CHICAGO (CBS) — Organizers say that people on six continents toasted the late Harry Caray to mark the Hall of Fame broadcaster’s 98th birthday on Thursday.
The epicenter of the worldwide toast was Harry Caray’s Restaurant on Navy Pier, where Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, fellow Hall of Famer Billy Williams and Cubs owner Tom Ricketts were among those who donned outsized replicas of Harry’s famed thick black glasses.
It’s a tradition that began with a toast by 200 people who jammed into the original Harry Caray’s Italian steakhouse, at 33 W. Kinzie St., following Caray’s 1998 funeral, days before he would have turned 84.
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Restaurant CEO Grant DePorter said it looked so impressive that they decided on a birthday toast a year later, which again packed the bar. In 2000, DePorter came up with the idea of having 73,000 fans join in at pubs across the country.
Caray once boasted of having consumed 73,000 Budweisers during his lifetime.
In 2001, the number was expanded to 300,000 — the number Caray of alcoholic drinks Caray once claimed to have consumed.
Since then, it’s been off to the races, with toasts on six continents and aboard the International Space Station. DePorter said the latest wrinkle is people bungeeing off of tall buildings and towers to toast as they yell, “This one’s for Harry.”
He called the late broadcaster’s fans “creative” and estimates that 5 million fans have joined in the toast.
Many broadcast personalities are huge in their time, but are quickly forgotten. DePorter said it’s the exact opposite for Caray.
“It’s gotten bigger and bigger,” he said of the toast.
For this year’s Navy Pier toast, DePorter convinced InBev, the European owner of Anheuser-Busch, to import Budweiser from each of the G8 countries.
The Japanese Budweiser was the last to arrive, hours before the toast.
The birthday toasts won’t end soon. DePorter said planning is under way for an even more expansive celebration next year, marking the 15th anniversary of Caray’s death, and in 2014, when it will mark both Caray’s 100th birthday and the centennial of Wrigley Field.
Caray, who was inducted into the broadcaster’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 and is also a member of the Radio Hall of Fame at Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications, began broadcasting major league baseball games in l945.
He spent 25 years in St. Louis as the voice of the Cardinals before being fired in a dispute with team owner August Busch. He spent one year in Oakland, broadcasting Athletics games, before settling in the Comiskey Park radio booth, broadcasting Chicago White Sox games for a decade. In 1981, he assumed the Cubs play-by-play job, which he kept until his death.
Known for the trademark “Holy Cow,” with which he greeted every home team’s homer and other spectacular plays, he also popularized the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” first at Comiskey Park and later at Wrigley Field, during the 7th-inning stretch.
Thursday, the Chicago cast of “Million Dollar Quartet” provided the musical accompaniment.