Editor’s note: This should have gone up yesterday, the fifth anniversary of Skip Caray’s death. I apologize for not putting it up sooner.
“Like lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field.” For many Braves fans in the ’70s and ’80s, Skip Caray helped to make watching the team more bearable in the years when they were, to put it nicely, not good. Could you accuse him of “homerism”? Yeah, probably. But at least he was vocalizing how you felt. He would certainly cheer with you, but he would also criticize poor play and call things like he saw them. “This is as much fun as writing an alimony check.” And it was.
Or so I’ve been told. By time I was old enough to take an interest in the sport, the ’91 team had already gone worst to first, and the playoffs were an annual event. I was definitely spoiled by the Braves’ success that was a part of my entire childhood. TBS brought the Braves to me each night, but Skip made me love them. His knowledge of where fans who caught foul balls was part of the magic of the ’90’s Braves (I am ashamed to admit how old I was before I realized he made them all up), and his monotone reading of promotions that required enthusiasm could always get a chuckle out of me (“Toyota. Oh! Oh! Oh, what a feeling!”) I was heartbroken when the new MLB on TBS regulated Skip and Pete to the radio booth, and overjoyed when fan protests forced TBS to put them back on television. Some of my best childhood memories started with “Hello, there, Braves fans, and welcome to Braves baseball on the Superstation. Along with Pete Van Wieren, I’m Skip Caray!”
Five years ago today, the baseball world lost the man who could always fearlessly give the Atlanta traffic report during an away game without even validating it first. “I-285: bad; I-75: bad; I-85: bad. Spaghetti Junction is just that, and the Grady curve is a parking lot.” I had randomly switched on the radio a few nights before and caught a game he was doing. I distinctly remember thinking how great it was to hear him again, after his health had regulated him to only doing sporadic home games. All seemed right with the world again. Little did I dream that broadcast would be his last. It contained so many wonderful Skipisms that had been a regular part of Braves baseball for so long.
His joyous cry of “There’s a drive!” would often end with “Caught!” I learned never to get excited about a homerun until I could confirm it had actually gone over the fence. During an intentional walk, his play-by-play always included, “As day follows the night…ball four.” In close games you would hear that “a little insurance would be nice,” and throughout the division title run we often enjoyed “the stretch…the pitch…there’s a chopper to Chipper.” Many times the “Jones boys, no relation” would “hit the daylights out of that one.” In quick games we were “zipping right along here,” while a pitcher throwing over to first during a long game that contained “free baseball” would cause Skip to exclaim, “Oh, now, that’s all we need.”
During the less than stellar ’70s and ’80s, his humor shone through. “The bases are loaded, and I wish I was too.” When the games were well out of reach, he would be known to give viewers permission to go walk their dog, as long as they patronized the game’s sponsors. After Ted Turner forbid his newscasters to use the word “foreign” in an attempt to give CNN a more global appeal, Skip calmly explained that a batter had called time and stepped out of the batter’s box because “he had an international object in his eye.” Once, during an extra-inning game, Pete mentioned that a senior citizens group was at the game, and without missing a beat Skip intoned, “They were young when they got here.” When attendance was down, he would note “Folks, it’s blue seat night. Dress like a blue seat and get in free.”
To Skip, everything was possible. With the Braves trailing big early in a game, he once commented, “Well, a single here, a double there, a couple of walks, a home run, another double, another home run, a few more singles, another home run…and we’re right back in this one!” Another time he declared, “Just as soon as Chris [Chambliss] figures out how to hit an 11-run homer, we’ll be fine.”
He could predict the future at times: “When [Kevin] Mitchell hits into the 6-4-3, The Magnificent Seven will be coming on. Six. Four. Three. Hope that movie’s ready!” You also never knew what he might observe about the players he saw every day. “Andres [Thomas] has an interesting strike zone—he’ll swing at anything between the on-deck circles.” “Bob Horner has deceptive speed—he’s slower than he looks.” He would often offer to pitch in an extra $100 if Raphael Belliard hit a homer during the Goody’s Home Run Jackpot Inning. Opponents were not immune from him, either. He always saved a special wrath for the slow-working Steve Trachsel, who, “because of the rules, will inevitably have to throw one.” “The pitch…a ball. He better throw over to first again.” “Look at his own outfielders. They are all pictures of disgust.”
If the 100-loss teams managed to string a few victories together, Skip would comment, “win, win, win…it gets boring after awhile.” Once the Braves started actually winning and began to reel off division titles, he would often say, “Boy, this is fun!” Some of his most iconic calls are forever paired with the most exciting moments in Atlanta Braves’ history: “He is…SAFE! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! They may have to hospitalize Sid Bream.” “Fly ball, deep left center…Grissom on the run…YES! YES! YES! Your Atlanta Braves have given you a championship! Listen to this crowd!”
Even in those later, successful years, his humor never failed him. During the opening of the first game the Braves ever played in Arizona, Skip stared straight into the camera and threatened, “Hello Braves fans. The next person who says it’s a dry heat gets it in the neck.” After a ball struck a pigeon during a game at Shea Stadium, Skip said in a very matter of fact manner, “all the statues in New York are applauding.” During one of the last games he ever called, he noted “I’m sure that when the Braves AAA team opens their season at their new stadium in Gwinnett, the Department of Transportation will decide to pave the roads around that ballpark.”
Braves’ fans were lucky to have him for as long as we did. With his dry humor and wit, spoken in his nasally voice, no longer there to guide us through Braves’ games, we have to figure out on our own the hometowns of the fans who catch foul balls (“A fan from Kansas City comes away with that one…must be on vacation.”) Skip certainly left us with some treasured memories. I just wish we could “have it to do all over again.”
“So long, everybody…”