I clearly shouldn't ever start a post by saying that a team has reached rock bottom. I wrote that about the Braves last Tuesday. Since then, Teixeira has been traded, Hudson confirmed that he is going to undergo Tommy John surgery, the team lost four of six, and, worst of all, Skip Caray died yesterday. For fans who grew up in the state in the past 30 years, Skip and Larry Munson were the two icons of the local media. Both were unabashed homers. Both had a wonderful, gruff persona. Larry's comes out in the form of constant pessimism, while Skip's came out in a biting, critical voice that is sadly absent from most announcers these days.
(Note: I struggled whether to use past or present tense in that last paragraph. While Caray is gone, Larry is still thankfully with us. Do any grammarians out there want to weigh in on how one writes about to people, one living and one dead?)
I'll miss Caray announcing that that last foul ball was caught by a fan from Huntsville or Albany. I'll miss him mocking the wave. I'll miss him going off on umpires and their strike zones. I'll miss "there's a drive..." I'll miss his totally dismissive responses to callers who wanted him to explain why batters get three strikes and not four. Hell, I'll even miss him opining that baseball isn't too slow, a position that I couldn't get behind. For me, Caray was one of those stars in the constellation from childhood. I grew up listening to him call games (lots and lots of losses), so I couldn't be critical of him, even when he said something that I thought was wrong.
And speaking of memories, my favorite Skip Caray memory is no doubt a favorite for a lot of Braves fans. On October 14, 1992, I was the only one in a family of five who stayed up to the bitter end of Game Seven against the Pirates. I had an AP Calculus test the next day, so I'd been in my room, studying and listening to the game. OK, I was probably listening to the game more than studying. To paraphrase Francisco Scaramanga, math never was my strong suit. The Braves had been owned by Doug Drabek for eight innings. By the ninth inning, I was sitting in my room in the dark, listening on headphones. I remember Caray's excitement when Jose Lind's error put the tying run on. I remember him getting very excited when Ron Gant flew out to the warning track with the bases loaded. I remember him prefacing Cabrera's winning single by saying "lots of room in the gap in left center. If he hits it there, we can dance in the streets." Most of all, I remember "line drive left field, base hit!" like it was yesterday, Caray's voice rising with the crowd. I had this feeling of incredible anticipation. I couldn't wait to hear the next words from him. And then, that great pause before he yelled "SAFE! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN!"
(To the extent that Caray's death gets national coverage [let's hope that ESPN can come up with a Yankees or Red Sox angle], I feel bad for Pirates fans because their worst memory is about to come rushing back. Then again, Pittsburghers have two good pro teams and we have none, so I don't feel that bad.)
Skip was lucky enough to call one of the great games in baseball history and he absolutely nailed the call of the winning hit. Beyond the personality and the honesty, he was just great at his job. The past several seasons have been a constant change for the Braves as everything that made them great for a decade and a half has slowly bled away. Losing Skip Caray is part of that change.