It feels like we’ve lost a member of the family. And when you get right down to it, we have.
After all, we invited Skip Caray into our lives on a daily basis for over 30 years.
When you think of Braves baseball, you immediately think of Skip. The two were inseparable.
Until Sunday afternoon, when Skip went to take a nap, and never woke up.
“Our baseball community has lost a legend today,” Braves President John Schuerholz told Mark Bowman of mlb.com. “The Braves family and Braves fans everywhere will sadly miss him.”
His passing caught us all by surprise, including his broadcast partner and son, Chip. “I’m just in shock,” he told Bowman. “I know he wasn’t feeling good, but this is unexpected. He hung the moon for me. I got to talk to him [on Saturday] and the last thing I got to say to him was, ‘I love you.’”
A week ago in this space we wondered if this Braves season could get any worse.
Sadly, we now know that it can. John Smoltz agrees.
“This has really been a horrible year, with all the injuries and stuff,” Smoltz told Bowman. “This puts it all in perspective. Tomorrow, a baseball game will be played by a lot of young men with heavy hearts. We have lost one of the greatest figures in the city of Atlanta’s history.”
That’s saying quite a lot, and yet, it’s not saying too much. You can never overestimate the effect that a baseball team has on a community’s psyche. Remember 1991, when everywhere you went, people were buzzing about the Braves’ unexpected surge? I remember feeling ecstatic that Skip and the crew finally had meaningful games to broadcast.
That’s because it was the announcers we felt closest to. They brought us the action, described it in those familiar voices, and became our friends.
None more so than Skip. Probably because we could identify with Skip more than the others. Pete was the Professor, an encyclopedia of baseball knowledge. Ernie, Don, and Joe all played in the majors, a faint dream for most of us.
But Skip was Everyman. He was one of us. If the game was lousy, he’d say so. If the bases were loaded, he’d wish he was. When Rick Camp would walk up to the plate with a useless bat in his hands, Skip would intone, “Parents, if you have young children in the room, please beware. This is not going to be pretty.”
Once Ed Vargo missed a call, and Skip said, “Ed Vargo’s a good guy, but he may have just made the worst call in baseball history.”
Skip was always able to say exactly what we wanted to say, or what we were thinking. We identified with him. Right from Day One.
Skip’s first Atlanta gig was as voice of the 1964 Atlanta Crackers. In preparation for the mediocre Braves seasons he’d describe later, those Crackers finished 55-93. We didn’t tune in to see future big leaguers Jim Merritt, Joe Nossek, or Sandy Valdespino. We tuned in to hear Skip describe the mediocrity.
In 1965, Skip got to broadcast his first major league game. “That was the year station WSB, with Mel Allen as one of the voices, was televising some of the Milwaukee games back to Atlanta,” he told Curt Smith in Smith’s book Voices of the Game. “This one day I got a call telling me Mel’s mother had just died, that he was flying to New York, that WSB needed a guy to air the telecast, and could I, I guess because of my Atlanta experience, fill in for him on short notice.
“Could I? It was my first big league broadcast.”
Skip also came to grips with being the son of a great broadcaster.
“Having a famous father in the business has been a help and a hindrance. Mostly, it’s been a hindrance,” Skip told Smith. “At first it bothered me, people saying, ‘Ah, he got this job or that job because he’s Harry’s kid.’ I even thought of changing my name, but I dropped the idea.
“I finally looked at it this way: chances are I wouldn’t have gotten the job to begin with if I hadn’t been Harry’s son. I accept that. But I also realize that I’d worked hard; I wasn’t an overnight success. I paid my dues. And I always knew that if I did become a major league announcer, it would have to be because I’m good. I’m not that good looking or a threat to Twiggy!”
Skip also told Smith how Ernie put him at ease during his first game as one of the Braves regular announcers, in 1976. Skip announced the lineups, and then said, “‘and now, here with the play by play, the voice of the Braves, Ernie Johnson.’
“Well, when that half inning was over, Ernie leaned over during the commercial break and said quietly, ‘If you don’t mind, we’re all the voice of the Braves. I don’t need all that ego stuff. We’re all in this together.”
And so, for the next 33 years, Skip was the voice of the Braves. Whether you had the radio on fixing dinner, at the beach, doing yard work, or driving in the car, Skip was there with you. Even if you were relaxing in front of the television, you had Skip and the Braves.
Players came and went, as did managers, general managers, even owners. Chief Nokahoma’s long gone. But we always had Skip.
We’ll still have the Braves, but it won’t be quite the same. We’ll miss his candor, wit, and sarcasm. His “no runs, no hits, no errs.” But most of all, we’ll miss his trademark signoff, which now carries a sadly different meaning.
“So long, everybody.”