“Hello again, everybody…Harry Caray back at the ballpark…”
Those words were always wonderful to hear during his eleven seasons as the main voice of the White Sox, beginning in 1971, after so many years as the legendary broadcaster of St. Louis Cardinals baseball and one season for the Oakland A’s.
At the time, the Sox were less than the hottest team in the game. In fact, they were lowly bottom-feeders from the two previous seasons (1969, in particular!). And they certainly needed something to liven up their dismal image and bolster a very sagging attendance.
And 1971 wouldn’t prove a whole lot better than the previous season’s record of 56 and 105, but it was somewhat better at 79 and 83 and good enough for a 3rd place finish in the West Division. Of course, that was one of the glory years for the mighty Oakland A’s as they rampaged their way to the World Series. Even so, there was a new breath of fresh air on the South Side, both on the field and up in the broadcast booth.
On the field, manager Chuck Tanner was at the helm, and the team responded well to his style and calm demeanor. Behind the mic was Harry Caray, giving Sox fans something they weren’t really used to from previous announcers: excitement and enthusiasm!
Of course these two items would come to rub some people—particularly some Sox players—the wrong way when it came time for Harry to be critical of their play in the field or at the plate. Fans—and players—would soon learn that Harry Caray wasn’t shy about telling it the way it was—faults and all!
To say that Harry was worth the price of a ticket would be a total understatement, especially if one could afford an upper deck box seat just below the broadcast booth. There, one could watch the game and also interact with Harry during the course of the game. At the time, his trademark was a large fishing net he’d proffer whenever a foul ball entered the area up by the booth. And, of course, between innings Harry often would lean out and chat back and forth with the growing legions of fans down below.
Yes, that first season with Harry was much different—both at the park or listening at home or in the car—after so many seasons of the droll and dry broadcasts of Bob Elson, who was anything but a part of the event. He would spend time talking about his recent gin rummy conquest in the Bards’ Room or Ernie Carrol’s chili on a cold night, or the pitching exploits of Lon Warneke from ages past! Harry Caray, on the other hand, found endless ways to add excitement to his calling of the action on the field. (“It might be, it could be…it is…a home run…Holy Cow!”). And he always delighted in spelling a player’s name backwards or admiring “Miss Bridgeport” seated in plain view in the seats below!
Plus, young and vibrant Sox organist, Nancy Faust, played right along with Harry’s antics, and it wouldn’t be long before the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” would become a regular feature during the 7th inning stretch.
Not only was there a new reason to go out to Comiskey Park for so much fun and entertainment which Harry was providing, but the team was also getting better.
The next few seasons to follow would ignite things all the more, and the 1971 season—Harry Caray’s first with the Sox—would be the one that lit the fuse for so many exciting ones to come! We’ll look into those and Harry’s partners in the next few posts.
See you at the ball park…