Chip Caray

October 6, 2009 was a momentous day for the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers. The two teams were tied at the top of the AL Central after 162 games, and a Game 163 tiebreaker would be necessary to send one team to the AL Division Series.

It would also be a momentous day for TBS play-by-play broadcaster Chip Caray, who was about to blow a call in the most dramatic fashion.

The tiebreaker game was a classic. Detroit took a 3-0 lead in the third inning, but Minnesota began to claw back. The Twins took a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning thanks to a two-run homer by Orlando Cabrera, but the Tigers tied it back up in the top of the eighth thanks to a Magglio Ordonez solo shot. Detroit regained the lead in the top of the tenth, but Minnesota battled back to tie the game again at five.

With men on the corners and one out, Nick Punto came to the plate with a chance to win the game, and Caray sent himself into baseball infamy.

“LINE DRIVE, BASE HIT!” Caray bellowed. However, it wasn’t a hit. It wasn’t even close. Tigers left fielder Ryan Raburn had glided over to easily make the catch and prepared to throw home.

After a brief awkward silence, Caray continued his call.

“Caught out there, runner tags, here he comes, throw to the plate, ON TARGET AND IN TIME! A double play ends the tenth!”

When the game came back from the break, it immediately went to reporter Craig Sager talking about Raburn’s arm.

Ultimately, the Twins would win the game in the bottom of the 12th inning. Caray’s call of the game-winning hit wasn’t particularly a classic.

Caray would go on to call the ALDS and NLCS for TBS in the 2009 MLB Postseason. Weeks later, he’d fumble another late-game call in the NLCS, calling a “throw to the plate” that never reached the infield dirt.

But after Game 163, criticism towards Caray began to bubble over, mainly in part due to his call of the line drive base hit that wasn’t.

For the New York Times, Richard Sandomir tore into Caray, saying he “is still prone to bad play calls, descriptive exaggerations, and factual errors” and dubbing him “an announcer out of his element.” Sandomir also wasn’t kind about the TBS call from Caray and Ron Darling on Game 1 of the ALDS between the Yankees and Twins, a day after the Game 163 miscue. Phil Mushnick of the New York Post dubbed Caray “master of the miscue” while criticizing numerous errors.

The 2009 Postseason was the end of the road for Caray as a national broadcaster. Weeks after the end of the World Series in November, Caray and Turner Sports agreed to part ways. A later story confirmed Caray’s departure “was prompted in part by poor reviews of Caray’s postseason work by critics and viewers.” Ernie Johnson took over for Caray as Turner’s lead MLB voice during the Postseason. Years later, Johnson was succeeded as the primary voice of MLB on TBS by Brian Anderson.

But Caray still ended up landing on his feet. A month after parting ways with TBS, he signed a deal with Fox Sports South to continue calling Atlanta Braves games.

After joining Fox Sports South, Caray seemed at peace with leaving his national role at Turner, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“This is what I came [to Atlanta] to do in the first place,” said Caray, who did not like the changes made in his Turner duties before the split. “The only reason I left Chicago, besides my dad, was to come here and do 150 games. This is the next-best thing to that happening. Me and my family are thrilled. …

“[Broadcast partner] Joe [Simpson] is my friend. We have a wonderful friendship off the air, which I think enhances our working relationship on the air.”

He also called the Braves job “the top step of the ladder for me.”

In another interview, Caray compared his national role at TBS to that of a pinch-hitter or relief pitcher.

Initial excitement about this opportunity waned as Caray realized the significance of the fact that the need to be in a different city every weekend further limited the number of opportunities that he had to call Braves games.

While Caray refuses to use the limited broadcast opportunities as an excuse to explain why he made some glaring mistakes during the most recent postseason, he confidently says that this new schedule will certainly provide him with the familiarity and comfort necessary to perform his job to the best of his abilities.

“It wasn’t the job that I had when I came here in the first place,” Caray said. “It would be like being a pinch-hitter or being a relief pitcher that works once every 10 days. I’m better when I work more.”

Caray was the voice of the Braves for the next decade-plus, leaving in early 2023 to take the St. Louis Cardinals play-by-play job.

When Caray slipped up during the tiebreaker game, it was easy to go in on him, and his performance across the rest of the 2009 Postseason provided more ammo for critics. With the benefit of hindsight all these years later, I feel a lot of sympathy for Caray. He joined TBS to call the Braves, and after doing that for just one season, his role was drastically altered. It was further modified when TBS began airing Postseason games in 2007 and when a Sunday afternoon game was added in 2008.

For Caray, the job he joined TBS to do was no longer a priority for the company and he was moved into a role that it really didn’t seem like he wanted. While a national job seems like the pinnacle for broadcasters, a role with more exposure and a more general focus isn’t for everyone and there’s no guarantee a well-liked, successful broadcaster at the local level will be a hit nationally.

Caray has settled into local roles, first in Atlanta and now in St. Louis, since his disastrous 2009 Postseason on TBS. While he may not be every fan’s cup of tea as a broadcaster, he’s come nowhere near the lows of 2009, perhaps indicating his national role at TBS was mainly a matter of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.