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WHITESOXINTERACTIVE.COM. Totally Biased Coverage of the Chicago White Sox!

Holy Cow! Harry Documentary!

By Mark Liptak

He was one of a kind and because of the way the world and the business of broadcasting has changed you’ll never see his like again. Harry Caray was a one of a kind person and a one of a kind broadcaster and he’s the subject of a new one hour documentary “Hello Again Everybody!” that will be shown on PBS, Thursday September 14th at 8PM local time (To be safe check your local listings for the airing of it.)

The executive producer, Noel Gimble and his staff based in Southern California, spent months tracking down Caray’s life, trying to come up with footage and photos and cris - crossed the country interviewing those who knew him. But the fundamental question applies, why Harry Caray?

“Harry was a legend in Chicago,” said Gimble. “He had a big fan base. His attorney is my attorney and I’d go to Chicago every year and every year I’d hear the stories about him or see things like a Harry Caray bobble-head doll and it was like he is still with us. I thought it would make a great story.”

Caray, born Harry Carabina in 1914 in St. Louis, was an orphan by the age of ten and color blind to boot, yet somehow he rose to get a play by play job with his hometown St. Louis Cardinals working alongside Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck and Joe Garagiola. His career also took him to Oakland for a season, to the White Sox for eleven years and then to the Cubs for fifteen more.

Caray like all of us, had his demons. There were rumors of an affair in St. Louis, he drank a lot and openly feuded and embarrassed broadcasters he didn’t care for, ranging from Hall of Famers like Milo Hamilton to J.C. Martin. These are sensitive subjects, ones that Gimble had to address in order to make his show completely accurate.

“I didn’t want to get into the Milo Hamilton issue because that was already done in his (Milo’s) book but overall you just couldn’t ignore certain issues. I tried to tell it in a humorous manner but I couldn’t ignore it or the show would lose credibility.”

In trying to get a complete picture of the man, 26 people were interviewed in person, another 10-14 fans were interviewed outside of Wrigley Field in late June when the White Sox came calling and others recounted their stories and memories in background phone conversations. Those personally interviewed ranged from members of the Caray family, including Skip and Chip, to Mike Ditka, Steve Stone, Bob Costas, Jimmy Piersall, Chet Coppock and Pat Hughes. Their comments and memories are revealing.

A block of the documentary is devoted to his days with the White Sox but sadly the amount of audio / video material included in it is small. There were two reasons for this. First off, actual TV video of Harry on the South Side before 1977 is extremely rare, if it exists at all, and more importantly the myopic and archaic rules MLB imposes on people wishing to do shows like this is outrageous, especially the costs for using what material does survive.

Noel elaborated. “At times it was tough working with major league baseball. The issue always revolves around who owns the tape, film or audio. Major league baseball feels that anything done in their stadiums, whether it’s a mainstream broadcast interview or a fan in the stands taking home movies, belongs to them. KMOX for example had pristine material of Harry calling the Cardinals - Yankees World Series in 1964 but wouldn’t let me use it. They were worried about any legal ramifications from major league baseball if they let me have it.”

It’s those same short-sighted rules for example that forced Comcast Sports Chicago to ‘blackout’ their recent airing of the Ozzie Guillen documentary outside of the White Sox local area. It was a documentary but because it included ‘game highlights’ it was judged to be in violation of other clubs territorial rights, therefore it was blacked out to all but those in the Chicago area. (Can’t have that twenty seconds of video of Ozzie playing the Twins in1985 invading the territory of the Mariners or Rockies....heaven forbid!!)

It’s a shame because I sent Noel approximately one hour of audio from Harry’s days with the Sox including classic ‘give and take’ between him and Jimmy Piersall from 1977 as well as Harry’s call of Dick Allen’s center field bleacher shot from August 23, 1972. Among the video sent was color home movie footage from June 1972 of Harry in the center field bleachers at the original Comiskey Park. Many of the White Sox still shots that Gimble used, came from Sox fan Leo Bauby and his web site devoted to White Sox photos down through the years, so at least there is some representation.

By the time Harry’s career was winding down, this once giant of a broadcaster was a shell of himself. Strokes slurred his speech and it was clear his mental facilities were leaving him as well. ‘Saturday Night Live’ did a sketch of Harry which was less then complimentary yet the Cubs and WGN-TV kept him on the air. Gimble was asked about the final years in Harry’s legendary career.

“I really wanted to get into his final years but the time factor was just impossible. I wanted the documentary to be 75-80 minutes long at first but WTTW / PBS said it had to be an hour so I had to cut out and tighten a lot of things. I was going to get into the Will Farrell material and you’re right, it really made fun of Harry but I just couldn’t.”

“No question Harry wasn’t the same after his stroke. But like Steve (Stone) told me, baseball was Harry’s life, it was his decision to keep going and remember some times some of the things he did, even at the end, was a put-on. As far as the Tribune Company, many of those years the Cubs didn’t have a good team so they weren’t going to upset the apple cart by asking Harry to leave or forcing Harry off the air.”

Caray passed away in Chicago in February 1998 at the age of 84.

Even with some of the shortcomings imposed upon it, this is a very worthwhile show. The life and times of Harry Caray are represented faithfully. The good and bad sides of the person are discussed and without question Gimble and his staff did their homework. Having seen an advanced copy of the documentary I can tell you personally that you should plan on watching this either on September 14th or whenever it’s shown in your local area.

Some Classic Harry calls from inside the White Sox broadcast booth...
....EXCLUSIVELY from White Sox Interactive!

August 23, 1972-Yankees at White Sox
Caray was broadcasting from the center field bleachers. Dick Allen stepped to the plate in the 7th inning of a close game. With Lindy McDaniel on the mound, Allen rocked a tremendous blast into the center field seats sending the crowd into shock and awe. Caray tried to catch the ball in his net but missed it. It provided the needed insurance in a 5-2 win. Here’s Caray’s call of this incredible moment and his interview with the fan who did catch that baseball. Courtesy: WTAQ / WEAW.
Let Me Hear It!

May 15, 1973- White Sox at A’s
Steve Stone came into a jam caused by Cy Acosta. in the 12th inning with runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. The Sox were up 6-5. Stone would strike out Joe Rudi then fan Gene Tenace to preserve the win with a very hard earned save. It’s Harry Caray with the play by play. Courtesy: WSNS-TV.
Let Me Hear It!

July 15, 1977- Boston at White Sox
The Red Sox came to town with both teams in first place in their respective divisions. Another big crowd saw the Sox rake starter Bob Stanley, as well as his relief man Bill Lee to the tune of a 7-0 lead. The big blow was when Lamar Johnson came up as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded and cleared them with a long blast. The Sox would hang on to win 9-7. It’s Harry Caray with the call. Courtesy: WMAQ.
Let Me Hear It!

Editor's Note: Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work. He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years. "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.

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