More than 20 years after his death, Harry Caray remains a larger than life figure. We remember him as a lovable broadcaster who helped make many bad Cubs teams more enjoyable to watch back in the 1980s and 1990s. Thousands of fans pass by his statue outside Wrigley Field every home game. We still honor him with the Seventh Inning Stretch and see impressions of him by the likes of Will Ferrell and Ryan Dempster.
But how well do we really know Harry Caray? There is so much more to his life than what most Cubs fans remember him for today. Fortunately, Don Zminda has offered up a timely and enjoyable book about the legendary broadcaster, The Legendary Harry Caray: Baseball’s Greatest Salesman.
Caray spent a total of 16 years (1982-1997) in the Cubs’ broadcast booth, but it was with the St. Louis Cardinals that he made a name for himself; in fact, Caray was there for 25 years (1945-1969). According to Zminda, what made Caray unique was the fact that he called the game like an average fan might. Caray was unabashedly a supporter of the Cardinals, getting excited when the team did something good and criticizing them when things went wrong.
This went against the conventions of sports broadcasting, which was expected to be more objective and not as full of raw emotion. For that, Caray received a lot of criticism from commentators and didn’t get along well with all of his broadcast partners. Yet it was also because of that that he became popular with the fans; though some did not like him, the majority of those who expressed their opinions thought highly of him.
After 25 years with the Cardinals, Caray would spend one year as the voice of the Oakland Athletics before spending 11 years with the Chicago White Sox. Most fans today seem quick to forgive Caray for spending a combined 36 years with the Cubs’ two biggest rivals, especially considering that his time with the Cubs was only about half of that. Despite the caricature that many portray of Caray today, he was actually a talented broadcaster who received many honors and awards for his work.
Zminda credits Caray with increasing the fan base of all the teams he worked for. Though the magical season of 1984 brought a lot of new Cubs fans into the fold, Caray and Steve Stone’s national telecasts on WGN – mostly during the day, when there were few other games on – helped to make the Cubs franchise what it is today.
The biggest strength of Zminda’s book is his objective assessment of Caray’s career. He does a good job of presenting the views of both his admirers and his detractors. Zminda himself is neither overly praiseworthy or overly critical of Caray, either as a person or a broadcaster, and this allows the readers to make up their minds about Caray for themselves (though I’m guessing that most Cubs fans who read this still love him).
In summary, this book was an easy read. I also learned a lot about Harry Caray and about broadcasting in general. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in baseball, the Chicago Cubs, or broadcasting history.