s approximately 150 games in recent seasons, but Donovan said it has not been determined if Caray will have the full load. He also said the number of games for the analysts has not been set, either. Brad Thompson and Jim Edmonds are expected to return, with Thompson likely to have a heavier schedule than he had last season.
His own man
While his grandfather was bombastic and a showman, Caray’s father was quite the opposite with a much more low-key approach but with a pointed dry sense of humor that he adroitly would use to punctuate his descriptions. Chip is somewhere in between, with a strong voice that rises to the occasion when appropriate but not overbearing or intrusive. And he knows the game — and importantly in his new role, has a deep knowledge of Cardinals history.
“Chip brings a wealth of experience to the booth and has a great feel for the history and tradition of the franchise,” Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III said in a statement.
Caray chuckled when asked how he thought his father and grandfather would react to him taking the Cardinals TV job.
“My standard joke on something like that is, ‘I hope they are looking down and not up and smiling,'” he said. “I know that my dad and grandfather were very proud of me.”
He certainly is not a clone of either in broadcasting style.
“I’m very much my own person,” he said. “I’m not Harry Caray, I’m not Skip Caray. I guess I’m a combination of both, but I’m very much my own person. I’ve worked very hard to forge my own way in this business because it’s a personality-driven one. That said, knowing 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 did games with the Cardinals as a fill-in back in the ’60s about the time I was born, everybody knows Harry’s story and his 25-year tenure there.
“I hope there’s a ‘Holy Cow’ and ‘Cocktail Hour,’ some sort of the combinations of those phrases from the two of them, because I know they were happy I chose to stay in the family business and I think they’d be even prouder to know I have done it the best way I know how, and that is to be me.”
And he enjoys that individuality.
“That’s the fun part of the job, you lay your personality out on the line every single day and people either like you or they don’t like you,” he said. “But at least you’re authentic.”
There won’t be a whole lot of adjustment time for Caray. BSM’s first spring training telecast is set for Feb. 25, the team’s Grapefruit League opener.
“I’m over-the-moon excited and thrilled,” he said.