The Harry effect would be seen at the first home game of the 1971 season against Minnesota. The Sox drew just 11,000 fans for their 1970 opener and had five crowds under 1,500. But their paid attendance for Harry’s first home game in 1971 was 43,253, the largest Opening Day crowd for the Sox at that time.
Caray’s first game-winning call came that day, when the Sox won 3-2 on a Rich McKinney single off Twins reliever Ron Perranoski:
“Perranoski from the belt…the pitch…here it is…Base hit! Left field! Sox win! Sox win! Holy Cow! The White Sox win!
By the end of 1971, Caray had become a fixture at 35th and Shields. The team, which finished with a 79-83 record, went from 495,355 in attendance to 833,891. And Caray’s attendance bonus kicked in — he earned an extra $20,000.
The face of White Sox baseball
Despite the challenges of broadcasting on an ad-hoc suburban network, by 1972 Caray had established himself as the face of White Sox baseball by embedding himself with the fans, both figuratively and literally. His broadcasts were filled with announcements about who was attending the game, although he reportedly once was duped by a phony note about three well-known attendees:
“Leon Russell, Stephen Stills and Jethro Tull are here drinking Falstaff.”
After 15 years of promoting Budweiser on the St. Louis broadcast, he was now touting the beer served at Sox Park, Falstaff. So his radio broadcasts were filled with shout-outs to Falstaff and the other sponsor, the ‘70s-era Midwest fast food chain, Chicken Unlimited (“Crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, marinated with an old family recipe — need I tell you, it tastes delicious”). Chicken Unlimited was served at the ballpark, giving fans a “dinner option” they did not possess at daytime-only, concessions-short Wrigley Field.
Center field bleacher shirtless broadcasts
He also resurrected his occasional shirtless broadcasts from the center field bleachers in 1972, a long-ago staple of tropical afternoons at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. In these faraway cheap seats, he would use his massive butterfly net for 440-foot home runs and mingle endlessly with the fans on-air. Sometimes he’d bring a cooler filled with Falstaff, and hand bottles out to fans.
“Harry was pure show and had a fans’ point of view, so he would go through extremes,” Weinberg said. “There was no in between with Harry, which is appealing to fans in a way because baseball’s not the most important thing in the world, right? So, if you spend a few hours a day or night listening to Harry, it’s more relatable than if it’s Bob who’s just telling you baseball stuff forever.”
After home games, Caray would continue courting and networking with fans, celebrities, athletes, business colleagues and just about anybody else who would spot him on Rush Street, the Near North Side thoroughfare which was the capital of Chicago nightlife.