Caray's colleagues mourn broadcaster
Braves on-air personality beloved by others in his field
If Skip Caray's stature can be measured by how friends, colleagues and fans felt about the longtime Atlanta Braves broadcaster, baseball lost a truly great one when Caray passed away Sunday at the age of 68.
"It's just a sad thing," Reds broadcaster and Baseball Hall of Famer Marty Brennaman said. "I think he was one of the truly unique baseball broadcasters in the history of the game."
Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, today a Nationals broadcaster, recalled Caray with fondness.
"Skip was one of my tutors and mentors," Sutton said. "I went from being a ballplayer to a broadcaster. I don't think it could've been any better to have landed with Ernie Johnson Sr., Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren. Each of them taught me something. Skip helped developed the foundation for what I am as a broadcaster. He was a great friend.
"My family went through some trying times with my daughter's premature birth and my cancer. There wouldn't be a day that went by where he wouldn't say, 'You don't have to come up and drive. I'll come get you. Stay at our house. At least come out and eat. We have an apartment over the garage. You and Mary don't have to be driving back and forth.' We were 30 miles apart.
"He could be a curmudgeon on the air and he could be a pain in the butt, but he was the generous, lovable uncle that you never wanted to see leave. He was generous, moreso than anybody will ever know."
Brewers radio voice Bob Uecker said he was a little worried when Caray did not work the Brewers-Braves series at Turner Field over the weekend.
"He was a great broadcaster and a real good guy," Uecker said. "He had a sense of humor but it was dry, real dry. He never made himself obvious. I just remember him as a friend and a guy who loved his job."
Caray, the son of longtime Cardinals, Athletics, White Sox and Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray and father of broadcaster Chip Caray, made his own niche with a style that was as entertaining as it was informative.
His voice was known to millions of fans and not just in the South, thanks to station TBS, which made Braves games available nationwide for many years.
Uecker's broadcast partner, Jim Powell, grew up near Atlanta idolizing Caray.
"You grow up listening to 'your guy' and it's like he becomes larger than life," Powell said. "I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have become a sportscaster if not for Skip Caray. Ernie Johnson, Pete Van Wieren and Skip Caray, those were my guys, but I really loved Skip because I was a big Atlanta Hawks fan and he was phenomenal on those games, too. Skip, out of all of them, always seemed to be having the most fun of anyone in sportscasting."
Skip Caray: 1939-2008
Brennaman called Caray's family when he heard the sad news.
"He and I would visit on the phone periodically, and his son Chip is like a second son to me," Brennaman said. "But, I mean, getting the news last night that he had passed away, I was shocked. I had no clue, and I immediately got on the phone and called Chip and talked to Chip's wife. Chip and I talked at length today.
"It's a sad thing. I mean, 68 years old would be viewed by some people as being old. But to me, that's young. It's a tremendous loss to the city of Atlanta and to the Atlanta Braves. I mean, he loved the Atlanta Braves; he loved being on the job. He worked right up until he passed away, and he's had all kinds of health problems."
Brennaman said Caray's unique talent extended beyond broadcasting baseball games.
"He was smart enough to distance himself from his dad," Brennaman said. "He and his dad were close. But Skip made as much of a mark for himself in Atlanta as Harry made for himself in Chicago -- and before that in St. Louis. I think Skip was smart enough to realize if he was going to create a career for himself -- and a successful career -- that's the route that he had to go, and he did it. There's a generation of people who don't remember what a great basketball announcer he was.
"When he did the Atlanta Hawks game, he was out of this world. He was really good. Like I said, there's a generation that doesn't even know this. All they know is Skip Caray the baseball announcer; they don't know Skip Caray the basketball announcer. He did the St. Louis Hawks before they moved and went to Atlanta. Nobody can be as big as Harry -- nobody can. But given the fact that he was Harry's son, Skip forged for himself a tremendous career."
Yankees broadcaster John Sterling worked with Caray in Atlanta.
"I was really shocked, although his son Chip told me that his dad wasn't doing well, but I don't think you ever expect it. How can you ever expect it?" Sterling said. "You know, you lose a buddy, a friend, a peer. It's very shocking. And we've lost a few -- Bobby Murcer and Jim Kaat's wife and Skip.
"I worked with him a lot. We did a lot of games. And we socialized from the very beginning, from the get-go. And I thought he was either as talented or more talented than anyone whom I've either worked with or listened to. And it sounds very grandiose, but he was really talented."
Sterling said Caray had a style that was his own.
"He was more Jack Buck than Harry Caray," Sterling said. "He was quick -- on the air, off the air. When he really wanted to do it, boy, he was really good. He had this economy of words, which I don't have. He could do everything quickly, whether it was play-by-play or just schmoozing. He did things quickly, easily, and he had a great sense of humor."
Sterling recalled a story of the Braves' new Spring Training Facility at Disney World near Orlando. The whole team flew down for an exhibition game. There was a long procession of Disney characters, and everyone just was anxious to go home.
"As only Skip Caray could say, he said, 'Boy, this is really Mickey Mouse.' That's Skip Caray's humor. I thought he was more talented and gifted than really anyone else. He was really good on the air."
Caray's wit helped him through the unenviable task of broadcasting games during the lean years, as the Braves had their share of losing teams in the 1980s. His humor created a link with fans, and helped make what might have been dull games more enjoyable to watch.
"Skip said, 'Actually, it helps me because I can be sarcastic,'" Sterling said. "He was so sarcastic on the air. Now, I'm sure I would have loved him when they got good, because then the games were more important. He was really good. Really good on the air. And really funny. That's what made him different. He was really funny."
Caray's sense of humor was well known, and he didn't restrict his jibes to telecasts or friends. He could be self-deprecating as well.
"He had a tremendous, incredible sense of humor and wit about him," Brennaman said. "He could turn a phrase at the drop of a hat that would be applicable to something that was going on on the field or something that happened elsewhere in baseball or to some individual. He could stick a verbal barb into someone with the best of 'em. But at the same time, he could do it to himself, and I think that was one of the things that created the kind of appeal that he had and the kind of following that he had in Atlanta."
Diamondbacks broadcaster Daron Sutton, who first knew Caray through his father, Don, one of Caray's longtime broadcast partners, was shocked and saddened by the news.
"He was one of my dad's first broadcast partners, but I broke in with the Braves as a broadcaster as well, and he was very encouraging to me," Sutton said. "He was one of the only people who took the time to call me after my first Major League game with Ernie Johnson. He called me into the press box and said, 'Welcome to the big leagues, kid.' I'll never forget that he called me like that.
On Sutton's first road trip as a radio announcer, he filled in for Caray.
"I got Skip Caray's envelope with his meal money in it, and I thought, 'Wow, this is the best job ever. I have to get one of these full time.' I got to stay in Skip Caray's assigned hotel room," Sutton said. "He was always just encouraging. He had a wonderful sense of humor. I texted Chip last night and I told him, 'Your dad always made me smile.' To me, it's baseball, it's not brain surgery, and he always reminded us that it was fun.
"He was a huge inspiration for me. He and Pete Van Wieren are probably two of the reasons that I'm here today. There was Vin Scully growing up, but then I moved south. As I became older and studied broadcasting, those two guys always welcomed me into their booth with advice, with guidance. Those guys are it. They couldn't be more different, which is great, but those guys are the reason that I do what I do today."
Remembering Caray, Sutton got out his old Braves bottle opener. He said the bottle opener has become more special to him as a reminder of Caray.
"Popped open a cold one, and as I did, it had the 1995 World Series winning call," Sutton said. "He had a way about him, but it was his way, and he was true to himself. He never bent for anybody else. He is baseball in the south. He's really going to be missed."
Caray, Van Wieren and Pirates broadcaster Lanny Frattare each made the jump to broadcasting Major League Baseball in 1976.
"We were all part of the same class," Frattare said. "One of the things that was true for me was that I had a lot of questions about broadcasting. I was fortunate that I had a lot of people that I could talk to about them, and Skip was one of them. Even though Skip hadn't been in the big leagues longer than I had, he had a broadcasting background and I could talk to him about his dad and why he thought his dad was so well loved.
"I was also so amazed that when I listened to Skip, that he and Harry were such different personalities on the air. That was also a lesson to me because it proved to me that there wasn't one set way to do broadcasting to be successful. I'm pretty touched by his death for a number of reasons. One, because he was a friend and I'm sorry that he's gone. But I think it also says to me indirectly that I'm getting up there in age, too."
The Caray family issued a statement Monday:
"We are overwhelmed by the number of friends, colleagues, coworkers, MLB players and people in the baseball community who have reached out to us and so grateful and touched by their support and prayers. We are also deeply appreciative by the outpouring of support from the fans who grew up watching him and shared the ride."
Turner Sports will recognize the legacy of Skip Caray over the next several weeks, including a special feature on his legacy during the Sunday MLB on TBS telecast on Aug. 10 and a tribute during the Braves game telecast on Peachtree TV on Tuesday, Aug. 12, what would have been Caray's 69th birthday.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Skip Caray, whose Hall of Fame-worthy career behind the microphone was instrumental in the growth of Turner Sports from regional telecaster to national sports broadcaster," Turner Sports President David Levy said. "While Skip's work on our NBA and NFL coverage was significant, his legendary calls and trademark wit on TBS baseball are what resonated most with fans nationally and will not soon be forgotten. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Caray family."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Justice Hill, Bill Ladson, Jenifer Langosch, Anthony DiComo, Adam McCalvy and Mike Ritter contributed to this article. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.