King of Diamonds
03/09/1998 at 01:00 AM EST
SPRING TRAINING IS NORMALLY A time of joy and undue optimism. But at the Chicago Cubs training camp in Mesa, Ariz., the clubhouse was hushed and in mourning—for the Cubs had just lost their boisterous Voice: Harry Caray had died on Feb. 18, at 83, of cardiac arrest.
"I'll miss his silly, crazy butt," a teary Mark Grace, the Cubs' first baseman, told PEOPLE. He speaks for millions. Since the Roosevelt Administration, Caray was part of the music of the Midwest, a one-man oompah band for baseball, bursting over the airwaves with cries of "Holy cow!" after big plays. Thanks to Chicago TV superstation WGN, which broadcasts Cubs games in all 50 states, Caray gained national fame for his off-key singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"—shirtless at times—over the Cubs' PA system. A notorious partyer, he was a fixture in Second City nightclubs. But if he sometimes resembled a Shriner from hell, Caray was also an astute, acerbically critical play-by-play man, voted to Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1989. "I learned a lot from him," says Jack Buck, 73, who called St. Louis Cardinals' games with Caray from 1954 to 1969. "I learned to be honest."
Caray, who grew up in St. Louis, was orphaned at 10. He was selling basketball backboards in 1943 when he wangled an audition with radio station KMOX. By 1945 he was calling Cardinals games, and he remained a fixture until he was fired in 1969 for "marketing" reasons. Caray settled in Chicago in 1971, first with the White Sox, later with the Cubs. Though a 1987 stroke slurred his speech, it couldn't slow him down. But on Feb. 14, as he and his third wife, Dutchie, enjoyed a Valentine's Day dinner near their Palm Springs winter home, "he clutched his chest and went down," says waiter Bobby Wehrle. Caray never regained consciousness. He leaves behind a broadcast dynasty: son Skip, 58, is the voice of the Atlanta Braves, and Skip's son Chip, 33, was to join Harry in the Cubs booth on March 31. "I'd give anything to be able to do one game with him," Chip says. "Nobody can fill his shoes."