Recently I had to do some research on past broadcasters for my job, and one of the broadcasters I got assigned to look into was Harry Caray, the legendary Cardinals and Cubs play-by-play man.
I was just a few months old when Caray retired and about a year old when he died, so I never listened to him call a game. But as someone who's grown up following baseball and spent so much time around the game, I was aware of the impact that Caray had.
Broadcasters can enhance or diminish the game experience for viewers and listeners. While the game of baseball continues to evolve and is arguably being played at a better and more exciting rate than ever before, broadcasters seem to loathe the fact that players are having fun.
Some of the most prominent broadcasters in the game are constantly criticized for being "grumpy" or "annoying." Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz has found a role with Fox Sports, working alongside Joe Buck to call the game's biggest moments. Smoltz has used this platform at times to express his disdain for some of the trends around baseball, such as the rise of analytics and the amount of celebrating by younger players.
Broadcasters today are so disgusted by on-field celebrations that Pirates' announcer John Wehner said Derek Dietrich's grandfather was "rolling in his grave" every time Dietrich celebrated with a bat flip.
Baseball is supposed to be fun, but many of today's announcers seem to hate the face that players are enjoying themselves. While I don't know Caray's thoughts on bat flips and celebrations of the like, I believe he wouldn't care so much.
Caray seemed to enjoy being around the game more than broadcasters today do. He found delight in going to the ballpark and being in the electric atmosphere that a game can provide.
A man of the people, Caray would occasionally take his broadcast to the outfield bleachers with a cooler of beer for the fans and conduct his broadcaster from there. Networks such as ESPN have tried broadcasts from the stands, but I've never seen anyone else share a beer with the fans while they call a game.
Caray was the eyes and ears of the fans who were listening to him, and he was a friend of the fans at the ballpark. Among his most well-known exercises was singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th-inning stretch. He got the entire stadium involved, leaning out the window and leading thousands of fans in the cheerful song.
Caray knew that broadcasting was a business, but part of that business is entertaining the audience. He got his first job broadcasting for the St. Louis Cardinals after telling the team's sponsor "You need someone who's going to keep the fan interested in the game. If they're paying attention to the game, they'll pay attention to the commercial."
Now, he was known to be critical of the teams that employed him at times. But he did so from a fan's perspective, since, at his core, he was a baseball fan. He was quoted in 1977 saying "You can't be controversial by design because it comes off as phony. It has to be spontaneous. I'm like a fan. If I se something on the field I don't like, I react the way a fan does."
This post is not meant to be an indictment of all current broadcasters. There are some good ones out there that are entertaining and bring enthusiasm to the game.
Instead, my point is to highlight the career of Caray and praise a man who saw how much fun the game we love is supposed to be. In a time when baseball is seeing decline in popularity, the game could use more Harry Carays.
Matthew Atkins, Journalist and Baseball fan.