I never met Atlanta Braves broadcaster Skip Caray, but I
felt I knew him well, and wept when I heard of his death on August 3. For 30
baseball seasons, he was a warm, almost daily presence in our home in San
Francisco and in millions of other homes nationwide over the TBS
"superstation" of former Braves owner Ted Turner.
Thirty seasons! The Braves became, in effect, our
hometown team, thanks to the dryly humorous Caray and his fellow announcers.
They brought the players to us up close and personal. They spoke with high
approval of "Hub" and "Horns" and "Murph." Of
"Knucksie" and "Chipper" and "Bobby" and the
other Braves. Their team was our team, their friends among the players our
We stood by them even when the Braves were one of
baseball's very worst teams. The broadcasts were so special, the team's lack of
success seemed almost secondary.
And, boy, did the Braves lack success: More games lost
during the 1980s - 845 - and fewer games won - 712 - than any other National
League team. They were last in their division four years running. Also last in
1990, with the worst record in all of Major League Baseball.
Caray didn't try to hide our team's ineptness - or the
smallness of the crowds at its Atlanta home base. "Lots of folks here
tonight," he was wont to say - "most of them disguised as empty
seats." Skip also was thoughtful enough to alert us when the Braves were
hopelessly losing a game in the late innings, as they often were.
"Time," said he, "to walk the dog."
Caray didn't rev up his low-key approach even when the
Braves started winning big in 1991, going from last place to first to begin a
run of what became 14 straight division titles. The Braves even won a World
Series in 1995.
The team hasn't done as well in recent years, yet the
Braves remained our team - at least until last year, when TBS stopped
broadcasting Braves games on a regular basis. Caray was restricted to regional
radio broadcasts of the games, and he did even those on only a limited basis
because of diabetes and other health problems.
Caray talked to us, not at us, and that's what made his
broadcasting special. He spoke in normal conversational tones, not in the
staccato, mannered, detached and hyper style of most sportscasters. And he
spoke, always, with great humor, treating the game as what it was - a game.
What's more, Caray spoke English, not the phony inside
baseball jargon used by too many announcers. I mean those jerks who try to
impress listeners by, for instance, describing base hits as "knocks"
and at-bats as "ABs." To whom ballparks are "yards," bases
"sacks," and home plate, "the dish." And who pretend, or
may actually believe, that the simple game they're describing has great
technical complexities that they presume to explain.
Thanks to Skip Caray and his fellow Braves' announcers,
there was no better place in all of broadcasting to experience baseball as a
marvelous game to be enjoyed, win or lose.
His was a life devoted to broadcasting, and though he
broadcast football and basketball as well as baseball, his true life-long love
obviously was baseball -- like his father, Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry
Caray, and his sons, baseball broadcasters Chip and Josh.
"I'm 68," Caray said during a severe bout of
illness last April. "If I go tonight, I've had a hell of a life."
Yes, and how fortunate we are that he shared so much of
it with us.
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister