Harry Caray has a statue in Chicago. It's parked outside the entrance to the bleachers at Wrigley Field.
All die-hard Sox fans can recite the Harry Caray story in a couple of sentences:
"Harry was with the Sox. But he didn't want to be on cable so he went to the Cubs where he got drunk, got super-famous, got senile, and died."
Today, Cubs fans might be paying tribute to Milo Hamilton - if not for six weeks in the fall of 1981.
In the early 80's, the White Sox were awful. They played in a decrepit ballpark in what was considered to be a bad part of town. Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall were the biggest names in the organization.
Things began to change as soon as Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn bought the ballclub in early '81. The seat of your pants ownership of Veeck was replaced by the deep pockets of the Sunshine Boys. They landed big name free agents. Carlton Fisk! Greg Luzinski!
The White Sox were one of the hottest teams in the American League when baseball went on strike in late June. The Sox fell off the face of the earth after play resumed in August.
After years of languishing on Channel 44, Harry and Jimmy were riding high on Superstation WGN-TV. The whole country got to see their act. By September, the act was getting hostile.
On September 3rd, Piersall slammed Greg Luzinski for failing to run out a ground ball. Manager Tony LaRussa said he told Bull to take it easy so he wouldn't re-injure his hamstring.
The beginning of the end came a couple of days later...outside of the broadcast booth. Piersall, along with Harry Caray, was a guest on Mike Royko's talk show on WLS-TV.
"I think each ballclub should have a clinic once a week for the wives. I don't think they know what baseball is. First of all, they were horny broads who wanted to get married. They wanted a little money, they want a little security, and a big, strong looking ballplayer. I traveled, I played, I got a load of them broads, too."
Einhorn wasn't happy, telling the Tribune:
"You'll never have a winning team with a situation like this. I'm not knocking them, but this is unprecedented - a broadcasting team that upstages the team on the field. Our organization is not well thought of because of things like this. We've had a team in the race all year, and we haven't been on national television yet."
Three days later, media columnist Aaron Gold reported that Piersall was going to be reinstated. But there was a catch:
"(Piersall) won't be back next year - and Caray may not either."
After the final game, speculation shifted to Harry Caray's future with the team. His contract was up, and the only public comment came from Einhorn, who said there would be a press conference in mid-October to discuss plans for 1982. "When you hear what we're doing, you'll understand the announcer situation," Einhorn said. At the time, only Joe McConnell was a lock to return.
The plans, of course, were for a pay-TV service called Sports Vision. In addition to the White Sox, it would broadcast the Bulls, Blackhawks, and Sting.
On October 10th, the Trib reported the Sox were talking to Dodgers legend and Angels broadcaster Don Drysdale. The team was also talking about luring Jim Fregosi to work for SportsVision. Lou Brock was on the Sox radar, but he flunked an audition. As for Harry, his agent was talking to the Cubs, but the team's chairman said his "first priority is the ballclub, not the announcers."
Harry wasn't the only baseball broadcasting icon who was thinking about switching sides. Jack Brickhouse was intrigued with the idea of working for Sports Vision.
"We envision him in charge of something called 'Sports Central,' in the same role as Bryant Gumbel or Brent Musberger," Reinsdorf told the Tribune on October 28. He also said he had buried the hatchet with Harry, and that a new deal was imminent.
Tribune TV critic Ron Alridge believed the Sox needed Caray to sell Sports Vision to fans:
"The Sox aren't worth $22 a month. Someday, maybe, but not yet; not after last season's nose-down finish, not with few superstars on the roster. Any recession-plagued baseball fan who forks out a little more than $250 a year to watch the Sox on TV is either rich, foolish, or a player's wife. Furthermore, the new Sox owners haven't exactly won the hearts of fans since taking over the club. It could be argued that Mayor Byrne is more popular with mass transit riders than Reinsdorf and Einhorn are with the Sox faithful."
"(Caray) is popular with the press and fans alike. Used properly, he can draw some good P.R. to the Sox at a time when they really need it."
On November 16th, Harry Caray officially defected, signing a two year, no cut contract with the WGN Continental Broadcasting Company. He would be paid $275,000 to do Cub games on WGN TV and Radio. He promised that the "Holy Cow!" routine, and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" would make the trip north to Wrigley Field.
Reinsdorf and Einhorn were not surprised, because Harry continued to drag his feet two weeks after the Sox offered him a new contract. Both men wished Harry well, and insisted life would go on.
They had some news of their own. On November 24, the Tribune reported the Sox were on the verge of naming their broadcast team for 1982. Don Drysdale was going to do play-by-play, with Ken Harrelson doing the color commentary.
"I guess that's the worst kept secret in town," Harrelson said. "I'm really looking forward to it."
Meantime, Jack Brickhouse's flirtation with Sports Vision came to an end, as he was expected to sign a new deal with WGN.
The rest is history.
Later in the weekend: getting to know Don and Hawk. Two guys who promised to be the exact opposite of Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall.
"Don and I are, more or less, strictly baseball. If you're gonna be funny in the broadcast, it means you're team is doing horse----."