Friday, June 23, 2017

Milo Hamilton's Feud With Harry Caray

For many Houston Astros fans, Milo Hamilton was the voice of the team. He called Astros games on radio for 28 years, and at his recent death, was lauded by many as one of the greatest of all time. Not everyone, though, thought Milo was the best. At least one iconic announcer and one newspaper reporter were not fans of Hamilton.
Houston Press writer John Royal called Hamilton's style, "loud and obnoxious," in this 2012 story, Astros Broadcaster Milo Hamilton To Retire, Finally. Royal likened Hamilton to his rival and nemesis, the late Harry Caray. This was quite a slam since Milo and Harry had a feud that lasted more than 40 years, only ending when Caray died in 1998 at age 83.
The feud began around 1954 when Hamilton was hired to call St. Louis Cardinals games with Caray and Jack Buck. The job lasted one year; Hamilton was let go, supposedly because the Cardinals wanted a former player's perspective in the booth, according to Curt Smith in Voices of Summer: Ranking Baseball's 101 All-time Best Announcers. Joe Garagiola replaced Hamilton, but Milo was apparently convinced that he was fired because Caray didn't want him in the same broadcast booth. If you're familiar with either Hamilton or Caray, you can guess it was a clash of huge egos that caused the difficulty.
To Chicago and Atlanta
After St. Louis, Hamilton went to work for the Chicago Cubs and WGN radio, with Jack Brickhouse and Vince Lloyd. After three years, Hamilton was out of a job again when, as Smith wrote, Cubs owner Philip Wrigley decided he wanted a player's perspective in the booth. Former player Lou Boudreau was hired in Hamilton's place.
After his brief stint with the Cubs, Hamilton moved on to the White Sox, and then the Atlanta Braves. While with the Braves, Milo was the man who, in 1974, called Hank Aaron's home run #715 that broke Babe Ruth's long-standing record. Hamilton's call of that home run is regarded as a classic example of a great announcer rising to a dramatic occasion.
Unfortunately, the Braves attendance during those years was low, and Hamilton often commented negatively on the air about the situation. Although Milo was popular with fans, the Braves fired him in 1975, most likely a result of his public treatment of the attendance situation. In a bit of irony, his replacement was Skip Caray, the son of his nemesis, Harry.
Pittsburgh Didn't Like Milo
Hamilton moved on to Pittsburgh, and he announced Pirates games for four years. Unlike Atlanta, Pittsburgh baseball fans didn't much like Milo and his style. According to Smith in Voices of Summer, fans and sportswriters frequently blasted Hamilton as a poor replacement for the great Bob Prince, who had been fired the previous year after a long, extremely successful run as the voice of the Pirates. Arguably, no one could have successfully followed Prince; it happened to be Milo, and it didn't turn out well.
Hamilton was eager to relocate, and in 1980, he returned to the Chicago Cubs broadcast booth. Hamilton claims in his 2007 book Making Airwaves: 60+ Years at Milo's Microphone, that the Cubs promised him the lead television broadcast role to begin in 1982, after the planned 1981 retirement of his booth partner Jack Brickhouse.
Then Harry came back into the picture, in a way that, predictably, fanned the flames. In 1982, the Tribune Company bought the Cubs from the Wrigley Family. They lured Caray away from the cross-town White Sox, intending to install Harry as the #1 man in the booth. After all indications had been that Milo would become the lead announcer, the tables were turned, and Hamilton would end up being #2 behind Caray again.
Personality Differences
According to this Brian McTaggart/Houston Chronicle story, Milo's book not exactly kind to Dierker, Caray, at the press conference announcing the hiring of Caray, Harry said to Milo: "What are you doing? I thought you'd leave town by now."
Hamilton didn't leave right away, suffering three long, uncomfortable seasons in Chicago before the Cubs fired him after the 1984 season, calling it a problem of "personality differences" (McTaggart). According to Curt Smith in Voices of Summer, Milo blamed Caray for losing the Cardinals job in 1955, and for being fired in Chicago in 1984.
Gordon Edes, writing in 1985 for the Los Angeles Times (Caray, Hamilton Still Voicing Their Differences) called it a "nasty little feud." Edes quoted an Inside Sports Magazine article by Bob Rubin with Hamilton speaking about Caray, "He wanted me out and someone in who posed no threat to him." The article quotes Caray: "Milo Hamilton's ego just consumed him," and Hamilton with: "I don't have any respect for him or the way he goes about his business."
A Miserable Human Being
"It's not a military secret (Caray) got me fired at (W)GN," Hamilton said in Milo Hamilton Never Did Make Peace With Harry Caray, a 1992 Phil Rogers/Chicago Tribune story. "He became an ambassador to the game . . . self-appointed as it might have been." Hamilton was frequently vocal about his dislike for Caray, In his book, published eight years after Caray died, he wrote about Harry, "Being around Caray, day after day, was a real challenge," and called him "a miserable human being."
Chicago Tribune writer Bob Verdi, ghostwriter to Harry Caray's book Holy Cow!, in a February 2006 Tribune article Time to wipe away bitterness of Caray-Hamilton feud, called Milo's book an "uncomfortable read," based mostly on Hamilton's slams against Caray. In the same article,
Verdi wrote that Caray and Hamilton "worked on a different wavelength", and "on their best days, they coexisted," because both men possessed massive egos. Verdi claims in that article that Caray was given many opportunities to fire back at Hamilton, but "he categorically refused, early and often."
Baseball's Biggest Egos
Edes wrote about both men that they had what were among "baseball's biggest egos," and clearly, both men were difficult to work with, especially when they worked in the same broadcast booth. It also appears from the research that they both perpetuated the feud when either man could have ended it. Hamilton's part in the feud makes him look petty and petulant – not a condemnation of Milo, simply an observation of the public record comments. It is possible that Caray was happy to let it appear that way, and that Harry intentionally maintained silence on the subject, to portray Milo as the bad guy.
It is an interesting story – two of baseball's most famous voices and personalities, and how they couldn't stand each other. For those of us who enjoyed Milo's style (obviously not including Harry Caray and John Royal), none of this really matters. For Astros fans, there are enough good memories for us to remember Milo fondly, as the man known for the phrase: "Holy Toledo, what a play!"
"He painted the picture and told the story of the Astros," said Astros President Reid Ryan in this Josh Chapin/KHOU 11 News story.
Jeff Balke, writing for the Houston Press.com a few days after Hamilton died, "Good announcers know how to stretch the time to leave just enough of the ambiance of the ballpark lingering in the air in between calls of balls and strikes. Since 1985, Milo Hamilton, who died on Thursday, was that announcer for the Houston Astros."
Former President George H.W. Bush, a long time Astros fan, said in a statement quoted in the above-mentioned ESPN/AP story, "Holy Toledo, what a good man he was – and we were fortunate to know him."
Regardless of whether you liked or respected Milo Hamilton, it is undeniable that he was important in the history of the Houston Astros. We were fortunate to know him as one of the men forever linked to the phrase 'the voice of the Astros.'
Larry Manch is an author, teacher, guitar player, freelance writer, and columnist. His books include: 'The Toughest Hundred Dollars & Other Rock & Roll Stories', 'A Sports Junkie', 'The Avery Appointment', 'Between the Fuzzy Parts'.

He also writes about baseball for Climbing Tal's Hill, food and travel on Miles & Meals, and music/guitars on The Backbeat.

He lives in Central Texas with his wife and family.

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