Caray honored at Turner Field
Fans, friends pay tribute to legendary broadcaster
ATLANTA -- Throughout his 33 seasons as a Braves broadcaster, Skip Caray shared a friendship with a number of people he never met. While simply delivering his honest voice into their living rooms on a nightly basis, he created a bond that exists beyond his death.
Many of the nearly 1,000 fans who gathered at Turner Field on Tuesday morning went to celebrate the life of a friend they never met. They mourned his sudden death on Aug. 3 and enjoyed some of the stories and calls he created during his legendary career.
"Skip was always there," said Pat Forney, a 57-year-old man from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who was among those who knew Caray only as a reliable voice. "He was like a friend. His irreverence and honest approach to the game made it feel like you were watching the game with a friend sitting next to you."
At the start of the tribute, Caray's longtime broadcast partner, Joe Simpson, provided a reminder that Tuesday would have been Caray's 69th birthday and prompted the crowd to begin singing "Happy Birthday."
"Today is a celebration," Simpson said. "We're going to be happy and have fun, just the way Skip would have wanted it."
The celebration was supposed to carry into Tuesday night's game against the Cubs. But rains postponed the contest, and the Braves will now stage the scheduled tribute before and during the second game of Wednesday's doubleheader.
The Braves will wear a patch that reads "Skip" on the sleeve of their jerseys for the remainder of this season. They'll also uncover a sign that is located below the television booth. The door to the booth is adorned with a sign that reads, "Skip Caray Broadcast Booth."
As did Monday's memorial service at Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, Tuesday morning's event included memories provided by Pete Van Wieren and John Smoltz. Braves CEO and chairman Terry McGuirk delivered the opening speech, and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue took time to honor the voice that he followed through many pennant races.
"I don't come as Governor but as one of the thousands of fans who came to love him," Perdue said.
Throughout the event, the stadium's large video board displayed past tributes, including one provided by Skip's father, Harry Caray, and some of the best calls Skip's voice produced.
Many of those calls, including the one he made when Sid Bream slid home with the winning run in the 1992 National League Championship Series, included Caray proclaiming, "Listen to this crowd."
|"He was like a friend. His irreverence and honest approach to the game made it feel like you were watching the game with a friend sitting next to you."|
|-- Braves fan Pat Forney|
During his address, McGuirk declared Tuesday to be a public celebration throughout Braves Nation in honor of Caray. In addition, he read a message delivered by Commissioner Bud Selig, who said that Caray would be remembered throughout Major League Baseball on Tuesday.
The public tribute came one day shy of the fourth anniversary of when Caray and his close friend and longtime broadcast partner Van Wieren were inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame together.
Van Wieren admitted he will face a tough challenge when he arrives to work for Wednesday's doubleheader against the Cubs. For the first time since they were joined as Braves broadcasters in 1976, he'll call a game knowing that he'll never have the pleasure of working with Caray again.
"It never got old," Van Wieren said. "It was some new adventure every day. ... Win or lose, it was always fun."
Simpson talked about those days, when he'd look to his side and see Caray get a gleam in his eye. That was the sign that something sarcastic or witty was about to come out of his mouth.
"I always thought, 'Oh no, where are we going with this?' " Simpson said. "But it was always fun."
McGuirk remembered the humor Caray created when he was sent to Russia to cover the Goodwill Games. Throughout the event, Caray's irreverent tone was aimed toward the Russian government, which had seized the supply of microwave popcorn he'd brought.
"I think [the Russians] thought they were foiling a major scheme," McGuirk said with a smile.
During Monday's service, Caray's friend, Jiggs McDonald, remembered when he asked Caray to cover an Atlanta Flames game that he couldn't attend. Unfamiliar with the National Hockey League, Caray chose to refer to the opposing team's players with names of his friends from the University of Missouri.
Then there was another humorous instance after a flight Caray was on was delayed coming back to Atlanta. During a game a few days later, the ever-comical broadcaster recognized a sponsor by saying, "Fly Eastern ... if you have the time."
"Skip never tried to be fancy or anybody else," Perdue said. "I think that's why we loved him."
Loyal Braves fan Wayne Coleman proudly provided a bagpipes rendition of "Amazing Grace" after a moment of silence was observed during Tuesday's event.
"It was an honor for them to ask me to do that," said Coleman. "He was just a voice on radio or television ... until 1990, when I met him and had some drinks with him."
That voice was just part of the man who was beloved by such players as Smoltz, who said that if given the chance to get another Major League hit, he will point to the sky in observance of his good friend, who was always there to provide a laugh.
After Smoltz took a comical tumble and rolled toward first base while attempting to record an out in San Diego a few years ago, he received a call from Caray, who said, "Thank you. I've never laughed so hard."
In many ways, fans are still saying "thank you" to Caray for making them laugh and serving as the reliable friend they never actually got to meet.
"He was a private man who lived a public life," Chip said of the father who doubled as his best friend.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.