These Cubs could use bit of Caray's enthusiasm


CHICAGO -- There seems to be a minor movement afoot concerning Harry Caray, who's working his 49th consecutive season as a big-league broadcaster. Specifically, some of Harry's listeners feel he has lost his fastball and should retire from the public airwaves.

This is folly, but Harry isn't the first messenger to be blamed for relaying unwelcome messages. If the Cubs were engaged in a pennant race instead of another lost summer, fans would like what he has to say a lot better.

A few of them were in good throat the other day on Chicago's WSCR Radio, where morning host Tom Shaer devoted a segment to the issue. He was, as usual, professional about it, all the while reminding Sam on the car phone from Waukegan that Caray is under no apparent pressure from his WGN employers. Nor should he be, said Shaer, who advocates status quo instead of a new look in the Cubs' booth.

The 50,000-watt reality of it: Caray does fracture the English language on occasion, but he's not in the same ballpark as the Cubs when it comes to butchering an entire season. If they possessed the same zest and energy he does, perhaps they wouldn't be so many miles behind the Philadelphia Phillies. Harry refuses to let the Cubs rub off on him. The trick would be in their catching his enthusiasm.

Caray's insistence on treating every day as the seventh game of the World Series serves a useful purpose. He probably suspects strongly that he'll never have the opportunity to inform his audience of a Cubs championship. Harry's glasses are thick, but they aren't rose-tinted. When duty calls, Caray's is the voice of experience above exuberance.

He can spot a pitcher who doesn't have it, usually before many of the managers he has outlasted. He will detect and identify a team or individuals going through the motions. He speaks to the people, not around them or above them, and is unafraid of calling a ballgame boring or a ballclub disinterested. Yet Caray's constant love for the sport always provides for tomorrow, when he'll again be able to sell baseball better than anybody.

In spring training, the Cubs imagined they'd be as entertaining as Caray, or at least be able to provide him a worthy script for six months. It was a reasonable assumption, too. The Pittsburgh Pirates, after three straight National League East titles, simply had shed too many stars. The division was there to be won by any of five or six franchises. The fact that Philadelphia has picked up to dominate where the Pirates left off has been a surprise, even to the Phillies.

What's amazing, though, is that the Cubs have decided at this late date how gravely they miss Greg Maddux. He was the best pitcher in the National League a year ago, a stopper, a presence. Every team has an Opening Day pitcher, because somebody has to start the schedule. But not every team has a No. 1 pitcher, and the Cubs only deluded themselves into thinking that spreading his salary around would elicit equal return on his dollars. Mike Morgan or Jose Guzman or Greg Hibbard aren't Maddux. Period.

Ryne Sandberg noted that the Cubs also suffer from a lack of continuity, but that's only partly true. Baseball now is a business of transients. Witness the Toronto Blue Jays, who won a World Series and underwent serious alterations. The Cubs' problem isn't too many new faces, but too many square pegs in round holes. Even manager Jim Lefebvre said he's getting tired of watching dodgeball.

He's getting tired of it? Sandberg's getting tired of it? What about the fans? Lefebvre might pay with his job. That won't be the answer, but it would supply more material for Caray to help listeners through the summer. He does talk baseball, even when the baseball isn't very good, and forget his mispronunciations.

Caray is a fan, and when he changes names, maybe he's just protecting the guilty. And if you can't always tell exactly what's happening on the field with Harry at the mike, he's probably doing you a favor. Rest assured he's having a better year than the Cubs, again.

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