I lost a friend on Sunday night. A friend that I’ve never met. A friend I had seen only briefly over the past 20 years but a friend that I’ve heard and listened to for hours on end. That friend was Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray. Skip Caray, the voice of America’s Team for the past 32 years died while napping Sunday afternoon.
You may ask why a Maryland born and bred guy like me would mourn the loss of a National League, Atlanta Braves Sportscaster. I should be following the O’s and still mourn the loss of Baltimore Broadcast icon Chuck Thompson.
The fact is I was brought up as a National League Fan. My Dad, being from St. Louis Mo., was a die-hard Cardinal fan and member of the Knothole Gang. Naturally I grew up following the Senior Circuit.
The year was 1989. I started following the Braves that year. And they were difficult to watch, to say the least. That year they lost 97 games and won 63 – finishing 28 games out and drawing less than a million fans to Fulton County Stadium. Names such as, Benedict, Assenmacher, Glavine, Murphy, Lemke and Justice made for exciting play but not many wins. I watched the Braves on something new called “Cable TV” and on a channel even newer called TBS.
TBS, a Super Station. TBS was THE Super Station of the 90’s. Owned by Ted Turner who also, at the time, owned the Atlanta Braves. TBS was a vehicle that allowed Ted to broadcast and showcase his beloved Braves, airing a majority of their games on national TV.
Like any sports fan, one gets to know and either loves or hates the personalities behind the microphones. In those days, three names became familiar and beloved by me. Their names were Ernie Johnson, Pete Van Wieren and Skip Carey. Ernie Johnson was the voice of the Braves for 37 years ending his career with the Braves officially in 1999. Pete Van Wieren continues his stint as a Braves broadcaster since 1976 and Skip Caray began his career with Pete also in 1976.
As an aside, I often think that the Orioles lost a golden opportunity by not developing a Super Station to broadcast the Team in the early 90’s. Camden Yards had just opened as the crown jewel of Major League Baseball. Cal was in the middle of his career as was Eddie Murray. The Super Station, aired nationwide on the cable networks, would have created a national following for the O’s, much like I followed the Braves and in later years the Mets on WWOR, the Phillies on WPHL and the Yankees on WPIX. All of these stations were Super Stations at the time and they helped to galvanize a national following.
Skip was the son of famed Cardinal broadcaster Harry Caray. Born in St. Louis and raised Cardinal fans, both father and son never forgot where they came from. Skip and Harry would often mention their love of old time Cardinal Players during their broadcast.
Circumstances would move these two men away from their hometown team and transplant Harry to the Cubs (by way of The Oakland A’s and the Chicago White Sox) and son Skip to the Atlanta Braves.
I fell in love with the style that Skip, Pete and Ernie broadcast the game of baseball. Talking to one another as if they were the only ones in the room and your were a fortunate bystander to be privy to their conversation. The relaxed manner in which the three of them spoke allowing the game to speak for itself. Many times and I do mean many times, I would count the seconds where nothing was said by the announcers. On many occasions I counted 70 and 80 seconds where there was “dead air”, but it was really was a breath of fresh air because they knew they didn’t have to talk all of the time.
When they did speak, it was to describe the game on the field with emotion and sometimes deadpan as when the Braves were 28 games behind first place. In later years, former big leaguers Joe Simpson joined Skip as did Don Sutton. Joe’s style meshed perfectly with Skips’ and I enjoyed listening to the two of them.
Skip’s habit of pretending to know what small town in Georgia a fan was from that had just caught a foul ball was original and clever. It was a few years before I realized that he could not possibly know from where that fan harkened!
The relaxed, sometimes sarcastic, many time self deprecating style that Skip Caray evoked was refreshing. I watched the Braves because of Ernie, Pete, Joe and Skip! They were friends that invited themselves over to the house most summer nights and I loved it.
The Braves got better in the 90’s going from worst to first in the years 1990 and 1991. The 90’s saw the Atlanta Braves in postseason play in all but 2 of those years. Skip Caray was there the whole time with his delivery his excitement and his neighbor-next-door way about him. His son Chip got into broadcasting and Harry, Skip’s father, died in 1998. I never found the attraction for Harry and son Chip that I had for Skip. All three are/were very different broadcasters and according to Skip, that was by choice. He did not want to sound or be compared to Pop but wanted to carve his own niche and I think he did.
Sadly TBS made the decision a few years ago to limit the number of Braves broadcast. That, and Skips failing health, meant I no longer got to hear my favorite sports announcer.
How ironic that I first heard of Skip’s death on Sunday Night Baseball with the Phillies playing the Cards in St. Louis.
I will miss Skip a lot and the game of Baseball, The Perfect Game, will miss him too. In my opinion, Skip Caray was the best broadcaster of our day. People may argue that Vin Scully, Jon Miller, Tony Kubeck, even Chuck Thompson are better. With all due respect to those men, no one made me watch more Baseball and follow the Game as closely as Skip Caray.
I will miss him not only as a Braves Fan but a fan of the Game.
Thanks Skip for all those great memories.