Baseball is an Exciting, ‘Holy Cow’ Kind of a Game

By Ray Elliott

I don't remember when I first heard Harry Caray broadcast a St. Louis Cardinals' baseball game. I don't even remember when I first heard him shout "Holy Cow," to alert his listeners that something spectacular had happened on the playing field. But as far back as I can remember, Harry was doing play-by-play for the Cardinals, bringing the game alive for me in a way no other announcer has ever been able to.

The sound of the bat smacking into the ball carries through the air waves and reverberates out of the radio. . . "It's swung on and theerrreeee she goes, it's way back there," Harry picks up the play with the crack of the bat and his raspy voice fills the air with electricity as he follows the ball with an urgency that brings you to the edge of your chair. "It might be, it could be, it i—Holllllyyy! Cowww! What a catch! Mays raced to the deepest part of right center field, turned and made a sensational leaping catch over his shoulder to rob Musial of an extra base hit and retire the side. . . ."

It didn't bother me one little bit that his critics said a call like that might be a routine catch if the batter happened to be one of the Cardinals or a routine fly ball if the batter happened to be from the opposing team. It wouldn't even have mattered if the critics were right. Harry called them close enough. And he made the game of baseball exciting when baseball really mattered.

He sounded like a man doing just what he wanted to be doing and loving every minute of it. Back when he was just a brash kid of 27 and started broadcasting the Cardinals' games with his first sidekick, former Cardinals' manager (1929-33, 1938) and old-time major league catcher Gabby Street, Harry was well into his love affair with baseball. So was the rest of the country.

Being a Cardinals' fan was natural to him. He was born and raised in a tough section of St. Louis where Pepper Martin, Dizzy and Paul Dean, Leo Durocher, Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick, Ripper Collins and the rest of the Gashouse Gang were everybody's heroes. The Carabinas (his family name) were of Italian, French and Rumanian ancestry and struggled during the Depression as did most other people. Baseball provided Harry an escape from the realities of times and life in the city

I'd always heard that Harry had walked right into the Cardinals' front office and told the man in charge that Harry Caray could broadcast baseball games much better than the man who was doing it at the time. And I'd always heard that Harry Caray got the job on the spot.

The press release from WGN Continental Broadcasting Company, which owns the radio and television stations that carry his play-by-play of the Chicago Cubs' games, said, "He auditioned for radio at 19 and then spent a few years training at radio stations in Joliet, Illinois, and Kalamazoo, Michigan."

Whatever. I like the grapevine story better, though. It just never occurred to me that Harry would ever need any training to do the play-by-play for the Cardinals.

But if you were a Cardinals' fan (and who wasn't?) and lived anywhere within the sound of his voice from the Spring of '45 on, you depended upon him to be your eyes and ears throughout the baseball season. And he grew on you like mold grows on old cheese.

The War was over before he finished his first season as a broadcaster in the big leagues, the Chicago Cubs won the National League Pennant with a ragged group of has-beens and castoffs who mostly weren't fit for military duty, then lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers in seven games.

By the next spring, major league baseball was back in full swing with Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Pee Wee Reese, Virgil Trucks and a host of other ball players back from service in World War II. One of Caray's all-time favorites, slugging Cardinals' outfielder and first baseman Stan "The Man" Musial, was among them.

The Cardinals won the National League Pennant that year and then went on to whip the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Enos "Country" Slaughter scored the go-ahead run in the bottom half of the eighth inning of the seventh game to win both the game and the Series. He was on first base with a two-out single off Boston pitcher Bob Klinger when Harry "The Hat" Walker hit a bloop double. On the relay throw to home, shortstop Johnny Pesky held the ball a split-second too long. Slaughter never slowed down and headed around third with his head down, his legs churning.

Harry must have gone wild, still, however, describing the play so well that you could almost see Slaughter digging for home, catching everybody, especially Pesky, off guard. . .

". . . Slaughter's rounding third, he's the winning run—he's heading for home, he's gonna try to score. . . the Red Sox don't believe it. . . Pesky is holding the ball. . . there's the throw to the plate. . . he's safe, Slaughter's safe. . . the Red Birds go ahead 4-3. . . it's up to (Harry) Brecheen to hold them in the ninth for the Red Birds to win the World Series. . . Hoolllllyyy Cowww! What daring base running! Enos Slaughter raced from first base to score on a little blooper to left-center field. You ever see anybody run the bases like that, Gabby?"

"That was quite an exhibition of base runnin', Harry. No doubt about that. Slaughter saw daylight an' headed for it. These Cardinals are playin' like the old Gashouse Gang. Slaughter reminds me a lot of Pepper Martin when he runs those basepaths, just puttin' his head down an' barrelin' in there. . .”

At least that's the way I imagined it must have been. The voice, the enthusiasm he had for the Cardinals were as much of a trademark as were the Red Birds sitting on the bat across the front of the players' uniforms.

It didn't matter whether the Cardinals were in the World Series, which they weren't for another eighteen years; or if they were battling for the Pennant, which they were sometimes; or whether they were struggling to play .500 ball, which they were often. Whenever you flipped on the radio, Harry's distinctive voice, deep and lusty but smooth as anything, was always there, ready to bring you the excitement of the next Cardinals' game.

That was mostly in the days before television and four-lane highways and two-hour drives to the ball park several times a year if you chose. Harry's voice was just as familiar to St. Louis baseball fans as Walter Cronkite's was to a later generation of Americans. But try as I might, I could never put a face to the voice.

I'd been out to a game or two at the old Sportsman's Park on Grand Avenue, but I'd never been able to spot Harry with everything else going on around me. I was in high school, I think, before I finally saw him down on the field, interviewing a player, and recognized Harry from a mug shot on a score card I'd just bought. He was an average-sized man with a slight paunch, with somewhat curly, graying hair, with thick, horn-rimmed glasses, magnifying the razor-slit, baggy eyes and with thick jowls, looking anything except like what I thought he might.

The voice didn't match the face. For me, anyway. But it didn't matter after I recovered from the initial shock. Harry Caray was the voice of the Cardinals. That matched. Players and owners, coaches and managers would come and go, but Harry was a permanent fixture. Until he was fired in 1969. That, too, was a shock—for everyone, Harry most of all.

“After twenty-five years doing the St. Louis Cardinals,” Caray said, his back to the batting cage at Chicago's Wrigley Field, where the Cardinals were taking batting practice, "I thought they were going to give me a gold watch, and they gave me a pink slip."