Caray leaves lasting legacy

BOB ELLIOTT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

For some reason every time we saw Skip Caray the previous few years we thought of Bobby Knight.

The former Indiana basketball coach levelled what he thought was the supreme zinger in a 2003 interview with ESPN's Jeremy Schaap, son of veteran writer and broadcaster Dick Schaap: "You got a long way to go to be as good as your dad."

We knew Dick Schaap. We know Jeremy.

We knew Harry Caray. Sadly, the past tense is used now, as we say we knew his son Skip.

Skip, an Atlanta Braves broadcaster, died Sunday morning in his sleep at age 68.

Both sons were as good, or better, than their fathers.

While Harry did the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs games in a loud, bombastic look-at-me manner, Skip was unassuming, understated and maybe, besides late scout Ellis Clary or Mike Flanagan, the funniest man we ever met.

In 1994, in the bowels of Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium, the first-place Montreal Expos were two hours from a game with the Braves. Skip saw me walk past the clubhouse entrance and asked: "Where are you headed?"

To the right field corner, to see if the pre-game colour guard was the same as in 1992 when the Canadian flag was accidentally hung upside down before Game 1 of the World Series.

"Not there. That soldier was airlifted out that night," Skip said. "Last we heard he was a one-man battalion, guarding a buoy in the Bering Strait."

When Dave Winfield accidentally killed a seagull at Exhibition Stadium in 1983, Skip's on-air line was "statues all over the world are applauding Winfield."

He helped make the Braves America's Team, despite the fact when owner Ted Turner displayed his team on Superstation TBS to a nationwide audience they were not very good. Caray was a reason, as was the station, for baseball's surge in popularity.

The Braves won 76 games in 1976. Skip's first year. They then won 61, 69, 66, 81, 50, 89 (making the post-season under Joe Torre in 1982), 88, 80, 66, 72, 69, 54, 63 and 65 games before Bobby Cox returned to manage again in 1991.

Skip was better when the Braves were bad and the stadium was three-quarters empty. They'd be losing 9-1 in the eighth and he'd announce: "Ladies and gentlemen if you promise to patronize our advertisers, you have my permission to watch something else."

Small turnouts were called "another partial sellout." He called extra innings "free baseball."

Once during a long losing streak Skip said "and like lambs to a slaughter ... the Braves take the field."

In 1988, the Braves took the unusual step of using male and female cheerleaders on top of the dugouts between innings. When the telecast returned from commercial, the camera showed a pretty Georgia female cheerleader.

"Do you know what's wrong with that?" Skip said on the air to partner Pete Van Wieren.

"No, what?" Pete said.

"Nothing," Skip said.

Every time a ball was fouled back it was grabbed by a man from the town of Marietta, Chattahoochee, Alpharetta or Chickamauga.

During one lopsided loss Van Wiren asked if he could try guessing what town a person was from. He guessed "Decatur" or some place. Skip quickly said "nope, he's from Lookout Mountain ... look at the way he walks."

The audience knew Skip was one of them. He never insulted the audience's intelligence by trying to say how good things were going. It was as if he was seated beside you on a bar stool at a corner saloon.

After the Braves' streak of post-season runs ended (1991-2005) and after Skip had stopped drinking, Braves reliever Jorge Sosa was on the mound in a save situation in 2006. Skip said on the air, "the bases are loaded, and I wish I was."

Skip told me in 2006 that Cox takes "all the blame when the Braves lose and none of the credit when the Braves win. That's his personality, he doesn't have an ego.

"Some managers crave limelight, my father was the same."

By now, Skip's probably seated with Tom Cheek discussing Otis Nixon's bunt attempt ... the final out of the 1992 Series. Farewell.


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