Saturday, September 5th, 2009
The title of this book is “Where’s Harry?”, but, for me, a better question might have been: ”Who’s Harry?”.
Harry Caray came to the Cubbie’s broadcast booth in 1982, while I was six or seven thousand miles away on a rock called “Okinawa”. Watching Cubs games on TV was not something I did that year. Or any year from October, 1969 until about July, 2008. So the Harry Caray era came and went while I was away. But, of course, he remains BIG in Chicago, more than ten years after his death. So I read this book to learn about the man, the myth, and the legend.
Just as I was starting to read the book, someone saw the cover and shared her opinion: “Harry Caray?? He was a terrible singer, but his heart was in it.” And then she added this analysis of the 2009 season: “I’m beginning to believe in the curse. Maybe we should sacrifice a cow on the pitcher’s mound at Wrigley Field, to lift the curse of the Billy Goat once and for all.” On that note, I began my reading of this book.
“Where’s Harry? – Steve Stone Remembers His Years with Harry Caray” by Steve Stone with Barry Rozner (Foreword by Bob Costas), was written by Steve Stone, who had worked side by side with Harry, starting in 1983, until Harry’s death in 1998. The book was written and published in 1999, a year or so after Harry’s passing. I learned a lot by reading this book. Here are some highlights:
- “Harry Caray squeezed more life out of one body than anyone in the history of human bodies. He didn’t get cheated out of a swing. He didn’t go down looking at a called strike three. He didn’t leave anything in the clubhouse.”
- “…Harry got me started on the cigars and even bought me the first box, and then every time I would smoke a cigar in the booth he would go on a lengthy tirade.”
- “Just so you know,” Harry said, “I’ll take the opposite side of an argument just to get a conversation going and play devil’s advocate. I’ve made a career out of that. After all, that’s what baseball is all about. There’s always more than one way to do something in baseball and it’s fun to talk and argue about it. That’s good TV.”
- “We’re all just temporary actors on a stage. Players come and go, owners come and go, and broadcasters come and go, but the game lives on.”
- Harry had a very simple, if not naive, way of looking at life. “I’ll treat you how you treat me,” was pretty much the extent of it.
Speaking of golf:
- “Harry decided, actually, that what most people do at country clubs is play golf in the morning, eat lunch, play cards all day, and drink all night. And Harry liked that program OK, except for the golf part. So for the benefit of his temperament, he skipped the golf and went right to the rest of the day.”
- One of his famous sayings when he saw a younger woman was, “Young lady, you need an older man in your life.”
- “I’ve been married three times, and I’ve probably paid alimony longer than anyone in history,” “My first wife was a wonderful woman. It was all my fault that we didn’t stay together. But in 1979 I was sending her checks and thinking, ‘Holy cow, I’ve been doing this for thirty years already. How long will this go on?’ So I put that in a note with my monthly check.
“Two days later I got a letter back that said: ‘Dearest Harry, till death do us part.’”
- “Well,” Harry answered, “first of all, we’re getting Italian food because that’s what I eat every night after the game. That’s what I eat about 360 nights a year and I’m not changing tonight. And secondly, I’m paying for it. And if you don’t like any of that, then you better get out of the limo right now and go back to the hotel because that’s the way it is.”
- One thing about Harry that always looked perfect was his wild and wavy white hair. “Stan, I want it to look like Bob’s Big Boy,” Harry would say. “Flop it up real nice on top so it looks like Bob’s Big Boy.”
- A lot of people thought he mentioned restaurants or bars so that he could eat free or drink free, but that was never the case. He paid his own way. Period. “If you want to buy me a drink, that’s fine,” Harry would say. “If I like this place, I’ll mention it on the air but only because I like it. If you pay for my dinner, I’ll never mention it again.”
- ”Steve, baseball is the little kid eating a hot dog with his mom and dad, getting mustard all over his face,” Harry told me early in the 1983 season. “It’s the little old lady waving to the camera and hoping she’s on TV. It’s the sun and the cotton candy and the beer and the bleachers. That’s baseball every bit as much as the game and I always feel like it’s our job to let people at home feel that.”
- I remember he used to say to me, “Steve, what Italian do you think sang in front of the most people last year?”
I don’t know, Harry, you tell me.
“Why it’s me, of course!” he’d yell with delight.
- “I want the Cubs to win, but I like to see good baseball and if a player on another team makes a great play, I say that.”
- He was born Harry Christopher Carabina in St. Louis on March 1, 1914. And not long after that, he was an orphan.
- “You want to know what wins games? I’ll tell you what wins games. Pitching wins games, and scoring more runs than the other guy wins games.”
In summary, I don’t love Harry, because I didn’t even know Harry. But after reading “Where’s Harry?”, I think I now understand Harry, and I like Harry. I highly recommend “Where’s Harry?”.
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