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Columnist
CSN Chicago makes good use of Presidents Day
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/15/2008 12:20 AM

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Monday is Presidents Day, but Comcast SportsNet Chicago is turning it into another sort of memorial holiday.

Harry Caray died 10 years ago Monday, a few days after suffering a massive stroke on Valentine's Day, so CSNC is proclaiming it "Holy Cow: Remembering Harry" Day.

Kids, take the day off from school and put it to good use by gathering around the old TV and learning what really makes a great baseball broadcaster.

CSNC will begin with the familiar documentary "Hello Again Everybody: The Harry Caray Story" at 11 a.m., but then things really get going at noon with the first of three complete Cubs games, the 1984 division-clinching win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I'm actually interested in hearing that because I believe I missed much of it the first time around. I can only recall watching in a noisy Wrigleyville bar and shouting, "Activate Ernie! We want Ernie!" with my buddy Boom-Boom.

That's actually the one must-see game of the day. The others are both post-stroke -- that is, after his first stroke, suffered in 1987.

At 2:30 p.m., CSNC reruns the Aug. 1, 1987, game between the Cubs and Phillies, and it figures to be interesting to hear how many times Caray calls Andre Dawson Andre Rodgers on a day he hits 3 home runs. Then it reruns the final available game, again between the Cubs and Phils, from Sept. 21, 1997, at 7:30 p.m.

Because, let's be honest here, the stroke diminished Caray, he was never the same afterward, never quite as sharp. But he was so great for the 42 years before that he had earned the right to broadcast as long as he wanted.

It's a pity CSNC doesn't have the rights to any of Caray's classic '70s White Sox games with Jimmy Piersall -- still the greatest baseball announcing team of all time, in my opinion. But a fan can always go back to the "50 years in baseball" compilation put out by WGN 720-AM, or the Hall of Fame series CD compiled by Pat Hughes, to hear his classic calls with the St. Louis Cardinals, such as Stan Musial's 3,000th hit (at Wrigley Field in 1958), and find out just what made him such a great announcer.

CNSC will try to capture that in a roundtable discussion at 5:30 p.m., a "SportsNite" special at 6:30 and a new half-hour profile at 7.

When Caray died a decade ago, I asked in print if there would ever be another like him and answered I thought there would be. His exceptional qualities where not that exceptional. He had a fan's knowledge and a fan's passion, and a way of creating space in a broadcast that made room for the fans. ("Listen to the crowd!")

Like all the greats, he also had an economy of expression, an eye for significant details and a flair for creating drama. It's not hard to convey what made him great.

But look at the 10 announcers on the ballot for the Ford Frick Award, to be announced Tuesday, and 10 years down the road there's no one like him -- and no one on the horizon.

Caray's honesty and his willingness to put the fans' interests ahead of both players' and owners' egos flies in the face of the business baseball and broadcasting have become.

Of the Frick nominees, Dizzy Dean is an iconoclast, to be sure, but he's already in the Hall of Fame as a player, which is all he deserves. Tony Kubek was an astute color analyst for a long time, but he was not as colorful as Caray -- or even Joe Garagiola, who replaced him alongside Curt Gowdy on NBC.

The rest of the nominees are lesser figures, including the late sentimental favorites, Joe Nuxhall and Bill King, nominated by fan voting. And let's not even go into Joe Morgan, who rode in on Nuxhall's casket coattails.

No, I've changed my mind. There will never be another Harry Caray. So get all you can of him on CSNC Monday.

In the air

Remotely interesting: NASCAR returns when Fox Sports airs the 50th running of the Daytona 500 at 1 p.m. Sunday on WFLD Channel 32.

CSTV is being renamed the CBS College Sports Network, formally effective next month.

End of the dial: The Cubs' Pat Hughes has been named Illinois Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association for his work on WGN 720-AM. It's the fourth time he's won the award in Illinois and the seventh time overall after taking three in row in Wisconsin in the early '90s.

The weekly baseball program "Hit and Run" has returned on WSCR 670-AM, with George Ofman and Jesse Rogers as hosts, at 9 a.m. Sundays.

-- Ted Cox