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Fathers Day for the Carays – A Special Day at the Park

The touching but melancholy story of the legendary Caray family of Major League broadcasters is appropriate on Fathers’ Day.

Special day at the park (AJC)

The road trip, a two-city, seven-game gambol, ends today in Cincinnati. On Father’s Day, one which Skip and Chip Caray will finally celebrate together on air, in the happy medium of radio. It’s the perfect road trip, really, so different from the one long, long ago that ruptured a family and still has father and son wondering when they last spent a Father’s Day together.

“I remember the day my parents officially split up,” Chip Caray said. “I remember my dad driving away.” That was 35 years ago, when Chip was 5 and he, his younger sister Cindy and their parents — mother Lila and father Skip, then the Atlanta Hawks’ broadcaster-about-town — lived just outside Dunwoody, in Chamblee. “I didn’t understand the concept of divorce,” Chip said.

Yet he understood the angry argument his parents had the night before, the one Chip and Cindy watched from the top of the stairs. Skip still winces at the memory of looking up and seeing the kids. The next day, Chip stood outside and, as his father drove away, asked, “Mom, where’s Daddy going?” “My mom said, ‘He’s going on a long road trip,’ ” Chip recalled. “You think, ‘OK.’ You never think that he’s not coming back. Ten days might as well be a year.” Ten days became forever. Skip never came back home, at least not as husband and head of the household. “That trip lasted the rest of our lives,” he said. “It really is a failure, the first failure of my life. It takes two to tango, and two to screw up a marriage. It wasn’t a pleasant divorce.”

The scars, at least some, were permanent. “I’ve carried the guilt to this day,” Skip said. “You feel like you’ve failed your children. That’s the biggest failure of my life.”

One of life’s great blessings continues today in a broadcast booth in Cincinnati. In this, Chip Caray’s first season as an Atlanta Braves broadcaster and Skip’s 30th, the Carays will call the Braves-Reds game on the radio. But not before some bacon and eggs, and their first Father’s Day celebration since . . . when? The mid-’80s, when Chip was an undergraduate at the University of Georgia?

“Well, I’ll buy him breakfast at the fashionable press dining room at the Great American Ball Park,” Skip said. Doesn’t the son pay on Father’s Day? “Why should he break his perfect record now?” Skip said. He smiled. “That’s not true. He tries to buy, like I did with Dad.”

Harry Caray never let his oldest boy buy either. Not when Harry was a Hall of Famer-to-be broadcaster in St. Louis for the Cardinals, and Skip — Harry Christopher Caray Jr. — was the namesake of a man who cast a shadow even larger than the Arch that would come to dwarf the St. Louis skyline.

Perhaps Skip Caray so appreciates this second chance with his first-born because he, too, knows the pain Chip felt as a child. Skip was 6 or 7 that morning he walked to school in the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves and saw the front-page headline in the St. Louis Globe Democrat, writ large in “World War II Ends”-sized type: Caray’s Wife Tunes Him Out. “I’ll never forget it. Longest walk of my life. People staring at me like I had two heads,” Skip said. “Having gone through that made me feel even worse for my kids. I know what it was like.”

[...]

Much like Chip pined for his father. “I got to know my Dad on cable [TV] in the early ’80s, from flipping on WTBS and the Braves were on,” Chip said. When Chip went to work in Chicago in 1998, calling Cubs games that season just after his grandfather died suddenly that February, “People in Chicago would always say, ‘Oh, it must have been great to be Harry’s grandchild.’ But I really didn’t know my grandfather very well,” Chip said. “Both my grandfather and father were divorced, because of the realities of their career. I didn’t spend a lot of time with either one of them growing up.”

[...]

Chip majored in broadcasting at Georgia. He took a course in communications law. Skip hoped he’d become a communications lawyer but was “crushed” when Chip opted for the microphone instead. By 1991, Chip was working locally for SportSouth on cable TV; that May, all three generations of Carays (Harry Sr., Jr. and III) worked together on a Braves-Cubs game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

[...]

With Chip’s arrival this season, the broadcasters — like the Braves’ pitching staff — have a five-man rotation: Skip and Chip, Pete Van Wieren, Don Sutton and Joe Simpson. It enables the Carays to periodically work together on both TV and radio, as well as take time off during the season. That has proved especially rejuvenating to Skip, 65, who has had several medical issues the past couple of years. That, and the continual presence of his son. “It’s not the games as much as the driving to the ballpark together, having lunch together, laughing together,” Skip said.

[...]

When Chip initially asked, “What should I call you on air?” Skip laughed and replied, “What do you call me?” The answer: “Dad.” “That’s appropriate; that’s what you call me,” Skip said. So Chip calls him “Dad,” and it fits.

[...]

“The last 50 years of his life, I don’t think we were ever together on Father’s Day,” Skip said. “Either he was working or I was working, and I don’t think we ever played the Cubs. When I think about Father’s Day, I think about the years when Dad was with the White Sox or Cubs or Cardinals, and I’m with the Braves, and it’s Sunday on the road and you’re rushing to get going and you’re just too busy to call your Dad. “And you get home, and it’s Sunday night and 10 o’clock and you’re too busy to call,” Skip said. “So you make the call in the next few days. But the last few years, no matter how busy you are, you make that call. You may not be able to next year. “I think about all those years I missed. You could say, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’ But there may not be a tomorrow.”

For the Carays, tomorrow’s today.

If 90 percent of fatherhood is just showing up, it’s remarkable that both Harry and Skip Carey managed to create such powerful bonds with their sons. That they got a second chance later in life to be there for them is a luxury that most don’t have. That they made the most of it is to their credit.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.