Monday, February 18, 2008

Holy cow, indeed ...

I didn't need any more to feel older than I should be. It was enough to realize that Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson will all be 50 years old this summer, or that there are "young people" who don't realize that Carrie Underwood didn't originate the performance of the power ballad "Alone" that was first immortalized by Heart in 1987, or that it's been 19 years between Indiana Jones movies. But then, this evening, this realization that imprinted on this Cub fan's soul like a hot branding iron ...

Ten years ago today, Harry Caray passed away.

Yeah, it's been a decade since that blustering old man with the saucer-sized glasses who was the voice and the soul of the Chicago Cubs sipped his last cold Bud and journeyed to the diamond in the sky. He died four days after he collapsed at a restaurant in Palm Springs, California, while celebrating Valentine's Day with his beloved wife Dutchie. For Chicagoans and Cub fans, it was a loss more crushing than any late-inning loss, or than the World Series drought that has become as much a part of the Cub legacy as the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field. Indeed, we never truly got over losing Harry, as evidenced by the fact that, 10 years on, the team still employs "guest conductors" to carry on Harry's tradition of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch. His funeral was carried live on all of the local stations in Chicago, with no less than the archbishop of the city presiding. Cub stars such as Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa interrupted their spring training preparations to serve as honorary pallbearers. The team dedicated their season to Caray's memory - a season which ended with a surprise playoff berth and Sosa smashing 66 home runs in his epic (and now tainted) record duel with Mark McGwire. Would the Cubs have done as well without the weight of Harry's passing on their shoulders? Who knows. But it was a glorious summer, and a sad one as well.

Today there's a postmodern statue of Harry outside of Wrigley Field; one wonder what the man would have thought of the image. Fans still leave their empty (or full) cans of Budweiser at its base as an offering to the baseball gods. The restaurants that bear his name are still among the most popular in the Chicagoland area. And the Cubs, none of whom were on the team when Harry was the team's broadcast voice, gather again in the balmy climes of Arizona to prepare for another campaign, hoping that this will be the year that the squad and its fans finally end their wanderings in the desert that is World Series disappointment. But many of those fans would give anything - expect, maybe, that elusive world championship - to have Harry still with us, in the Wrigley broadcast booth, just to hear what he would do with the name Fukudome.

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