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Cub Fan, Bad Man?

Was the seemingly fun-loving Harry Caray actually a miserable human being?

Former Cubs broadcaster Milo Hamilton is taking some shots for saying just that in his new book, Making Airwaves.

"Being around Caray, day after day, was a real challenge," Hamilton writes. "Harry's handling of people was poor to say the least."

Caray's supporters have fired back, suggesting a bitter Hamilton simply can't get over Caray being named the successor to Jack Brickhouse as the lead Cubs announcer for WGN, a job Hamilton thought was rightly his.

Hamilton doesn't do himself any favors when he describes telling Caray that no one comes to the ballpark to hear him sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th-inning stretch, and that during that time he would leave the broadcast booth and stand in the catwalk in silent protest.

"Suppose next Thursday is an open date and there's no game here at Wrigley Field," Hamilton recalls telling Caray. "Let's announce in the papers that you are going to be here that day, at three o'clock, and see how many of those fans come over to the park to hear you sing."

Actually, I think the Cubs could have made out quite well scheduling Harry Caray sing-alongs on open dates.

For another view, I consulted Steve Stone's 1999 book, Where's Harry?

Stone, of course, was a close friend and grateful colleague of Caray's.

And yet, his often-hilarious and heartwarming portrait of his former partner unwittingly sketches a picture of Caray as an oblivious, insensitive, phony alcoholic.

Consider these excerpts:

* "[M]any things you thought were mistakes were no accident at all. Harry had a great sense of what it took to sell the game to the fans. One of his favorite things to do was [to hold] up a glass of beer, though you might find it interesting to discover that it was really only a glass of water.

"He wanted people to believe he was drinking during the game, just like they were at home, and a great fallacy is that he was drunk during so many of those broadcasts. That was just Harry's way of making the fan feel comfortable. He gave them the impression that he was sitting in the bar with them having a drink and discussing the game.

"But in my 15 years with him, Harry might've had a grand total of 20 beers during games . . . 'Harry the Bud Man' was just an image he wanted to promote because he felt his blue-collar following could relate to that Harry."

Stone goes on to describe how Harry came up with the idea of Stone to smoke cigars, and for Harry to complain about the smell during games. "It doesn't bother me," Caray told Stone. "I came up with the idea to humanize you more."

* "People think he promoted Bud all the time because they paid him to be a spokesman, which was only partially true. Sure, he did pretty well with that 'Cub fan, Bud man' routine that lasted a few years. Really, he was pumping it up because he probably owned more stock in the company than anyone but the Busch family. As a young man, Harry bought a lot of the stock on his own, and it made him a very rich man."

* "He would portray me as the educated businessman, intimating that I came from a privileged background, when essentially we came from very similar backgrounds financially . . ."

"[Harry] liked to play up that imaginary difference in our childhoods and in our education and in our business interests. He always played up the fact that he was a man of the people and a guy who could relate to the common baseball fan.

"That was never better illustrated than on the night of Aug. 8, 1988, when Wrigley Field turned on the lights and played a night game for the first time in its history. It's my contention to this day that it was Harry's idea that each broadcaster wear a tuxedo that night, since it was such an important occasion.

"So as we all got up to our booths before the game, all decked out in fine formal wear, in walked Harry wearing a pair of slacks and a flannel shirt that made him look like Paul Bunyan.

"Harry planned it all that way just to remind everyone that he was just a regular guy and the rest of us were something else entirely.

"That was pure Harry."

* "Harry was constantly searching for new ways to widen this imaginary educational gap between us, so one day he chose an Arne Harris hat shot to make his point. Arne, the legendary WGN-TV producer/director, was famous for his hat shots that he encouraged his cameramen to find, and on this particular day in 1986, Arne's Army found a guy with a unicorn hat. Why, I don't know, but the fact is the guy had a horn sticking out of his forehead.

"There's another Arne Harris hat shot and this guy's wearing a unicorn hat on his head," I said with great insight.

"What in the world is that?" Harry said. "What's a umicorm?"

"It's not a 'umicorm.' It's a unicorn, Harry, and it's a mythical horse with a horn coming out of its forehead. And that guy has one on his hat."

"Well, c'mon Steve," Harry whined, pretending to be irritated. "Why don't you just say it's a mythical horse with a horn coming out of its forehead?"

"But I said it was a unicorn, Harry."

"Well," Harry replied, "I don't know why you have to use those big Harvard words all the time."

* "Harry also told me to expect an argument even when there wasn't any reason for one.

"'It's OK for us to argue,' Harry said. 'Even when I agree with you I might disagree just to keep it interesting. In fact, if we can argue a lot it'll be even better."

* "During the 1997 season, Josh Lewin called our games on the road and handled the pregame and postgame duties at home. Josh did everything he could to ingratiate himself to Harry, but Harry really wasn't interested in pursuing that relationship. At that point in his life, I have to believe that Harry felt like Josh was sitting in Chip Caray's chair, even though Chip was not yet interested in taking the job.

"So Josh didn't get to call home games, but he did show up every day at Wrigley Field and often tried to make small talk with Harry, hoping he might throw a bone of interest back at him. That rarely happened.

"One morning Josh stopped in just after returning from the funeral of his grandmother and decided this might be a good time to spend a moment with Harry. Josh mentioned his grandmother's passing and said, 'Harry, I just want to thank you for making my
grandmother's life enjoyable for the last year or two. She started watching the Cubs and got hooked on the team because of you. She watched all the games and she loved Harry Caray. She thought you were just great. So I just wanted to thank you for making her life a little more enjoyable.'

"With that, Lewin stopped, took a breath and waited for some sort of condolence or acknowledgement. Harry, who to this point hadn't even looked up from his scorebook, stopped writing, threw down his pen, leaned back in his chair and looked out onto the field - without so much as a gaze in Lewin's direction.

"'Yeah, Levine,' Harry said to Lewin, 'all my fans are dying.' Harry went back to filling out his scorebook, and Josh turned around and left the booth."

* "Harry once admitted that he sometimes mispronounced words on purpose, especially when there was nothing happening in the game."

* "Harry told me many times that he knew Tony 'the Big Tuna' Accardo for years and thought he was a terrific fellow, too.

"'He's not a bad guy at all,' Harry said. 'I ran into him in Palm Springs a few times and he was very nice to me. I never asked him about his business and he never asked me about mine. We got along fine.'"

* "'I never really knew my kids,' [Harry said]. 'I didn't know how to know them and I didn't know how to be a dad.'"


Comments welcome.

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