08/11/08 9:27 PM ET
Hundreds attend service for Caray
Broadcaster remembered by friends, family and players
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
"What really means the most is the relationships with people like John Smoltz and Tom Glavine," Caray once said. "I wouldn't trade those memories for anything. I met some wonderful people, some of whom are in the Hall of Fame, some of whom never made it to the Major Leagues, but all quality people, and it's been a tremendous amount of fun."
Both current and future Hall of Famers were among the 600-plus people who attended a memorial service for Caray at Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta on Monday afternoon. The longtime Braves broadcaster, who would have turned 69 on Tuesday, passed away on Aug. 3.
More than a week since Caray provided a lasting, "So long, everybody", his fans, friends and family members are still taking advantage of the opportunity to provide a fitting goodbye and treasure the memories that he provided with his voice, generous heart and enthusiasm for life.
While providing the first of the six eulogies that were delivered during Monday's service, Pete Van Wieren gave a reminder that his close friend and longtime broadcast partner's memory would forever live through the impassioned calls that he made during some of the greatest moments in Braves history.
"Instead of saying goodbye, I'll say, 'Thanks for letting us be a part of your life," Van Wieren said. "Thanks for letting us share the ride."
During their 33 seasons together as Braves broadcasters, Van Wieren enjoyed a significant portion of Caray's ride through life.
Others, like Bill Bartholomay, who brought the Braves to Atlanta in 1966, and current Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten, who held that same role with the Braves from 1986-2003, savored their portion of the ride enough to travel to Atlanta for Monday's event.
Fans will have another chance to honor Caray during a tribute that will be held at Turner Field on Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET.
"Skip was just like Skip," Phil Niekro said. "There wasn't anybody like Skip. He didn't sugarcoat anything. He just told it like it was. He truly brought the game into your living room."
Within many of the eulogies were references to irreverence that Caray often displayed when disturbed by the delay of a game or the necessity to plug a sponsor during a portion of a broadcast when it didn't seem fitting.
But while telling stories about the countless jokes he and Caray shared for more than 20 years, Smoltz delivered a eulogy that was aimed toward stressing how much his friend cared for the players, even if there were times that he blasted their play on the air.
After Monday's service, Rick Camp, who pitched for the Braves from 1976-91, talked about how Caray and his wife, Paula, visited him multiple times in the Montgomery, Ala., prison that he was confined to earlier this decade.
"He stuck with me during my tough times," Camp said. "You don't have many people that do that."
In a fashion that would have irritated him, Caray's memorial service was slightly delayed because the Braves team bus got caught in traffic. Notable team members who were present, included manager Bobby Cox, pitching coach Roger McDowell, traveling secretary Bill Acree, Chipper Jones, Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Smoltz and Glavine.
Others members of the sports world that attended Monday's event were former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, Javy Lopez, Otis Nixon, Mark Lemke and Ernie Johnson, Jr., who credits Caray for giving him that push that he needed to follow his father into the broadcasting world.
Jones, Francoeur, Acree and McCann served as pallbearers with Caray's sons, Josh and Chip, who are following in their father's broadcasting footsteps.
"Everybody dies," former Atlanta Flames broadcaster Jiggs McDonald said during his eulogy. "Not everybody lives. My friend Skip really lived."
Like Frank Sinatra, Caray lived life with the mantra of doing things "My Way." During the 1970s, he and McDonald enjoyed many of Atlanta's top clubs. Then, when on the road, he joined Van Wieren and their mentor, Ernie Johnson, Sr., for an occasional postgame beverage.
"Skip had his likes and dislikes," said Johnson, who served as a broadcast partner with Caray and Van Wieren from 1976-1991. "He liked cocktails and dinner, cocktails and dinner and cocktails and dinner."
Johnson's delivery sparked laughter during Monday's service and preceded the eulogy provided by Dr. Charlie Wickliffe, who spent the past 15 years attempting to heal some of the bodily harm Caray's younger days created. Along the way, Wickliffe spent these 15 years developing a strong friendship.
Battling problems with his liver, kidneys and heart, Caray went into a coma in October and there was some belief that he would not awaken. But then, all of a sudden, Wickliffe entered the hospital room one day and without any indication, Caray immediately sat up and told yet another of his countless jokes.
Caray used to playfully tell Wickliffe, "When I die, you're going to have to get up in front of all of these people and tell them what happened."
With tears in his eyes, Wickliffe obeyed his friend's request and said, "His great heart just gave out."
During his first 14 seasons as a Braves broadcaster, Caray saw plenty of bad baseball and never shied away from delivering a truthful account in a sarcastic manner. But even when the Braves were in the process of winning 14 consecutive division titles, his sarcasm was still present.
One of Smoltz's favorite lines came shortly after Cox opted to move Ryan Klesko to the outfield. As Smoltz remembers, Caray said, "Ryno is running the right routes, we just can't get the ball to him."
Caray's days of broadcasting bad Braves teams ended when John Schuerholz came to Atlanta to serve as the general manager. These two quickly developed a strong bond that began with a lunch they shared before the the memorable Worst-to-First 1991 season.
Because the Braves advanced to the World Series that year, they agreed to make their preseason lunch an annual event, and Schuerholz would only have to pay if a world championship had been captured the previous year.
After the Braves won the 1995 World Series, the two met for their annual lunch, and when it came time for Schuerholz to pay, the restaurant's manager essentially told him, "The meal is on the house." This made Caray's blood boil.
"I thought he was going to go through the roof," Schuerholz said.
There won't be another preseason lunch for Schuerholz to share this winter and Smoltz will have to find somebody else to listen to his daily jokes. But Caray's voice and memories remain alive and cherished by the many who simply weren't ready for him to say, "So long, everybody," one last time.
"I will always remember, 'Braves Win, Braves Win, Braves win,'" Smoltz said, reciting Caray's call when Sid Bream slid home with the winning run in the 1992 National League Championship Series.
Mark Bowman is reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.