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Skip Caray Talked To Us
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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 friends.

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