- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

Harry Caray’s signature home run call said it all about the late baseball broadcaster, who spent 53 years airing the triumphs and tribulations of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland A’s, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs in that order: He was loud, bombastic and unabashedly a homer for his teams.

And people throughout the Midwest — and later throughout the nation on cable superstation WGN — mostly loved the guy.

Now Caray’s fans can treat themselves to a 72-minute dose of him by spending $19.99 for a new DVD titled “Hello Again Everybody: The Harry Caray Story” and produced by JLT Films/Purple Cow Productions. It’s available at Borders, Barnes & Noble, amazon.com and through the www.helloagaineverybody.com Web site.

The DVD is professionally done and includes enough anecdotes and tributes to satisfy any Caray fan. But if you’re not one, it’s likely to strike you as a case of overkill.

At Harry’s funeral mass in 1998, for example, the priest said something about St. Peter watching him approach the golden gates and exclaiming, “It might be! It could be! It is — Harry Caray! Holy cow!”

Gimme a break.

I have to admit Caray’s charm totally escaped me. When I mentioned this to another veteran fan 20 or so years ago, he told me, “Yeah, Harry’s‘ a little over the top now — but you should have heard him on radio in the 1950s. He was really good then.”

OK, buddy — I’ll take your word for it.

For those of us who grew up listening to baseball on radio, our favorites tended to be the local team’s “voices” who invaded our consciousness for six months each year. In Washington, the longtime Senators broadcasters were laid-back Arch McDonald and precise Bob Wolff. Then there was Nat Allbright, who recreated Brooklyn Dodgers games so melodramatically that many listeners thought he was actually at the scene.

McDonald was sort of a cornpone Caray, insisting “the ducks are on the pond” when the Senators had runners on base and hollering, “There it goes, Mrs. Murphy!” when a batter clouted a home run [usually, of course, for the opposition].”

In the 1950s, Washington fans had no chance to hear Caray, but he was a revered figure to those in the large section of the nation that received Cardinals broadcasts over 50,000-watt KMOX. After leaving St. Louis, he worked for Bill Veeck’s White Sox before moving across town to the perennially hapless Cubs.

It was Veeck who conceived the idea of Caray leading fans in singing: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch — a scene depicted in a statue outside Wrigley Field. The gimmick soon became beloved in Chicago partly because, as Harry’s wife Dutchie explains, “Harry couldn’t sing. If he could sing, everybody would have just listened. But because he couldn’t, everybody sang along with him.”

The documentary suggests that Caray, who could bend elbows with the best of them, devoted little time to his family during most of his life. And although he had many fans and acquaintances, there were few real pals. Says Cubs broadcast partner Steve Stone, the former Baltimore Orioles pitcher: “He had a basic distrust of just about everybody. When you think like that, it’s difficult to make close friends.”

Caray grew up poor and as an orphan and, says Dutchie, “He never liked to talk about his childhood.” The documentary claims all Harry cared about was making it big and becoming somebody. There can be no doubt he succeeded.

Bob Costas, a latter-day contemporary, notes, “He was so much more bombastic than the announcers I was used to [growing up] in New York. But using his voice as his only instrument, he was like a guy conducting an orchestra.”

Mike Ditka, a fellow icon in the city of big shoulders, puts it this way: “He was so good for the game of baseball and the city of Chicago.”

You can disagree with Iron Mike, if you choose, but I’m not that foolhardy.

The documentary includes the usual assortment of audio and video clips. The best of the latter came in 1988, when the president of the United States turned up in the booth to welcome Caray back after the broadcaster recovered from a stroke.

Said Ronald Reagan with his usual perfect comedy timing: “Well, you know, I’m going to be out of a job in a few months, so I thought I might as well audition.”

Not many others upstaged Harry Caray, for better or worse.

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