Finally, in their seventh year of existence, MLB Network is regularly producing good documentaries. Â A few weeks ago they had an excellent one on the Montreal Expos and last night they premiered one on Harry Caray.
Those of us who were Cubs fans in the ’80s and ’90s remember a different Harry than anybody younger than us.1 Â Our Harry sold Budweiser and shilled for his restaurant, and mangled player names, but he also was a helluva baseball announcer and he got just as mad–or, at times, even madder at the Cubs incompetence as we did at home.
Our Harry was only part caricature, and the documentary did a good job of reinforcing–for better and worse–the real Harry Caray.
Joe Buck, of all people, was the one to point out that the many Harry Caray imitators out there are just doing Will Ferrell’s exaggerated and not very good Harry. Â We’re looking at you, Ryan Dempster. Â And we’d like you to die.
Of course the documentary had to trot out the same losers we always seem to get. Â Jeff Garlin is the first person to talk–though to be fair, he makes some good points as the hour progresses. Â Tom Dreesen is there and–knock me off my feet with a feather–he tells a Frank Sinatra story. Â What were the odds?2
Chip Caray’s appearance is, I suppose, necessary but depressing. Â At one point, he tells a story about how Harry’s stepson is playing in the same little league tournament that Chip is. Â Only Harry doesn’t know who Chip is. Â Little 12-year old Chip waves at his grandpa, and Harry looks at him like he’s just any old bug eyed little freak. Â Chip’s little league coach has to take Chip to Harry and introduce him. Â It’s horrible, and it’s sad, and I laughed inappropriately, and because I’m going to Hell, and I suffered through seven seasons of Chip ruining Cubs games on TV, I enjoyed the whole thing immensely. Â I want to pull that video and play it on a loop forever.
Chip later tells a story about how his divorced father was gone and in Atlanta3, and the grandpa he didn’t know was in Chicago, and little Chippy would hurry home from school to try to catch the seventh inning stretch so he could see his grandpa, and then he’d watch Braves games at night to see his dad. Â Now, that’s admittedly horribly, horribly sad. Â I loved that one, too.
Chip’s appearance is startling in that he has let his hair grow out, and it’s long, and slicked back and he looks like the first guy to get killed in every Steven Segal movie.
Steve Stone tells a few good stories, and it serves as a reminder that with Harry, Steve was always tolerable at least, and usually very good. Â Without him, he’s just an insufferable ass.
The documentary hits all the obvious notes. Â There are lots of shots of Harry drinking in the booth, there are plenty of shots of shirtless Harry in the bleachers, we hear the story about how Bill Veeck tricked him into singing the Seventh Inning Stretch on the PA for the billionth time. Â We also get some pretty priceless stuff with the equally gonzo Billy Piersall back in their White Sox days.
But it’s Harry, and we eat it up, because for all of his faults, we really loved him. Â In his prime he was a great announcer who had a great sense of the moment. Â After the stroke he was good for a while and then a pretty rough listen, but he was still Harry so we didn’t mind.
Even if we didn’t fully realize it, the reason we loved Harry so much is that he broadcast the game forÂ us,Â and onlyÂ us. Â He didn’t care if he offended a player, or ownership, or anybody. Â He respected what we knew about the game too much to bullshit us. Â Speaking of that, if nothing else, this documentary got Bob Costas to swear–unbleeped–on the air. Â He said he asked Harry what it was really all about. Â And Harry, after a long windup said it was about four things.
My wife watched part of the documentary with me, and incredibly she didn’t know, or didn’t remember he started with the Cardinals. Â Because I hate all things Cardinals or St. Louis she asked why I liked Harry so much if he used to work for them.
I told her that’s precisely why I liked him so much. Â He started there, but went on to greater success, and greater popularity with the Cubs, and to this day it pisses people off in St. Louis. Â That kind of thing never gets old.
But as great as the documentary was, and as good of a job of telling Harry’s story as it did, one guy stole the show.
Some anonymous, long-lost Belushi brother, enjoying a sunny day in the bleachers, all oiled up and laying in the aisle, smoking something that looks suspiciously like it’s not a tobacco cigarette, and telling us all what’s what.
If you wanted to know what somebody who “got” Harry Caray looked like. Â It’s that guy.