As he does his purposeful multitasking at the left end of Stony Brook’s press table, calling the basketball game while serving as his own analyst and engineer, Josh Caray appears to be a typical, hard-working, anonymous mid-major college announcer. Gradually, though, the alert sports fan will notice the distinct spelling of the last name, hear that the guy is from Atlanta . . .
It might be . . . It could be . . . It is! Yes, he is one of those Carays. He is a member of broadcasting’s royal family.
The fellow working games for WHLI 1370 AM is indeed the grandson of late Hall of Fame baseball announcer Harry Caray, Chicago’s beloved singer of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Josh’s father is Skip Caray, the late nationally renowned voice of the Braves on TBS. To quote the patriarch’s legendary call, “Holy Cow!”
Not that Josh, 35, puts any of that on his business card. Unlike his older half-brother Chip, who has followed their late dad into the Braves’ booth, Josh did not seem born behind a microphone. He didn’t get his calling until college. And as pleased as he always is to speak about his forebears, he will not bring up the subject unless you do first.
In fact, he never mentioned his heritage last year, after his first seasons doing Stony Brook football and basketball, when he applied (successfully) to announce Hudson Valley Renegades minor-league baseball games. Someone with the team eventually figured it out, the way most people do. “He certainly comes from an incredible lineage, but he’s trying to create his own niche and he’s doing a great job,” said Shawn Heilbron, Stony Brook’s director of athletics.
Caray, speaking at courtside before a recent Seawolves home game, said, “Listen, any time I have sent out a cover letter applying for a job, I have never written down who my family is. Because of that, I probably have missed out on some opportunities, but that’s OK. If you’re going to hire me, you’re going to hire me because I’m good, not because of what my family has done.
“Let’s face it, if you didn’t know me and I came up to you and said, ‘Hey, I’m Skip’s son and Harry’s grandson,’ I’m going to sound like a jerk.”
Instead, his goal is to sound like a pro, every game, every season. The younger Caray has no signature call to match the one the late Harry etched into Chicago’s fabric with each home run: “It might be . . . It could be . . . It is!” Josh said, “My dad didn’t do that, either.”
MAKING IT ON HIS OWN
The Setauket resident is paying homage to family tradition in his own way, by paying his dues.
He has been a news reporter in Atlanta; a baseball play-by-play man in Gwinnett and Rome, Georgia, and Waldorf, Maryland; a studio host in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a TV news anchor in Victoria, Texas. “Welcome to broadcasting,” he said of the unfolding path he decided to pursue as a student at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.
“When you grow up in a family that is as legendary — and I think that’s the only word to use — as my dad’s and granddad’s, you kind of want to shy away from all that stuff,” he said. “But as I got older and I understood more of what my dad and granddad did, adding the fact that the Braves were so good, I thought, ‘My God, I could do this for a living every single day of my life?’ ”
GRANDPA WAS NEVER DULL
When he was around his grandfather, he noticed that Harry never had a bad or uninteresting day.
Josh inherited a surname that Harry adopted (from Carabina) in the 1940s after he begged his hometown Cardinals for an audition. The youngest on the family broadcasting tree also was bequeathed the family history, although he has not heard all of it. For instance, he is not sure when Harry, a St. Louis fixture from 1945-69, started using his signature phrase “Holy Cow” (biographers point out it was well before Phil Rizzuto began a broadcasting career that popularized those words in New York).
Stony Brook’s Caray does know that Harry’s public crooning during the seventh-inning stretch began when Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck slipped the live public address microphone into the broadcast booth in the early 1980s. “A lot of people forget how big of a deal he was with the White Sox,” grandson said of granddad. After leaving the White Sox, Harry Caray took that custom with him to the booth at Wrigley Field, where he became a national institution, to the amazement of a grandchild visiting from Georgia.
“Wonderful man. He treated me like gold. But it wasn’t the typical granddad-grandson relationship,” Josh said. “He was ‘on’ all the time. We didn’t go to the movies or McDonald’s or anything like that. You always had to go in a limo everywhere and he couldn’t go more than two steps without someone asking for an autograph. His livelihood was his persona.”
That persona still was front and center when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series — 18 years after Harry’s death. Before Game 7, fans placed dozens of green apples on his grave, honoring the pledge Caray made in 1991 that the Cubs would one day be in the Series “as sure as God made little green apples.” And sure enough, Josh was in a limo at 6 a.m. the day after the Cubs finally broke through, heading to Manhattan for a CNN interview about the man who, in the grandson’s estimation, would have celebrated with a dozen Budweisers.
ROOTING FOR ATLANTA
The younger Caray’s sports fandom was all about Atlanta, though. Don’t get him started on the Super Bowl. The Falcons’ frustration notwithstanding, he realizes that his family’s fortunes turned way better when Skip moved there with the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks in 1968. That put Skip in perfect position to work for the Braves, who were poised to suddenly become winners. On a superstation with coast-to-coast reach, no less.
“Sure I wish he was home more, but he had a really cool job,” Josh said. “All your friends would be asking you, ‘Hey, what’s Terry Pendleton like? What’s Fred McGriff like? What’s Greg Maddux like?’ I know Atlanta gets a rap for being a bad sports town, but at the time, every game was sold out. People couldn’t get enough of them and I got to have a front-row seat.”
It was not just the Braves who earned young Caray’s admiration during summers at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He appreciated the keen observations and dry wit of the announcer who often brought him on road trips. “Being able to go out there every day for six months and put on a good show — and that’s what broadcasting is, doing a good show — really made an impression on me,” the son said of the dad, who died in 2008.
Ultimately, a late-teen Josh Caray decided to make his own way. “Like everyone else, I’ve taken my lumps and climbed up the ladder,” Josh said, adding that seven months behind an anchor desk in a tiny Texas market belonged in the “lumps” column. “It was a terrible, terrible experience.”
WELCOME TO LI
Early in 2015, he saw a notice on LinkedIn about Brian Miller, with whom he used to talk via headset when he did Tulane basketball pregame shows from a North Carolina studio. Miller had just left his job in sports information at Tulane to become assistant athletic director at Stony Brook. Caray emailed congratulations and offered, “If there’s anything I can do . . . ” Miller recalls replying, “Funny you should mention that.”
Stony Brook had an opening. Caray applied and enthusiastically took the job despite never having been closer to Suffolk County than Shea Stadium and having no knowledge about Long Island other than what he saw on “Everybody Loves Raymond” and what he heard from longtime Islanders voice Jiggs McDonald, a friend of Skip since they worked together on hockey games in Atlanta.
Along with announcing two sports at the university, Caray teaches a sports-reporting course. “Josh has really immersed himself in the culture here, not just Stony Brook but Long Island,” Heilbron said. “He is not just broadcasting the games, he is taking it upon himself to get to know our guys, get to know our coaches. He’s a part of us.”
Caray was a big part of the unforgettable scene last March 12, when the Seawolves finally earned their way into the NCAA Tournament. As the clock ran out, he told his audience, “The game is over! They’ve done it! Here comes the crowd!”
Then he stopped talking and let the roar resound. A savvy broadcaster in his own right, he knew that a moment, like a good resume or rich family legacy, can speak for itself.
THE CARAY CLAN
Josh Caray’s famous family and their baseball broadcasting careers:
St. Louis Cardinals 1943-69
Oakland A’s 1970
Chicago White Sox 1971-80
Chicago Cubs 1981-97
Also broadcast St. Louis Browns baseball, St. Louis Hawks basketball and college football
SKIP (HARRY JR.) CARAY
Atlanta Braves 1976-2007
Also broadcast St. Louis and Atlanta Hawks basketball, Atlanta Flames hockey and college basketball
CHIP (HARRY III) CARAY
1991-92 Atlanta Braves
1993-95 Seattle Mariners
1998-2004 Chicago Cubs
1996-2000 Fox MLB
2007-09 MLB on TBS