Monday, August 04, 2008

Thanks, Skip

I've spent a good chunk of this morning digging around YouTube and a handful of other video sites, searching for the right combination of search terms that would unlock one of two particular clips involving Skip Caray, the beloved Braves broadcaster who died in his sleep Sunday. I often see the word "beloved" tossed around in various tributes to public figures and sometimes wonder how "beloved," say, the local district attorney really was; in Caray's case, though, I know it's appropriate because I for one loved the hell out of him. No one I've heard was ever better at baseball. I'm not sure anyone I've heard has been better at any sport.

The clips I haven't been able to find would show why. The first was a staple of various baseball blooper specials or those "Not-So-Great Moments in Sports"-style videos that every kid I knew had three of. In it, the hapless early-80s Braves are facing the Giants on TBS, back at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Jeffrey Leonard is at the plate for the Giants, one out, runner on first, top of the ninth, Braves ahead. As Leonard approaches, Caray reads off a promo for whatever movie TBS had reeled up to follow the game. Leonard stands in as Caray says "And we'll get you to that just as soon as Leonard hits into a 6-4-3 double play." Pitch. Grounder to short. "6," Caray says, as the ball is scooped and flipped to second. "4. 3!" Game over. And as best I recall--and I may be manufacturing this last bit wholecloth, but what if I am? Some of our idols deserve this sort of treatment--neither Caray nor his partner (safe to assume it was one of Ernie Johnson or Pete Van Wieren) make any nod to Skip's little crystal-ball moment. They just get on with the details of the Braves' record, the winning pitcher, the "X-runs, X-hits, X-errors" minutiae of the box score.

The whole thing lasts about 20 seconds or so. But it's everything that made Caray great in a nutshell: the professionalism that was never robotic, the humor that never drew undue attention to itself, the intuition about the game, that subtle love for his and my baseball team that never (well, rarely) blossomed into outright homerism.

On that last part, Caray could be forgiven, I think, in the early '90s, when the same Braves that had been Hammerin' Hank, Dale Murphy, and a collection of bad jokes for the better part of 20 years became the most consistent club in American sports virtually overnight. There were days late in the 1991 pennant race when those of us who had spent our formative years squirreling away Gerald Perry cards and practicing the Gene Garber windup in the backyard could read the NL West standings and feel like we'd dropped into some parallel universe we'd be whisked away from at any moment. When Brian Hunter popped up with the bases loaded to bring Frankie Cabrera (Francisco freaking Cabrera! It's been 16 years, and I still can't believe it) to the plate with two outs and the Pirates up a run in Game 7 of the '92 NLCS, the wormhole that would bring us all back the Braves' old 100-loss reality seemed to be closer than ever.

Then, of course, Cabrera singled, Bream ran the fastest 90 feet of his entire molasses-paced life, and you know the rest. I wish like hell I'd been listening to Skip at the time; my Dad and I discussed muting the TV and clicking on the radio (as we did for Auburn's road games to listen to Jim Fyffe), but we worried about a lag and got Sean McDonough's TV call (weirdly available 15 seconds in here) instead. McDonough did a fine job, but there was still a sharp pang of regret when I heard Skip's call on SportsCenter the next day: his "Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!" had an edge that went far beyond simply telling the listener the good news--it was the voice of our collective amazement. Skip was telling us the wormhole was still closed, that he was as stunned as the rest of us that this star-crossed, snake-bitten baseball team would play for a world championship for a second year in a row.

Braves win. It didn't make any sense. Baseball usually does, and that's how Skip Caray called it, brilliantly, day-in and day-out for as long as I've been alive. But I thank him, now and years from now, for recognizing that singular moment in which the Braves and sense weren't even sharing the same galaxy.

It's not embeddable, but you can hear Skip's call of Bream coming home at the end of a brief tribute clip here. If you have the slightest drop of Braves fandom in your blood, I suggest you listen.

Condolences and prayers also extended to the Tide community in the wake of John Mark Stallings's passing.


Anonymous said...

This 30 year old got a little tear in his eye as he sat in the drive through at Martin's this morning listening to a Skip tribute on WSB.

Thanks, Skip

Acid Reign said...

.....I generally like baseball least, of the 4 major United States team sports. (Football, basketball, hockey, baseball.) However, Skip could keep me listening.

.....I grew up listening to his descriptions of Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro, Gene Garber, Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, and of course the amazing Glavine/Smoltz/Maddox triple-whammy of outstanding pitching! Skip will be missed.