Nobody but Vin Scully should be allowed to call a baseball game.
There’s an exception to every rule. Skip Caray was the exception to that one.
Let me tell you why.
I started out to be a play-by-play broadcaster. Did about one-fourth of a Class A season while I was in college. Eighteen years old, thought I had died and gone to heaven. Then the sponsor canceled. I soon realized that minor league baseball was dying (this was in the mid-sixties), and football and basketball were the money sports for a young broadcaster. I was okay at basketball, not good at football because, as a 150-pound stringbean, I’d never played it. So I put away childish things.
Since I quit playing, when I surrendered to the curveball at 16, my exposure to the game has been mostly through TV and radio. I lived in minor league towns, then moved to Washington, which, as you may have noticed, still does not have a major league team. Growing up, I listened to Dizzy Dean and Mel Allen. Diz was a great show. I never liked Mel, because I couldn’t stand the Yankees. Didn’t realize how good he was until decades later. My interest in baseball waned when Curt Gowdy began broadcasting NBC’s Game of the Week in the late sixties. I only turned him on when I needed a nap.
My love for the game revived about the time cable TV came to my Washington suburb, bringing Skip and Pete Van Wieren and the unspeakably awful Atlanta Braves. If the Braves were America’s Team, America needed to fire the manager.
Sometimes Skip sounded like he wasn’t interested. He’d get silly. Hell, in the late eighties, many of the Braves’ players looked like they weren’t interested. But he usually had a twinkle. He once called himself “a smart-ass.” He wasn’t reverent toward the game or the players. He was sardonic, sarcastic and, above all, realistic. More than once he gave his viewers permission to turn off the broadcast, as long as they promised to patronize the sponsors.
Skip had a terrible voice. He swallowed his words, didn’t project, and had none of the vibrancy of his father Harry or even his screeching son Chip, about whom the less said the better.
The voices of the game are a matter of taste. I can actually name someone who liked Brent Musberger. There are the homers (the majority), the screamers (now nearing a majority), and the plain vanilla. For my taste, Mel Allen and Vin Scully stand far above all others. Nobody captured the excitement of a game like Allen, with his “boom box of a voice.” Nobody approaches Scully’s mastery of the American language. Listen to his description of the ninth inning of Koufax’s perfect game. That’s the best seven or eight minutes of live broadcasting you will ever hear.
Skip called an honest game. You can’t say that about many of them. When Skip got excited, you knew something big was happening. He rooted for the Braves – I hated to hear him call them “we” – but when they were bad, he said so. As a student of the game and its voices, I hear several cringe-worthy comments on every broadcast. After hundreds of evenings with Skip and the Braves, I can’t remember ever wanting to throw a shoe at him (or Pete).
You’ve heard it said many times in the inevitable maudlin man-on-the-street interviews when a radio or TV personality dies: “I feel like I’ve lost a friend.” I have spent most of my life working on TV and radio, and always thought it was just flat stupid to feel that way about somebody you never met. Until Skip died.