As WGN TV celebrates 75 years, we’re looking back with a series of stories on the history and the memories.

CHICAGO — If there were a Mount Rushmore-style monument of WGN television personalities, Harry Caray’s face – with his signature oversized glasses – would be etched in stone along with the other greats. 

But a statue outside of the Wrigley Field bleachers will have to do. It shows Caray pointing the WGN Sports microphone back at the fans he loved.   

“He is the most popular figure in Cubs history,” Jimmy Greenfield, author of 100 Things Cubs Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, said. “He was a legend loved by legends.” 

The boisterous baseball broadcaster’s name is synonymous with the Chicago Cubs on Channel 9 – and with fun itself.  

“I think the gift of Harry is, here’s a guy who was the longtime announcer for the Cubs’ most hated rival, the Cardinals, right?,” said Bob Vorwald, the longtime WGN director of production who oversaw Cubs telecasts on WGN. “And here’s a guy who spent 11 years doing their crosstown rival, the White Sox. And who is the most beloved announcer the cubs have ever had? It’s Harry.” 

Caray became a free agent in 1981 because of a dispute with the White Sox over the length of his proposed deal. He wanted multiple years, the Sox were offering only one. The South Siders were also moving to pay TV. On the other side of town, sportscasting giant and Baseball Hall of Famer Jack Brickhouse had announced his retirement. Caray made a call to Andy McKenna, who was then the president of the Cubs.  

“I said, ‘Boy, Andy, I’m really disappointed in you,’” Caray recalled in his final interview. “He said, ‘Harry, what are you talking about?” I said ‘Here, Jack Brickhouse is retired. You haven’t announced a replacement and here I am in this town. You know the kind of a job I do for the ballclub I work for and you haven’t even called me.’ And Andy McKenna says. ‘Harry, you’re kidding. You’re signed up.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ He said, ‘Well, you’ve got an option.’ ‘No, I don’t.’  I said, ‘I’ve been a free agent since the end of September.’ He said, ‘Don’t move. Where are you?” I said, ‘My apartment.’ He said, ‘You will hear from me or somebody representing me in 15 minutes.’”  

Caray was the new Cubs announcer.  

“Jack Brickhouse was somehow replaced by somebody who was even bigger than him,” Greenfield said. “He was replaced by Harry Caray.” 

Caray was entertaining, exciting, funny and friendly, “the quintessential life of the party,” said Greenfield.  

Caray made an immediate impression on the Cubs’ fan base. He thought of himself as a stand in for the fan who couldn’t be at the ballpark, a point he made upon his 1989 induction into the Hall of Fame.

“I think of the fan, and perhaps that’s who I represent here today,” Caray said. “You, the fan. In my mind, they are the unsung heroes of our great game.”

CHICAGO, IL – DECEMBER 7: U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (R) sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with Chicago Cubs television announcer Harry Caray (L) 04 April during their game against the New York Mets in Chicago. Hillary Clinton also threw out the first pitch of the game. (Photo credit should read EUGENE GARCIA/AFP via Getty Images)

He was excited after wins and despondent after losses – much like a fan.

“He was everyman,” Vorwald said. “He was the fans voice in the booth. He was the one who told it straight. He was the one who had fun. He was the one who would say anything to anybody, about anything. He could be relatable to anybody who was watching.” 

His legendary nightlife exploits earned him the nickname, “The Mayor of Rush Street.” 

“With Harry and going out, it’s tough to separate the myth from the legend. And he embraced both,” Vorwald said, “No matter what he was doing, he wanted you to think he was out all the time.” 

But behind the “Cub fan, Bud man,” party persona, there was a true professional.

“His motto to those of us behind the scenes was ‘When the team is bad, we have to be better,’” Vorwald said. “Well, most seasons, that meant Harry had to be great, because the teams weren’t that good.” 

And it’s a testament to Caray that so much forgettable baseball became memorable television.

“He found a way to share that love of baseball every day,” Vorwald said. “The fans knew he was one of them, he was a fan. He was not afraid to call people out. At the same time, you had to keep watching. You never knew what he would say or do. But his love of baseball shone through every pitch, every inning, every game. 

He stepped into the booth just as WGN had become a superstation, which could be seen on cable and satellite systems across the country – and beyond.  

“With the superstation,” said David Plier, the chairman of the Museum of Broadcast Communications. “People got to know him a lot more around the country, and he became, he was the guy who was on all the sportscasts and so forth.” 

Caray was a celebrity in Chicago and throughout the nation as perhaps the most well-known and beloved baseball announcer of his day, even inspiring a parody on Saturday Night Live. 

He suffered a stroke in 1987, leading to a parade of play-by-play pinch hitters in the WGN booth including Brent Musberger, Dick Enberg, Bob Costas and Bill Murray.

“Everyone knows that Bill Murray filled in for him a little bit during the ’87 season,” Greenfield said. “Murray tells a story about how he would go into the booth and peek into the fridge that Harry Caray kept in the broadcast booth and for him it was kind of like discovering that Santa Claus was real.” 

Caray is also responsible for a beloved ballpark tradition that echoes far beyond the walls of Wrigley – singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th Inning Stretch.

“It was always reliable,” said Rick Morris, an associate dean and professor at Northwestern University’s School of Communication. “He would sing the song, the stadium would sing, and I’m sure there were people at home singing along.” 

In 1998, before the start of the baseball season, Caray died of cardiac arrest and brain damage from a fall. He was 83.  

“He wasn’t just along for the ride, he was a ringleader,” Greenfield said.

Photojournalist Kevin Doellman contributed to this report.