As I have written about many times before, I have met and interviewed a lot of famous people. Players, coaches, announcers and other sports celebrities have a memorable place in my career. For instance, a few days ago I wrote about the time I met Mickey Mantle. Today I'm reminded of the time when I almost met one of my true announcing heroes - the great Harry Caray.
It was late winter of 1989. My wife Shelia had flown to Charlotte, met me at the airport and together we flew to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a long weekend get away. It was between basketball games for me so we decided to take an impromptu trip to the beach. It was right before the start of spring training but there were a few baseball people already in the Sunshine State.
One evening, we went to a nice little restaurant near the beach.
It was a beautiful night in Fort Lauderdale, and as we crossed the parking lot to enter this fine eating establishment I noticed an elderly gentleman coming out to leave. He had snow white hair and wore large black horn-rimmed glasses. You know the kind that Cubs' announcer Harry Caray wore. Then it quickly dawned on me.....that is Harry Caray. I stopped in my tracks and told Shelia, " That's Harry Caray ! "
She said, " Who?"
I replied, " Harry Caray. The play-by-play guy for the Chicago Cubs."
I had listened to Harry when he teamed up with Jack Buck to do St. Louis Cardinal games in the 1960s. He was one of my favorite announcers of all time and, since I had met his son Skip a few times when he was announcing Braves' games in Atlanta, I wanted to meet him and shake his hand. So, I turned around to go meet him when she stopped me and said, "Don't embarrass yourself. That's not Harry Caray. "
What do you mean, it's not Harry Caray? I know what he looks like."
She replied, "It's not Harry Caray. I saw where he passed away a few weeks ago."
I was shocked and heart-broken. I knew I had been really busy, but how could I have missed the news that Harry Caray had passed away. So I turned back around and we went in and sat down. When we were seated at our table, I noticed there were a lot of pictures of sports' celebrities hanging on the wall of the restaurant and sure enough, there were several pictures of Harry Caray. When our waiter came to the table to take our drink order, I asked him about ol' Harry. I asked him if he frequented the establishment very often. He said, "He comes in here all the time. In fact, he lust left a few minutes ago. You just missed him."
I slowly turned to my wife and said, "Oh we just missed him. Dadgum it, and I really wanted to meet him."
She was totally embarrassed but she got over it soon because we both broke out in laughter. She had gotten him mixed up with another sports figure who had passed away a few weeks earlier. I never got another chance to meet him because he did indeed pass away in 1998. So long Harry, until we almost meet again.
Randy Smith can be reached at email@example.com