Announcers

After Ron Acuna is drilled, Braves TV Voice Chip Caray says Baseball must protect its stars

Son of Skip Caray and grandson of Harry Caray also suggests baseball change its schedule to allow fans to see every MLB team at least once.

CHIP ALSO TALKS ABOUT COMING FROM A DIVORCED HOME. IN HIS ENTIRE LIFE, CHIP WAS WITH HIS GRANDPA HARRY ONLY A HANDFUL OF TIMES .

Say the last name Caray and you know we’re about to talk play-by-play of the national pastime.

The Caray moniker carries lots of weight. It has been synonymous with baseball broadcasting since 1945 when Harry began broadcasting Cardinals games at old Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.  Later, son Skip Caray continued the family’s foray into the booth when he joined the Atlanta Braves broadcast team in 1976.  So it’s no surprise that a third generation Caray wound up in the big leagues himself. Chip, son of Skip and grandson of Harry, began doing games for the Braves in 1991 and then joined the Seattle Mariners in 1993.

Young Chip (l), grandpa Harry and dad Skip Caray, a family legacy of play-by-play

Yes, the Caray name opened doors. Yet Chip got his reps in smaller markets like Panama City, Florida and Greensboro. He moved quickly. As a relatively young puppy, just 24, Chip was appointed the first television voice of the Orlando Magic when the franchise launched in 1989.

In 1998, Chip was hired to call Cubs games. The plan was that he would work alongside his aging grandfather and beloved Cubs announcer, Harry Caray. But Harry died on the eve of the season, so Chip worked with only Steve Stone and did so for seven seasons. He joined the Braves in 2005 and has been there since.

Meanwhile, Chips’ stock grew at Turner where he started calling  college football nationally and later the network’s MLB package.

In 2009, Chip’s career took a sharp turn. While announcing a playoff tiebreaker between the Twins and Tigers, he miscalled an obvious lineout and was widely criticized for it. He left the network after the post-season and settled back comfortably into his Braves’ broadcast seat. America is about second chances and Caray redeemed his reputation resiliently through hard work and reliable play-by-play.

Nobody’s career should be defined by a couple botched calls. Show me one play-by-play announcer who hasn’t made mistakes and I’ll show you a robot.

Now raising a family of his own, Chip has seen the game he continues to love go through generational changes. Who knows? Chip has a son Harry IV who might make it four straight generations of Carays in sports broadcasting. This Harry also has an interest in the business.Chip and I had a chance to talk yesterday.

We covered a variety of subjects; the game itself, the value of the Caray name and what it meant to him.

You’ve been at this a long time; the Braves are making waves again this year with a young team.  What’s it like getting to know this group and to feature them to your audience?

It’s very exciting.  Somewhat unexpected.  Maybe they’re a year ahead of schedule.  There are definitely some similarities between this 2018 edition and the 1991 team.  It’s a lot more fun covering a team that’s young, energetic and has a chance to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in a long time.  The great thing about being a team broadcaster is you become part of the fabric.  You see these players on the plane, the bus, at the team hotel and you start developing relationships. Yes, you’re in the background but you become part of the family.  We’re very fortunate to work with a great organization like the Atlanta Braves and for those of us along for the ride, it’s a dream job.

Before we go further there was an ugly situation with Ronald Acuna and Jose Urena on Wednesday.  Marlins’ pitcher Urena unloaded a fastball on the 20 year old Braves phenom Acuna. Immediate thoughts as the Braves broadcaster?

Yeah, that’s about as bad as it gets.

You talk about marketing baseball, it makes no sense to me that a guy  would want to punish and hurt a guy who’s good at his job.  So, first, pitch better and second,  Cole Hamels had a similar situation with Bryce Harper.  You’re going to hit him because he’s 20 and hasn’t earned his stripes yet?  That’s unfortunate.

Marketing 101 says you want to showcase your stars, not hurt them. I remember when I was doing NBA games and a player was called for a ticky-tack foul on Michael Jordan.  The referee, who shall remain nameless, told the player who had complained, saying ‘Listen, he’s our meal ticket.  If he goes down, we all go down.’ That’s what baseball has to learn.

When a guy throws the hardest pitch he’s ever thrown on the first pitch of the game that’s chicken shit as far as I’m concerned.  I hope Major League Baseball and Joe Torre will hand down the appropriate discipline.  (Urena was suspended for six games.) We’re in a different era of baseball now where the game is played differently from the way it was 40 years ago.  The old school way of thinking is sometimes at odds with today’s game.  No one’s saying put the guy in bubble wrap but to deliberately hurt a guy because you can’t get him out is some kind of a stupid message to me and is the antithesis of what the game should be about.

One thing about my career is that I’ve been doing this for 30 years now and really a generation removed from the ages of the current players.  Having a little grey on the beard has given me some credibility with these players and eventually they look at the bio and say hey this guy’s been doing this a while.  When a situation warrants itself like this, they come to know that I’ll have their backs and really that’s the way it should be.

Talk about broadcasting now versus when you started 25 years ago.  What’s changed from your perspective?

I think technology and the presentation of the games have changed.  The high resolution cameras, graphics, computerized statistical analyses, Statcasts and more make it so much better.  The sharp video resonates with younger viewers.  I think baseball coverage now is better than it’s ever been.  These are great athletes doing great things and the ability to enhance those skills for people who can’t get to the ballpark is terrific and only getting better.  Social media has changed everything.  Twitter, Facebook, you name it. Think about it.  If you wanted to get in touch with  a player 25 years ago, you’d send a letter, put it in the mail and hope he answers it two months later.  There’s an intimacy and freshness that are both good and bad but as a fan it’s a great time to watch televised sports.

Talk about technology from a broadcaster’s perspective.  So much more is expected beyond the call of the game these days.  How does it affect your preparation time?

I’ve gotten off of Twitter and I’m not on Facebook too much.  I think the idea behind those things has gotten kind of perverted.  In the old days, talk show hosts had dump buttons.  With social media it’s the would- be caller, the electronic caller who has the dump button.  With the immediacy of social media, the opportunity for thoughtful discourse disappears.  No matter how rational you may be, if someone disagrees with you, they go on the attack.  It’s really unfortunate because you want that interaction with fans; you want people to discuss what’s happening on the field because ultimately, we’re all gatekeepers of the sport.  It’s a wading pool that I’ve decided to exit because of the negativity. It’s not really worth the time for broadcasters and athletes anymore.

That’s a good segue because as you know, at the all-star game recently, there were comments made by baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred that more has to be done around the marketing of the game and he specifically singled out Mike Trout.  Your thoughts about the job baseball is doing to market itself?

I think baseball is doing lots of things right.  It’s such an international game now which presents this country as a wonderful melting pot of flavors and characters and viewpoints from across the world and also various playing styles.  My biggest hope is that in my lifetime we would see a geographic and economic realignment of the game to give more hope to smaller markets.

I’d love to see additional expansion to cities that are ready and thirsty for the game which would enhance realignment.  I’d love to see baseball have a schedule that makes a little more sense.  It makes no sense to me that fans in Atlanta only get to see Mike Trout come to their ballpark once every six years.  This is the greatest player in the game.  The NBA has it right and I hope MLB follows.  The best way to market your players is to expose them to every market at least once per year.

You came into the business as a Caray and in baseball the name carries a lot of weight.  What was it like?

Chip Caray

Similar to Joe Buck, Thom Brennaman, Kenny Albert and Todd Kalas. We would be lying if we said it didn’t help.  Not because they got us our jobs or helped us keep our jobs but the expectations that we had to be as good as our dads, the pillars of the industry.  When I was young, my dad and grandfather were on TV every day.  The only advice they gave me was ‘to be you’ because that was their great charm… warts and all, every single night.  People come to respect it.

Are there things I say stylistically that sound like my father and grandfather?  Of course.  Same for Thom Brennaman and his dad, Marty.  You can’t avoid the DNA.  The big perception that some have in our industry is that I had this silver spoon in my mouth.

The truth is I didn’t know my dad or grandfather very well.  My dad came from a divorced home; I came from a divorced home and really didn’t have a day to day relationship with my father until I was in college.

The greatest joy of my life was to come back to Atlanta, be his son and go to lunch with him or take him to the doctor, get his bags at the hotel or share stories with him on air as a peer; frankly just to be with him.

On the other side of the coin is the greatest misfortune of our family. I never got to close the circle with my grandfather.  I was supposed to work with him in Chicago and he died before spring training in 1998. So I never got to work with him.  To hear all those stories about the great Jackie Robinson, riding trains with Stan Musial and about baseball when it went west; all those incredible foundations of our game.

I forged my way with a lot of help from many people, my family included, but certainly missing out with my grandfather still hurts and not being with my dad still hurts.  Those are two monumental losses that I’m not sure I’ll ever get over.  Look, not that we’re celebrities but we’re a public commodity in these jobs.

Harry loved being in the spotlight, loved being Harry; my dad was the exact opposite.  I tend to lean toward my dad.  Do my job as best as I can and go home; be the best husband, father and member of the community that I can be.  Harry wanted to be the life of the party and live for that moment.  That was really a product of how he grew up.  He was an orphan in St. Louis, didn’t know his parents, and grew up without a home.

Given these challenges, he fought for everything he had.  Believe me, the legacy that he left my father isn’t forgotten and the legacy that my father and grandfather left for me isn’t forgotten and I hope to do the same for my sons.

You’re first big gig was in the NBA.  Do you miss it at all?

I miss my friends, the old broadcast colleagues, some of the refs like Dick Bavetta.  I got the NBA job with Orlando at age 24 and I had no idea what I was doing.  General Manager Pat Williams hired me. I had very little experience and the first thing he said was ‘There’s another one?’ I was there in the Magic’s infancy where the team won 15 games their first year and I was worse than the team.

Thank God there wasn’t Twitter or Facebook then because I don’t know if I would have survived.  These days you have to be great automatically or else you’re savaged in that format.  I grew, I learned.  Fun memories to say I was there when it all started.  The Shaq and Penny days, Chuck Daly, the NBA finals.  Great times!

 

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Dan Mason
Dan Mason

Dan Mason has been in sports broadcasting since the 1980s, doing play by play, color and covering the ACC. He previously hosted programming for ESPN Radio in Raleigh. He can be reached at dmason1@nc.rr.com

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Michael Green

I don’t want this to sound critical of Chip Caray, because I don’t mean it to be, but he struck me as more vanilla than his father and grandfather, and that was good: they had distinct, even overwhelming personalities, and if Chip were one way or the other, he’d be accused of imitating Harry or Skip. I recall his father saying once that he knew very well that if not for his father, he wouldn’t have gotten started in the business, but he had to be good to last in the business. That’s important to remember.