Skip Caray Dead at 68
Longtime Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray died in his sleep Sunday. He had been suffering from myriad health problems the last couple of years. Tim Tucker eulogizes him for the AJC:
He made the call when Sid Bream scored on Francisco Cabrera’s pinch-hit to win the National League Championship Series for the Braves in 1992: “Here comes Bream! Here’s the throw to the plate! He iiiiiiiisssssssss … safe! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! … Braves win!”
And he made the call in the late innings of a lousy game in the lost season of 1979: “You have our permission to turn off the TV and go to bed now … as long as you promise to patronize our sponsors.”
Harry Christopher “Skip” Caray Jr. moved from St. Louis to Atlanta in the 1960s partly to escape the professional shadow of his father, the iconic and inimitable baseball broadcaster Harry Caray. Over the next four decades, with a style very much his own, Skip Caray became as much the voice of baseball in the Southeast as his father had been in the Midwest.
Caray died in his sleep Sunday at his Atlanta home, the Braves announced. He was 68.
“I got to talk to him yesterday and I told him I loved him and he started laughing because I was stuck in New York,” said Chip Caray, who flew from New York to Atlanta after he got the news on Sunday, rather than joining the Braves in San Francisco. “It was our own private little joke. I at least got to tell him I loved him which was the last thing I said to him, so I’m grateful for that.”
Owing to the combination of having moved outside the Deep South just as the Braves went from a national team to a regional one (television-wise, anyway) and having gotten married, I watch hardly any Braves games these days. For about a decade, though, I had Caray and the rest of the TBS crew in my living room for two to three hours 150-odd nights a year during a great era for the Braves. Even though I never met the man, I felt like I knew him well.
Caray was the most controversial of the Braves announcers, as he was the most opinionated and stylized. You either loved Skip or you hated him. I was firmly in the former camp.
Carroll Rogers reports on the reactions of the Braves:
News of Skip Caray’s passing hit the Braves family hard — his longtime broadcast partner, and players who identified this organization with Caray long before they ever became a part of it, even the most veteran of players, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and John Smoltz.
Smoltz and Caray’s broadcast partner Pete Van Wieren were on the Braves’ charter flight to San Francisco when they learned of Caray’s death. “It’s a sad day,” Smoltz said. “There are no words. Sad doesn’t do it justice. I will always remember Skip for his humor and his ability to go about life the way he did. I gained so much respect for what he did and how long he did and how he did.”
Jones was at home with his family on Sunday evening when he was informed. “I figured Skip Caray is as much a part of Atlanta Braves baseball as any of us,” said Jones, who will rejoin the team in Arizona later this week. “We all grew up listening to Skip, whether it be on TV or radio. Any time the guys on ESPN imitate [you] calling the highlights, you’re pretty much a legend. From a fan’s standpoint, he’s going to be a huge loss for them because he relayed the games to fans for so long.”
The loss transcends the game for players. Jones said his friendship with Caray was formed over long charter flights and daily visits in the clubhouse. “He always made a note to come by my locker and shake my hand, ask me how I was doing, how the family was, how my kids were,” Jones said. “Personally over the last 15, 16, 17 years, I haven’t gotten his play-by-play on the radio or TV, but I had a lot of plane flight conversations with him. I really respected him, as well as the whole Caray family. They have a pretty good legacy working over there. It’s a sad day for Braves baseball.”
Said manager Bobby Cox: “This was completely unexpected and is a complete loss. I had just spoken with Skip this week when we did the radio show and I didn’t know he wasn’t feeling well. He seemed in his normal good spirits. We’ve all lost a very good friend. For me, he was a good buddy — at the park and away from the park. We always had a lot of great laughs. He will be very sorely missed.”
Fans related so well to Caray, Van Wieren said, because he told it like it was, even if he couched it in humor. “But behind the humor there was an honesty and a commitment to telling it like he believed it to be that never, ever varied,” Van Wieren said. “If he didn’t like it that a game was two minutes late getting started, everybody knew about it. If he had an opinion on a player, he said it. And he had a way of saying it that was sometimes humorous. The way he could take a bad ball game, in some of those bad years especially, and turn it into a fun broadcast, whether it was by talking about something in the game or whether it was talking about something that didn’t have anything to do with the game, maybe it was a movie that was coming up after the game or maybe it was a restaurant that he’d gone to. It could have been anything. He was just a very entertaining broadcaster and a very good one. The game was still the most important thing, but if game was decided by the fourth or fifth inning, people would still watch the rest of the game just to hear what he had to say about things. That’s a very, very unique ability.”
AJC staff writers compiled other reactions, including the star of the 1980s Braves.
“I knew that he had been battling some health issues, but I was just really shocked and saddened when I got the e-mail,” former Braves star Dale Murphy said upon receiving the news that longtime Braves broadcaster Skip Caray died Sunday at his Atlanta home. “And I was grateful for the many years I was able to be with Skip from 1976 until 1990. Skip saw the funny side of things and enjoyed making people laugh when we weren’t giving them too much to smile about during some of those years that I was with the Braves.”
Skip Caray was to Atlanta professional sports what Larry Munson is to the Georgia Bulldogs — the voice and the conscience, the history and the hilarity. Skip told us what was happening, yes, but Skip also told us what Skip made of what was happening, and over the course of four decades Skip’s prism became ours.
He came here with the Hawks, and he became part of our extended family — a crusty uncle, if you will — through his work with the Braves. The SuperStation beamed his imperfect voice from sea to shining sea, and though there were always others alongside — the Professor and Ernie at the beginning, Don and Joe later on — Skip was the one we thought we knew best. He was the funny one, the snarky one. He was Harry Caray’s son and Chip Caray’s dad, but somehow he was always just Skip.
As Munson is to worry, Skip was to grousing. He wasn’t from the neo-announcer’s school of happy talk. Skip hated the Wave and the Infield-Fly Rule and said as much at every opportunity. When he did a call-in show on WSB in the ’80s, he suffered clever callers only grudgingly and the bozos not at all. But because he was Skip, we didn’t much mind.
Indeed, that was the beauty (and the incongruity) of Skip Caray: In an industry predicated on likeability, he really didn’t care if you liked him or not. He said what he thought — near the end of a lopsided game, he famously intoned: “If you promise to patronize our sponsors, you have permission to go walk the dog” — and if he happened to ruffle the tender sensibilities of listeners or management … well, tough.
It’s cliche but true: We’ll never see his like again.
RELATED ON OTB: Fathers Day for the Carays – A Special Day at the Park
UPDATE: I originally misspelled his name as “Skip Carey” in the headline and have gotten numerous Google searches to this post under the misspelled name. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has trouble spelling the name correctly.