Monday, August 04, 2008

RIP Skip

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.


peacedog said...

I'm very sentimental this morning. I watched that game at the Flournoy residence, where playoff rituals were more than superstition (I was practically exhausted from beating my makeshift bongo while everyone else chopped). It was exhilarating, and I've rarely had sports moments like it (I got one more from the Braves a few years later though). Where reality just sort of fades away and you are as in the moment as you can ever be, I reckon. Pure euphoria I'm sure no substance on earth can properly capture.

I will greatly miss Skip, though I might argue the homer label a bit. Skip had a quality home town announcers frequently do not; he generally spoke well of the other team and was always quick to credit them. In that, he was the consummate professional, it's just that he wasn't afraid to root for the home team either.

Also, I think Bradley made a wonderful point today in noting that Skip was a home team guy, perhaps, but never a company man, and how much that mattered.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't say it better myself. Awesome read...

My favorite skip story happened back to 1994 when WGST lost the broadcast rights for the Braves back to WSB. They'd had the rights for a very short time (92-94) and WGST was afraid that the announcers were going to speak about the issue on the air and decided to do a 7 or 10 second delay so they could bleep out any references to WSB.

Needless to say the entire announcing team was pissed because they knew they were professional enough to handle the situation delicately. Anyways, in the middle of a game right after the move was announced, it started raining while Skip was doing his half of the game on the TBS broadcast (skip, joe, pete and don used to split the games evenly between radio and tv). It was just pouring and about a minute or so into the downpour he says "Well - if you're listening to the game on radio it just started raining" in the most absolute sarcastic tone of voice he could muster. Pure Skip - to the point, without hesitation and biting.

Just a sad day when one of the voices of your youth goes silent.

Scott said...


Anonymous said...

Truly a lesson to young and aspiring broadcast professionals.
Call the game your way - even if it means leaning on the team you want to win.

hoodawg said...

Great post, Michael. I have gotten goosebumps each and every time I've heard his call of Bream's slide in 1992. I spent that October night face-down on my bed, unable to watch but desperate to hear how it ended, and Skip painted the picture as if I'd been watching in HD. Driving south from Virginia, it was Skip's voice emerging out of the AM static that told me I was close to home. When you could turn on TBS in Arizona or Wisconsin and hear Pete chuckle at Skip's latest sarcastic quip, it was like you'd established an Atlanta embassy right in your hotel room.

The universe has spoken - the Braves era is ended.

Anonymous said...

I still get chills listening to the call of that game... I was 10 years old when it happened and that game is what made me love baseball. A lot of that credit goes to Skip, who explained the game to me for many years

Kevin said...

Strangely enough, he did not outlive Ernie Harwell, from whom he borrowed the "fan from [insert local municipality] catches the foul ball" meme.

Your post brings up a great point about the experience of watching a game on TV vs. listening to it on the radio. Imagination is such a powerful thing, and with the right guide on your couple-hour journey, the radio experience is almost always more fulfilling and memorable.

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