It was the shank of a summer evening in Chicago—and Harry Caray, the inimitable White Sox broadcaster, was sauntering up State Street sipping a banana daiquiri. Harry's wee-hours constitutionals, particularly those undertaken in the drinking quarter where State and Rush streets converge, have become the occasion for impromptu civic celebrations. Hordes of revelers trail him along the streets, shouting, "Hey, Harry," or chanting his name, "Har-ree...Har-ree." Cabdrivers stall traffic to hail him. Barflies press against dusty windows seeking a glimpse of him. "Hey, Harry" is a cry strangers to the Windy City hear about as often in the witching hours as they expect to hear "stick 'em up."
In the face of such adulation, Harry exhibits a generosity of spirit common only to those who know they deserve the best. He stops to chat and sign autographs. His manner is engaging, familiar: "Hiya, sweetheart.... Whaddya say, pal?" Earlier in the evening, Harry had hit a couple of spots, and in each he was accorded the sort of welcome John Travolta might receive should he appear in the girls' locker room of a small-town junior high school. "Hey, Harry!" "You're the greatest, Harry." "Hey, Harry, say hello to the people of the world." This had been a day like any other in his life, which is to say, utterly chaotic, a continuing test of his pluck and durability.
Harry had arisen brightly that morning after a revivifying four hours of sleep. He placed a call to Jon Matlack, the Texas Ranger pitcher, identifying himself as Brad Corbett to the hotel operator when informed that Mr. Matlack was not in his room. It is Harry's conviction that even baseball players will return telephone calls if the caller is someone of recognizable financial clout, and Corbett is the principal owner of the Texas baseball team. Harry wanted to discuss with Matlack some intemperate remarks the pitcher had made to the press, to the effect that Harry should be "killed" or, at minimum, have "his lights punched out" for saying on the air that the tumultuous booing Matlack's teammate, Richie Zisk, had received from Chicago fans was richly merited.
Zisk, a White Sox player last year, had himself been critical of Chicago fans, a sin in Harry's eyes comparable to denouncing the game itself. Matlack returned the call and Harry said he would see him in the visitors' clubhouse at Comiskey Park that evening. There Harry found Matlack to be more contrite than murderous. Zisk was less conciliatory, but he concluded a protracted harangue ambiguously by insisting, "You say anything you want, Harry. O.K.?" Harry, ever unflappable, agreed he would do just that. When the crowd booed Zisk even more ferociously that night, Harry apologized, in a way. "There must be something wrong with your television sets," he advised his listeners.
September 17, 1978
After the game, Harry had a grand time recounting these infantile confrontations in the Bards Room, Comiskey Park's press lounge, but he had tired of the subject by the time he sat down to his midnight supper at the Cafe Bohemia with a party that included his third wife, Dutchie; Fred Brzozowski, a part owner of the Sox; and restaurateur Jimmy Gallios. Dutchie (real name, Delores) is a St. Louis girl who has known Harry long enough to be more amused by his indefatigable pub-crawling than intolerant of it. She can even stay with him on the shorter stretches. Harry is a stocky man of at least 59, with curly gray hair, a florid complexion and lips that, when still, are seen to be thick. He wears enormous spectacles, which give him the aspect of a gigantic guppy. And yet his is a pleasant face, one that scores of women seem to have found agreeable.
The party at the Cafe Bohemia moved right along, largely thanks to Harry, who urged Gallios, a dark, wry man, to recall his misadventures in pursuit of a striptease artist named Justa Dream. It was for love of the ravishing Justa, lamented Gallios, that he purchased the disreputable cocktail lounge in the old Hotel Majestic where she performed. It was not, he said, a prudent investment, particularly after the place nearly burned down when a customer threw a monkey into the light fixtures in back of the bar.
Later, Harry deposited a mildly protesting Dutchie—"Harry, don't you ever give up?"—in their apartment in the Ambassador East Hotel and set off on his rounds. His last stop was the Hotsie Totsie Club on Division near State, where he was literally served one for the road. Normally a Scotch, vodka or beer man, Harry favors a banana daiquiri as a nightcap, and since it was closing time at the Hotsie Totsie and he is, after all, Harry, he was allowed to transport the confection with him from the premises.
He was walking and sipping and talking with a companion when he was approached on State Street by two professional women, who embarked upon a familiar spiel. There were lamentations over the plight of the lonely middle-aged man and pointed suggestions as to how this deplorable state might, for one evening at least, be alleviated. The conversation had not gone far when one of the women stopped abruptly in mid-pitch. "Hey." she chirped, "you're Harry Caray, aren't you?" Harry cheerfully confirmed his identity. "How 'bout that," the woman said to her co-worker. "Harry Caray." A somewhat restructured conversation ensued, much of it pertaining to baseball. Harry complimented the women on their pleasing appearance and the eloquence of their presentation. He was a married man again, he said apologetically, so any association beyond the agreeable one they were now enjoying would be indiscreet. The women wanted no more of him, they protested, than an autograph. Harry signed an old dance bid or something, and the women continued on their appointed rounds.
"That was nothing," said Harry. "About seven years ago my car stalled outside the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, where I used to spend a lot of time. I was sitting there, about four in the morning, cursing my bad luck, when these two guys came up to me. Each of them stuck a gun in my ribs. Hoo boy! Then one of them said, 'Hey, Harry. It's you, isn't it? What're you doing out this late? Are you one of us?' I'd been a broadcaster in St. Louis for 25 years, you know, so I was pretty well known there. Well, this guy put his gun away and we just stood there jawing about baseball. They forgot they were mugging me, and I forgot I was being mugged. We were all just fans. I signed a couple of autographs, and they took off without taking a nickel."
If nothing else, such escapes from the clutches of the lawless serve to dramatize Harry's extraordinary popularity in the communities where he broadcasts. But popularity is too pallid a word to describe Harry's relationship with his listeners. He seems to them not so much an announcer doing the old play-by-play as one of them who has somehow gained access to a microphone. His grievances, his prejudices, his obsessions are theirs. When the team is going badly, Harry howls with despair along with them; when it is going well, he exults as they do. The fact is, Harry is a fan. He is a survivor of a time when baseball announcers were neither retired athletes nor be-wigged egomaniacs but somewhat truer voices of the people.
Howard Cosell, in a typical flash of false insight, once identified Harry as a "cheerleader." He is not that at all. Fans are not cheerleaders; they are cheerers—and booers. That is what Harry is. His is the language of the paying customer. This is not to say he is above show business. Catch phrases are part of his act—"You can't beat fun at the old ball park.... Well, that's baseball.... Listen to the crowd.... Hol-lee Cow!" But Harry is more than a disembodied voice to White Sox fans; he is a physical presence in the ball park. He leans out of the broadcast booth to shout at friends or to join the crowd in cheers and song. He thrusts his butterfly net out in quest of foul balls. He strides through the stands before the game, shaking hands, signing autographs, slapping backs, embracing comely women. After the game, Harry is out among them, talking baseball in his favorite saloons. Four in the morning often arrives too soon for "the Mayor of Rush Street."
Harry was immensely successful as a Cardinal broadcaster from 1945 through 1969, but it is unlikely he ever had an audience more' empathetic than the one he now enjoys. "Harry fits in with our group," says Sox President Bill Veeck. "He fits in with our philosophy and style, which is casual, even raucous. Our audience is not at all like the Cubs', which is mostly youngsters and people over 50. Ours comes from the 16-to-40 age bracket. They are as exuberant as any I've ever seen, and a great part of that is Harry. Can you envision Dodger fans standing up in the middle of a game to cheer Vin Scully the way they cheer Harry here? He says what he believes on the air, and the fans identify directly with him.
"Frankly, I hate to listen to him when we're losing because he can put the greatest degree of contempt in what he's saying. It's more than popularity. It's a matter of texture. Harry is basically one of the fans. He drinks beer with them or whatever else is available. He talks to them in saloons, which is good. But he's also a professional who does his homework. He's not merely flamboyant."
No one knows his audience better than Harry does. While interviewing Chicago Tribune sportswriter Bill Jauss recently, Harry took it upon himself to define the quintessential Sox fan: "He is a working-class guy, a guy who picks up a six-pack at a tavern before coming to the game. He's my kind of person." Comiskey Park itself has the look and feel of a neighborhood tavern. It is dark and wooden and musty and cozy. There is the aroma of beer and peanuts. It is noisy, and many nights there are fights in the stands. If the stadium is a saloon, Harry is the guy sitting down at the end of the bar telling funny stories.
"The announcer is the only liaison between the people and the ball club," says Harry. "The trouble with announcers today—and heck, I can't even think of most of their names—is that they're in it just for the money. Baseball has the advantage of having a lot of games. Because of the frequency of it, it pays better than the other sports. These guys would rather be out playing golf than doing play-by-play, and the boredom comes through in their voices. My enthusiasm is just me. I'm just expressing myself, and I do have opinions. I get in trouble with players and managers that way—like the Zisk thing. The trouble with the players is they feel the fan is so dumb he won't notice their shortcomings unless an announcer calls attention to them. Well, the fan isn't that stupid. The announcer doesn't create a player's weaknesses. The only thing I ask of a player is that he complain to me personally. I always ask, 'Did you hear it?' They rarely do, you know. They get it from a wife, a girl friend, a groupie. All secondhand stuff."
Harry can become as quickly disenchanted with a player as a fan can, and the miscreant can be as easily restored to his affections with good deeds. These shifts in attitude do not always sit well with players, who prefer to think of the announcers as part of the team, not part of its following. Harry's relations with former White Sox Manager Chuck Tanner also were frequently strained. Tanner not only disapproved of Harry's gibes on the air, but he also apparently chafed at the broadcaster's popularity, which far exceeded that of the manager or any of his players. In truth, a player or manager might be forgiven pangs of envy over Harry's special relationship with the fans. How often, after all, is the play-by-play announcer more popular than those whose play he is describing? In his business, Harry is an original.
He was born Harry Carabina in St. Louis and orphaned at nine. An aspiring athlete, he turned to broadcasting games instead of playing them after high school and survived for 25 years as the voice of the Cardinals. Then, after the 1969 season, his contract was not renewed by team owner August A. Busch Jr. It was a shocker, and unseemly rumor followed Harry's fall from grace. It was said he was playing fast and loose with a young woman who had married into the Busch clan, thereby imperiling the marriage. Rakehell Harry declined to comment on such tawdry allegations, except to say, "I'd rather have people believing the rumor and have my middle-aged ego inflated than deny it and keep my job."
Harry's popularity in St. Louis was scarcely diminished by the scandal. If anything, it achieved its apex that very year, in large part because of a comeback from a near-crippling injury as melodramatic as any ever made by a Cardinal player. On the rainy early morning of Nov. 3, 1968, Harry was struck down by a speeding auto as he crossed the street to his car, which was parked opposite the Chase-Park Plaza, site of so many of his adventures, amatory and otherwise. A woman friend was seated in the car, primping herself for the evening ahead, and Harry yet entertains himself with the thought of his companion watching him fly by the window, howling, "Holy Cow!"
There was, however, nothing amusing about the accident. Harry suffered broken legs, a broken shoulder and a broken nose. He nearly died in the street when rain and blood congested his lungs. And he almost lost one of his shattered limbs in the hospital. But after some months, he was as whole and hearty as ever.
His entrance into Busch Stadium on Opening Day of the 1969 season was terrific theater. Sensing the dramatic possibilities. Harry stepped out of the Cardinal dugout after his introduction, hobbling on two canes. As he crossed the foul line, he tossed one cane aside. Nearing the field microphone, he threw the other away and raised his arms over his head in triumph. As the crowd stood and cheered and chanted. "Har-ree...Har-ree," he limped unaided the rest of the way. "Well, it's all show business," Harry explained later. "I hadn't needed those canes in weeks."
Suspecting a Busch blacklisting, Harry departed St. Louis after 1969 and took up with an unlikely new employer—Charles O. Finley. The anticipated clash of monster egos never fully materialized; Harry and Charlie got on famously during Harry's brief stay in Oakland. Harry did. however, come a cropper against a more fragile personality. Monte Moore had been Finley's announcer since Kansas City days, and he was understandably piqued at being supplanted as the No. 1 man by the rogue from St. Louis. "I could feel the knife in my back every time I walked into the booth," says Harry of his single season in Oakland. "We couldn't go on like that." Besides, Moore was a teetotaler and something of a Bible thumper. The situation was clearly intolerable. So Harry left the A's and joined the then downtrodden White Sox in 1971.
The terms of his new contract were unusual in that they were geared to Harry's reputation for putting "fannies in the seats." Stu Holcomb, then the Sox' executive vice-president, inserted an attendance clause that called for Harry to be paid a base annual salary of $50,000 with bonuses of $10,000 for every 100,000 spectators the Sox drew in excess of 600,000. In pre-Harry 1970 the Sox drew 495,355. In Harry's first year attendance climbed to 833,891. In 1972 it was 1,186,018, and in '73 it reached 1,316,527, the highest since 1960. Harry was by then making more in bonuses than he was in salary. The attendance provisions were discontinued after the '73 season.
Harry himself was nearly discontinued two years later by the team president. John Allyn. Harry had been feuding with Tanner, and Allyn made it abundantly clear whose side he was on during a television interview. Harry was watching another show when a newspaper friend called to suggest he catch his boss. Harry switched channels in time to see the end of an interview in which Allyn said that if he owned the team in 1976. Harry would not be back. It was Allyn, of course, who did not come back. The Sox were sold in '76 to a group headed by the redoubtable Veeck, and last year a team attendance record of 1,657,315 was established.
Even with Allyn and Tanner gone, Harry was not assured of a job. Veeck had been operating the perennially impoverished Browns in St. Louis at the same time that Harry was winning fans for the Cardinals. Harry sensed that the new White Sox president still held an old grudge against him, and at the outset of their interview nothing was said to disabuse him of this unpleasant notion. "Here I am talking to the man who ran me out of St. Louis," Harry recalls Veeck saying. "Yeah, me and Gussie Busch's millions," Harry retorted. Veeck laughed. Harry stayed. But the suspicion remains that Veeck might yet resent being upstaged in his own park. Would not the peg-legged entrepreneur prefer to be up there himself leading the cheers and songs?
"No, that's not Bill's style," says part owner Brzozowski. "Actually, his ego and Harry's go on like this." He moves his hands upward and parallel. "They don't cross." And Veeck does seem to appreciate Harry's antics, which, in Harry's view, is merely demonstrating good business sense. "I'm a walking advertisement for the White Sox," says Harry humbly. "That I relate to people is one heck of an asset to the team. And I don't make a nickel off the Sox anymore." Indeed, Harry is now paid by his radio and television stations, not by the White Sox; Veeck retains only the right to refuse his services.
Harry's current earnings for broadcasting Sox games—all of them on radio, 140 on television—are, by his accounting, as high as or higher than those of any announcer in baseball. He is probably worth it. "He's the most knowledgeable broadcaster in the game," says his color man, Jimmy Piersall, himself a personality of authenticated flamboyance. "A lot of play-by-play men have to pick your brains for information. Otherwise they're dead. Harry just knows the game."
It is Saturday, the day Harry does his broadcast from the centerfield bleachers in Comiskey Park. On this particular Saturday he is dressed in a powder-blue polo shirt and white shorts supported by a cloth belt emblazoned with the words HOLY cow. "When you got good wheels," says Harry, defending his apparel, "you show 'em."
Harry arrives at the ball park to the sounds of a familiar refrain: "Hey, Harry...Har-ree." He breezes through the crowd, signing programs and baseballs, commending a girl for looking smashing and advising her boyfriend that "with eyes like yours, pal, you could hit .300 in the big leagues." An elderly woman embraces him as he passes through the press gate. She is wearing a T shirt on which is written BEAUTY IS SKIN DEEP, UGLY GOES RIGHT TO THE BONE. Harry hugs her back. He enters the Bards Room, pausing long enough to down a screwdriver and distribute recordings of a new disco version of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, on which his superimposed voice shouts, "Holy Cow!" "The record's great," Harry tells the newsmen. "You can hardly hear me." He rejoins the fans, passing through the stands to the playing field. Along the way there is more handshaking, backslapping and choruses of "Hey, Harry."
Harry's high good humor is threatened when he is told by one of his television people that Veeck has ordered the bleachers closed because of a threat of rain. Harry bounces into the dugout and telephones Veeck in the Bards Room. "Bill, what's this about the bleachers being closed? Yeah, yeah, I know, but there's bright sunshine out here now." This is almost true.
Harry bounds out of the dugout. "O.K., O.K., the bleachers are open. Gotta do some work now." He will do interviews with fans, one for radio, one for TV. For radio, he picks an elderly gent named Francis Cavanaugh, who says he first saw a White Sox game in 1922. Harry asks him how good Babe Ruth was. "Best I ever saw," says Mr. Cavanaugh, whom Harry is now calling "my good friend." Harry gives his guest a digital watch and a hearty handshake.
Spectators are filtering into the bleacher seats, so Harry rushes out to join them. He bustles down labyrinthine corridors underneath the stands, stocky legs pumping hard. It is nearly game time, but his crew is only now beginning to set up, and he still has a television interview to do. When he reaches the bleachers, he receives a tumultuous "Hey, Harry" welcome. He stands on the walkway below leading the cheering.
Harry's broadcasting table is situated on a platform to the left of the hitters' backdrop, a rope separating him from the fans. Near Harry's table is a barber's chair, where Lynn Gladowsky gives haircuts during the game at $4 a clip. Harry plugs her business on the air, interviews her customers and, naturally, has his own locks shorn by her. On the runway below there is a shower where overheated bleacherites douse themselves, Harry among them.
For his television interview, Harry selects from the crowd John Durkin, a 21-year-old Illinois State student. "I need a beer," Durkin says, steeling himself for the ordeal. "You want one, Harry?" Harry does. Durkin's college pals, who have quaffed many beers, cheer him noisily throughout the interview. They are encouraged by Harry, who cries out, "He's good, isn't he?" Harry waves his beer in a toast to Durkin, and there is a raucous demonstration in the bleachers.
Harry's attachè case and butterfly net arrive only moments before the national anthem. Conditions are seldom ideal for the bleacher broadcasts, but an increasingly capricious wind adds fresh complications. Harry's statistical sheets soar about him like kites, and strands of freshly trimmed hair from Gladowsky's barber chair drift into his beer. "You can't beat fun at the old ball park," Harry shouts to no one in particular. The camera lights are on. "It's a hot, humid, windy...beeoootiful day for baseball," Harry begins in his hoarse baritone, "and here we are in the bleachers. These are baseball's true fans right here."
In the first inning of the game with Kansas City, Sox Third Baseman Eric Soderholm throws wildly to first on a routine ground ball. "Soderholm made a terrible throw," Harry moans. "He could've run the ball over in time to get that out and he threw it away. But that's baseball." One hitter later, the chastened Soderholm makes a diving catch of a hard ground ball between third and short and, from his knees, throws the runner out. "Hol-lee Cow!" Harry bellows. "What a sensational play! And after missing that easy one. That's baseball."
The wind, which is picking up, topples one of Harry's beers and drenches a stat sheet. Harry calls for a towel. The flying hair lends a gauzy effect to the already improbable scene, so that when seen head-on Harry appears to be a figure from a Renoir. Harry's television monitor is not functioning, and because a portion of rightfield is obscured by the black backdrop that rises to his left, he can only speculate on the ultimate destination of balls hit there. Inebriated bleacherites hover near him, demanding to be put on the air. The "Hey, Harry" cries grow more insistent, taking on a less friendly, more satirical tone. The loudest of these emanate from a man with a transistor radio affixed to his ear, someone obviously intent on hearing the sound of his own voice on the radio.
Harry revels in the chaos. Not even the most offensive drunk ruffles him. He poses for pictures between innings, flourishes his beer, shakes hands, kisses the ladies. His microphone becomes a baton as he conducts the bleacher chorus in a rendition of the White Sox fight song, Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye. And he dutifully reads the scribbled notes that find their way to him: "Aunt Carrie Gable from LaSalle is here celebrating her 85th birthday.... Now here's a bunch of guys who write, 'Please assure our wives we really did come to the game....' "
Harry goes on to extol the virtues of bleacher dwelling. "We got a shower and we got a barber chair. I don't know what else we need." There is also the ball game. "Ooops, Joe Zdeb just singled for Kansas City. His name spelled backwards is...."
The Sox win a laugher, and Harry leads the fans in a final cheer: "Sox win! Sox win! Sox win!" He is drenched with sweat, but he leaves the ball park fulfilled, pleased with the show. He is a man who enjoys his work, his life. And the evening lies ahead.
Outside the park, Harry is approached by a well-dressed drunk. "How are you, my friend?" says affable Harry. The drunk says nothing. He just stares at Harry. Harry smiles uneasily. "I love you, Harry," the drunk says solemnly. Harry pats him on the arm. "I love you because...." Harry pats him again and starts to walk away. "I love you," the drunk says, his voice trailing after the stocky man in the short pants. "I love you," he repeats, inspired now. "I love you because...you're Harry Caray."