When most people think of a daily diary they imagine pages filled with tales of boyfriends, birthday parties, school days, and personal milestones. Cubs booth announcer Harry Caray filled his diary with the booze that filled him.
Caray’s drinking diaries were discovered among his belongings after he passed away. Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg obtained permission to look over some of the eight volumes that Caray had kept during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. The 1972 personal journal documents 288 straight days–from January 17 to November 2–in barrooms. The entries for the last nine days of the year list “vacation,” which Caray took in Acapulco. So, it remains a guess, if an educated one, whether he boozed in Mexico or not. But for 354 of the 357 previous days in 1972, Caray visited public houses and tap rooms and taverns in Chicago and on his journeys elsewhere in the United States.
It seems that Caray kept the daily diaries because in those days the “three-martini lunch” was a deductible business expense. So Caray wrote down every bar he visited and every famous person or businessman he drank with.
“I’m a convivial sort of guy. I like to drink and dance,” Steinberg recalled that Caray once said in an interview.
Columnist Steinberg took a detailed look at Caray’s 1972 diary and found many familiar names of famous players, team owners, coaches, actors, and local Chicago reporters.
Listed in the book were such names as basketball great Wilt Chamberlain, Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, Bears running back Gale Sayers, boxer Jack Dempsey, comedian Jack Benny, Clay Felker–founder of New York magazine–Caray’s former boss, A’s owner Charlie Finley, and a host of Chicago news folks. Even White Sox owner John Allyn, who had a very public spat with the sports announcer, makes an appearance.
Allyn famously fired Harry Caray as the Sox radio announcer in 1975, at which time Caray called him a “stupid man.”
“I can’t believe any man can own a ballclub and be as dumb as John Allyn,” Caray said. “Did he make enough to own it, or did he inherit it? He’s a stupid man. This game is much too complicated for a man like John Allyn.”
Steinberg’s report has an entire listing of some of the people and places Caray chronicled in his drinking diaries. But above all, these books just add to the amazing legend that is Harry Caray. How can anyone have lived to be 84 and have carried on like that decade after decade? But that was Harry and these diaries really drive that home for every Chicago fan.
As to why Harry was always out there day after day, Steinberg quotes Jimmy Rittenberg, owner of one of the Chicago bars that Harry frequented, as saying that Caray “felt the bartender and bar people were his fans. He felt he was responsible. He would stop in 10 joints. He was just a gregarious guy.”
That’s putting it mildly, but that is also why Harry is one of Chicago’s most beloved sports figures. He was an outsized personality in an outsized business in a day when celebrities were celebrated for good reason.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org