Harry Went Down to Memphis

Harry Went Down to Memphis

In response to my top-10 list of biggest Cubs a-holes of all time, which included Jack Brickhouse, Tommy Cook wrote a must-read story about the true Jack from the eyes of a caddy at North Shore Country Club. That story led me to write this post, which is a memory of the day Harry Caray came to Memphis, Tennessee.

It was the summer of 1987, and as an expat Cubs fan who relocated to the south, I was definitely an outsider. Memphis was Cardinals country. But the city also had the Memphis Chicks, the then-minor league affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Tickets were cheap--often free--so many a night were spent at Tim McCarver Stadium. I was too late for Bo Jackson, but my first game there was the last for Jim Eisenreich, who got his call to The Show and never looked back.

Tim McCarver Stadium

One day that summer, I opened the paper to see an announcement that Harry Caray was coming to Memphis. He would call the first seven innings of the game over the PA system and would also be the grand guest of a special luncheon.

Not only did I score tickets to the sold-out game, but my dad surprised me with tickets to the luncheon as well. I had to go to Memphis in order for my path with Harry Caray to cross? Seemed odd, but it worked for me.

During the luncheon, Harry talked about his days with the Cardinals, what it's like calling games for the Cubs, and even his chance meeting and late night with Elvis during a long-ago visit to Memphis.

As a 14-year-old kid, I sat in awe. I couldn't even muster a question for the Q&A session. All I wanted to do was listen and to get his autograph on my Cubs-insignia baseball.

When the luncheon ended, it was announced that Harry had a few minutes to sign and then we would have to leave to make way for the local press. I made my way up to him at the head table and handed him my ball, which he signed. But when he handed it back to me, the ball slipped in his hand. This was not long after his stroke, so that hand was weakened.

I walked away to the back of the crowd with a smeared autograph  and showed it to my dad, who encouraged me to ask him to sign it again. I pulled up my courage and made my way back through the media, who were setting up their cameras. I was just about to Harry, when one of the event organizers told me I was too late.

Harry overheard this and looked at me. He asked me if there was a problem. I showed him the ball, and he apologized, took it from me, signed the other side and handed it back, asking me, "Will I see you at the game tonight?" I responded yes and walked out of there on a cloud.

At the game, following the stretch, Harry went back to signing at the autograph booth. When I got to him, he remembered me and signed everything I had, except my CUB FAN BUD MAN t-shirt. When he asked why he couldn't sign it, I told him then I couldn't wear it again, which caused him to chuckle.

A couple years later, I was at a night game at Wrigley and saw him. I asked him if he remembered me from Memphis and he said yes. Now I know he could have told the truth and said no, but he didn't.

It was that spirit about Harry that is the reason why so many people loved him, and also why the Cubs--and the neighboring establishments--owe more to him for their successes than any executive, player, or coach.

He was the spirit of what it is to be a fan of the game and the Cubs. That's my Harry story. What's yours?

And here is that ball today. It's a bit worse for wear, being 25 years old, but it still verifies the story.

Autograph with smudge

Second attempt

@WilcoMeThat

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Comments

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  • I got his autograph as he was leaving the field and heading up to the broadcast booth and of course I lost it.

  • The further we get away from Harry the more I realize his greatness. He was still very, very good when he took over the Cubs gig. I miss his passion.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    It appears (maybe from his orphan upbringing) that he was a real person. Certainly a change for the current day when some purveyor has an athlete sign a whole mess of stuff for the purveyor so the purveyor can sell it as supposedly authenticated.

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