By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 21, 2008
The boys of summer paid their respects to the funny and at times irreverent man who told the Braves Nation about their on-field exploits.
Skip Caray, the long-time announcer for the Atlanta Braves, was remembered at a funeral Mass as a dozen pews at Christ the King Cathedral were filled by front office officials, broadcasting colleagues and Braves players.
The cathedral held a capacity crowd for the Monday, Aug. 11, two-hour funeral. A joke that Caray, with his wit and satirical humor on the airwaves, drew more people to his funeral than filled the stadium to see the hapless Braves play in the late 1970s sparked a laugh.
Pete Van Wieren and Caray worked 5,000 Braves games during their 33 years together in the broadcast booth. Each day was a new adventure, something else to laugh about, said Van Wieren.
“I know a lot of you are here today to say goodbye to Skip. But Skip isn’t going anywhere. He is going to be with us forever. Every day we’ll hear that voice. Every day we’ll remember that wit, that humor. Every day we’ll recall that attitude. So, instead of saying goodbye, I’m just going to say thanks. Thanks for letting all of us be a part of your life,” he said.
Caray would have been 69 on Tuesday, Aug. 12. He died on August 3. He is survived by his wife, Paula, and four children, sons Chip and Josh and daughters Cindy and Shayelyn. The son of the legendary broadcaster Harry Caray, Skip—whose full name was Harry Christopher Caray Jr.—was joined in the Braves broadcast booth in recent years by his son Chip. Josh is a broadcaster for the Rome Braves minor league team.
The Peachtree Street cathedral was the center of the Atlanta baseball universe for a brief time. A half-dozen TV trucks sat outside all day. Legendary players and broadcasters mingled with fans as they crowded into the church.
Affection bound Caray to players. Braves players Jeff Francoeur, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann served as pallbearers, along with Bill Acree, director of the Braves travel team, nephew Eric Stanger, David Woodbury, and Caray’s two sons.
Pitcher John Smoltz, representing the Braves, was one of the six close friends of Caray to speak after the funeral. Other speakers were broadcaster Ernie Johnson and Jiggs McDonald.
“He always made it a point to come down and say hello to the players and yes, tell a joke. With dignity and humility, he wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself,” Smoltz said.
Players faced Caray’s biting broadcasts during unsuccessful seasons, he said. But Smoltz said he was given a unique opportunity to announce games with Caray and learned about the man behind the microphone. “Every day we told a joke,” he said.
A favorite memory he said came when Ryan Klesko was sent to the outfield from his first base position. As Smoltz joked, Caray said, “Ryan is running the right routes, we just can’t get the ball to him.”
A doctor-patient relationship became a friendship as Dr. Charlie Wickliffe worked to heal Caray’s many ailments. “He lived his life fully. He had no regrets,” he said.
Wickliffe listed a litany of health problems, from diabetes to kidney failure. He bounced back after a coma last year, legendarily offering a joke as he emerged.
“From a coma to a joke, it was amazing,” the doctor said.
But the body gave out Aug. 3 as Caray did something he loved, filling his backyard birdfeeder.
“What happened was Skip’s great, generous, wonderful heart just gave out,” he said.
A lunch invitation from Caray when now Braves president John Schuerholz started as general manager became a pre-season tradition for years.
“That was a win-win lunch for the two of us,” he said.
The rule was Caray picked up the tab, unless the Braves won the World Series. Then Schuerholz would pay.
Finally, Caray in 1995 did not have to pick up the bill. As the lunch ended, Schuerholz asked for the check with Caray looking gleeful. Instead, the restaurant manager said the city was so proud of the team’s World Series win that lunch was on the house.
“I thought he was going to go through the roof,” Schuerholz said, as the mourners laughed at the memory. “I’ll miss those lunches.”
Msgr. Tom Kenny, moments into his homily, gave a play-by-play coverage as Caray approached the pearly gates.
“Caray is coming home. Can he make it? This will be a close one. Here comes the slide. He’s safe. Listen to that crowd of angels and saints. They’re going berserk.”
He reminded the crowd of mourners that Caray’s accomplishments didn’t end with the passing of the man.
“Years from now, the ripples of Skip’s life will still be moving onwards and upwards,” he said, in the lives of his family and the fans he entertained.