Actual quote from an e-mail from my father: “Better you should have never been born, than to post something good about
Harry Caray.” Obviously, I can’t resist now. Bill James on Harry Caray, from the 1985 Baseball Abstract:
Cable television has arrived to the distant Balkan outland that I call home, and I have been watching Harry Caray whenever I get the time. It’s the first significant exposure to Harry that I’ve had in fifteen years, and I realize with a sense of shock how much of my own attitude about the game and about my profession, which I thought I had found by myself, I may in fact have picked up from hundreds of hours of listening to Harry Caray as a child.
Or perhaps it is a false pride, but I love Harry Caray. You have to understand what Harry Caray was to the Midwest in my childhood. In the years when baseball stopped at the Mississippi, KMOX radio built a network of stations across the midwest and into the Far West that brought major league baseball into every little urb across the landscape. Harry’s remarkable talents and enthusiasm were the spearhead of their efforts, and forged a link between the Cardinals and the midwest that remains to this day; even now, some of my neighbors are Cardinal fans.
This effect covers a huge area and encompasses millions of people, many times as many people as live in New York. A Harry Caray-for-the-Hall-of-Fame debate is in progress. To us, to hear New Yorkers or Californians suggest that Harry Caray might not be worthy of the honors given to Mel Allen or Vince Scully is a) almost comically ignorant, sort of like hearing a midwesterner suggest that the Statue of Liberty was never of any real national significance and should be turned into scrap metal, and b) personally offensive. That Harry should have to wait in line behind these wonderful men but comparatively insignificant figures is, beyond any question, an egregious example of the regional bias of the nation’s media.
But besides that, the man is really good. His unflagging enthusiasm, his love of the game, and his intense focus and involvement in every detail of the contest make every inning enjoyable, no matter what the score or the pace of the game. His humor, his affection for language and his vibrant images are the tools of a craftsman; only Garagiola, his one-time protÃ©gÃ©, can match him in this way. He is criticized for not being objective, which is preposterous; he is the most objective baseball announcer I’ve ever witnessed. He is criticized for being “critical” of the players, when in fact Harry will bend over backwards to avoid saying something negative about a player or a manager. But Harry also knows that he does the fans no service when he closes his eyes and pretends not to see things. A player misses the cut-off man, Harry says that he missed the cut-off man, the player complains to the press, and some sweetlicking journalist, trying to ingratiate himself to a potential source, rips Harry for being critical of the player.
Harry is involved in another controversy now over the firing of Milo Hamilton, onetime heir apparent to Jack Brickhouse. Hamilton as a broadcaster is a model of professionalism, fluency, and deportment; he is, in short, as interesting as the weather channel, to which I would frequently dial while he was on. Milo’s skills would serve him well as a lawyer, an executive, or a broker. He broadcasts baseball games in a tone that would be more appropriate for a man reviewing a loan application. He projects no sense at all that he is enjoying the game or that we ought to be, and I frankly find it difficult to believe that the writers who ripped the Cubs for firing Hamilton actually watch the broadcasts. Is Harry to be faulted because the fans love him and find Hamilton a dry substitute?
People confuse “objectivity” with “neutralism.” If you look up “neutral” in the dictionary it says “of no particular kind, color, characteristics, etc.; indefinite. Gray; without hue; of zero chromel; achromatic. Neuter.” That pretty well describes Milo Hamilton. To Harry Caray, the greatest sports broadcaster who ever lived. This Bud’s for you.
Dad, you’ll be pleased to know that Bill James lost me somewhere around “Vince Scully.” Surprised he didn’t also refer to “Melvin Allen.” Also, it seems Milo Hamilton must have run over his dog or something.
Another quibble is that broadcasters don’t go into the Hall of Fame per se, they just win the Ford Frick Award. Harry Caray won in 1989, and despite Bill James’s best efforts, Milo Hamilton won in 1992.