As a long-time Braves fan, it wouldn’t be right to let today go by without saying something about Skip Caray. Born on August 12, 1939, Skip joined TBS (Turner Broadcasting System) in 1976 and, for more than 30 years, entertained fans who either watched the games on TV or listened on the radio.
When I became a Braves fan in 1982, Caray was as much a part of the everyday lineup as Dale Murphy, Phil Niekro, and Claudell Washington. He probably didn’t have the same notoriety as his famous Budweiser-drinking, sitting-in-the-stands father Harry. And his voice, while distinctive, probably wasn’t as instantly recognizable as his dad’s, especially later in the games when Harry tended to be somewhat “chemically altered.”
But Skip Caray knew how to entertain the listening fan. He did a great job calling the games. Sure, he was a Braves fan, but he made no secret of that, and his salary was paid by the man (Ted Turner) that, at the time, owned the Braves as well as the TV/Radio network. So being a “homer” was allowed.
But even more than that, the man was funny. Over the years, many of his broadcasts with Pete van Wieren, Ernie Johnson, and Joe Simpson were sprinkled with humorous stories, laughter, and just goofy stuff that other baseball announcers never did. Part of that may have been to obscure the obvious: the Braves of the 1980’s were pitifully bad. Other than 1982 & 1983, they were pretty much the National League doormats.
I recall one game (against St. Louis maybe?) when the Braves came out to start the game, and Skip quipped, “And like lambs being led to slaughter, the Braves take the field.” Hilarious!! He had this thing for telling jokes on the air, but he’d never actually tell the joke itself (maybe because the nature of the joke wouldn’t allow it)…he’d just give the punchline. Then he’d start laughing and, as a viewer, I couldn’t help but laugh at the sheer goofiness of it.
The “Happy Birthday Greeting” sections were usually laced with humor as well. Sometimes a foul ball would be “caught by a fan visiting from Des Plaines, Illinois”, or some other made-up location.
Skip was never bashful about his feelings, either. During the futile 80’s, you could almost see Skip throwing his hands up in frustration at the woeful performances he had to “color” for us on TV. How many nights did I hear the phrase, “…and now the wheels have completely come off…” come from Skip’s lips? If an umpire made a bad call, Skip was quick to let us know how terrible it was.
Maybe that’s what I loved about Skip…he was just a real guy that happened to call Braves games. His emotions were always visible, his frustration was never hidden, and when things went well, his joy was effusive. When the Braves of the 80’s became the consistent winners of the 90’s, no one was as happy as Skip.
I’ll never forget the 1992 Championship Series against the Pirates, when the Braves were down 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th. I was at my boss’ house putting on my coat and standing, just waiting for the final out. Then Francisco Cabrera’s miracle hit put the Braves into the Series, and there was Skip, yelling “Braves win, Braves win, Braves win…!!!”
It’s been just over a year since Skip Caray passed away, and I miss his voice. I miss his laughter, his humor, and his love for the game of baseball. I’m not alone.
In conclusion, I’ll tell you my favorite “Skip Caray” moment. In 2003, Ray King was a relief pitcher for the Braves. He was a hard-throwing, sort of portly, left-hander. One evening he came on in relief and someone yelled from the stands, “C’mon Burger King!!”. Skip, who was calling the game, suddenly stopped talking and there was silence for about 10 seconds. When he finally gathered himself, you could tell he was laughing hysterically while trying to suppress it. I must have laughed for 10 minutes at that.
Happy Birthday, Skip Caray!! You’re deeply missed.