"If you don't like the Carays," says Skip Caray, a broadcaster for superstation TBS, "I feel sorry for you, because we have got you surrounded."
Indeed, never before in sports television have three generations of one family done play-by-play in the major leagues at the same time. Come next spring, there very well could be an evening when three Carays will be on the air at the same time, a sort of Cacophony of Carays.
Harry, the outrageous, flamboyant patriarch (he won't say how old he is), is available to 30 million homes as he talks about the Cubs on WGN TV and radio for some 150 games a season; Harry's son Skip, 50, can be seen and heard almost every hour of the day, or at least that's how it seems, broadcasting a total of more than 150 games a year—either the Atlanta Braves or NBA games—on TBS with its audience of 50 million homes; and starting this fall, Skip's son Chip, 24, will cover more than 60 games for an NBA expansion team, the Orlando (Fla.) Magic, on cable's Sunshine Network and WKCF, which together go to more than 1.5 million homes. Says Chip of the spreading reach of the Caray family, "I don't know where it will stop. They had better invent some kind of vaccine."
Despite this invasion of the airwaves, Harry says, "The only thing that is the same with us is the name." For that we gratefully count our blessings. Harry, who has been on the air since 1944 and the Cubs' announcer since 1982 and was a recent honoree in the broadcasters' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, is raucous, opinionated, often maddening, hopelessly lost in the '50s. We love him but couldn't stand having another one.
Skip, who joined TBS in 1972 to cover the Atlanta Hawks and added the Braves in 1976, has a style that is just the opposite of his father's. Harry exhausts you; Skip is easy company. That's good, because Skip may get more airtime than any other announcer in the industry. He is low-key, sophisticated, with a dry sense of humor and a ready wit. Recently, he treated a meaningless game between Atlanta and the Cincinnati Reds for what it was—a meaningless game. During the broadcast, he got to musing about whether old-time players coped better with the heat than their pampered modern-day counterparts. It was a nice aside, interestingly considered. Still, he is at his best when saying nothing. Skip is one of the very, very few announcers who understand that silence during a game is often a beautiful sound. It is a concept that Harry, for one, has never grasped.
What sound Chip will produce is not yet known. He is glib, articulate, good-looking—almost too good-looking to be a Caray. He has never done play-by-play, only light work as a weekend sports anchor in Panama City, Fla., and Greensboro, N.C. But Magic president and general manager Pat Williams, who hired the untested rookie from among 100 applicants for the job, says, "The promoter in me was greatly lured by having the third generation of one of the most famous names in broadcasting. But the guy better be good." Harry, with typical hyperbole, told Williams that Chip "will be the best of us all." Yet Chip understands the perils he will face because of his lineage. "My problem is that some people automatically expect me to be as good as my father and grandfather right away," he says. "That's just not going to be. But it's nice to be part of a family that people seem to like."
And people do, primarily because the Carays, despite their varied styles, exude sincerity. Harry says he believes in honesty in sportscasting—"All a broadcaster has is credibility," he says—and Skip and Chip say he has passed that belief down to them. Over the years, with Harry calling the action of some abysmal Cardinals, White Sox and Cub teams, and Skip broadcasting many bitter nights with the Braves and Hawks, there has been plenty of opportunity for straight talk about ineptitude. And it has been delivered. Says Skip, "Criticism is hard but necessary. But it's like a waiter standing in front of a restaurant and saying, 'Don't come in. The food is lousy.' "
The Carays definitely are not lousy, which is fortunate, since they now appear to be the main dishes on the sports television menu.
Harry has taken folks out to the ball game for 45 years.
Skip's low-key style is a welcome contrast to his dad's.
Chip will do his Magic act this fall.