Cubs 101 - Pt. 60 - The Downfall and Departure of Chip and Steve
A lot has already been written here about Cubs broadcasters Steve Stone and Chip Caray. One was a baseball genius who clearly felt that he was slumming it with the Cubs and the other was an opportunistic dope living off his family legacy. Between years of predicting pitches and plays, Steve Stone spent a lot of time campaigning to either own a baseball team, or serve as a general manager for the Cubs, or even to manage a team like the Cubs. Maybe he was too pompous, or maybe his association with the Cubs rubbed him wrongly, but he never got his wish and, after leaving for a couple of years due to health troubles, Stone returned to the booth in 2003 to the joy of Cub fans everywhere. But while he was gone, he'd been replaced by Joe Carter who brought to the game the commentating skill of a piece of cud.
At the same time, Chip Caray continued on as Harry's replacement. Unfortunately for us (and him), he kind of sucked and his flaws in the booth never faded with experience. Cub fans hated Carter and resented Caray, perhaps because he did nothing to salvage any broadcast he was in, and certainly because of his ridiculous catch phrases (belted!) and his inability to allow even a solitary silent moment during a game. Instead he just blathered.
Cub fans were willing to tolerate Chip, though, with Steve along side him. Besides, when Stoney announced his return he acknowledged that some fans weren't enamored by the younger Caray and he pledged to change our minds. He was wrong about that, though. It also became increasingly clear that he was jealous of Dusty Baker, who had the job he perhaps thought was rightfully his.
Still, the '03 season was painless in terms of the broadcasts. Steve was still Steve, which made up for Chip being Chip, and in any event we would have tolerated even Joe Carter's brutal return for a season like what the Cubs delivered. But 2004 was a different story -- the Cubs geared up in the off season, they improved beyond our wildest expectations, and there were sincere hopes that they would easily get to the World Series. The only problem was that 2003 changed a lot of things for Cub fans. Our expectations were bigger, our feelings were hurt, and we took out our frustrations on the team faster than ever before. Maybe that's why the team seemed to quickly develop an "Us vs. The World" mentality.
This mentality was exampled a number of ways, which we'll get into more later. From Dusty getting stand-offish with the press and umpires to LaTroy Hawkins playing the race card, the clubhouse did not appear to be a very friendly place. But the biggest target of players' ire seemed to be turned not to the racist fans, or insipid media, but instead to Chip and Steve who apparently had the audacity of calling them out on their ire and worse, their poor play.
Due to his distaste of them -- in particular Chip -- Moises Alou tried to get them kicked off the team flights. Kent Mercker called up to the booth from the clubhouse when listening to Stone's call-it-as-I-see-it commentary style. There were threats, and challenges of fights, and it all came to a head after a tough loss late in the season in which, during a post-game interview, Steve Stone rightfully called out Dusty Baker for his managerial bunglings, resulting in a Steve Stone quote that remains to this day one of Byron's favorites: "At the end of the day, boys, you don't tell me how rough the water is, you bring in the ship." Dusty was pissed, Steve was pissed, and the higher-ups got pissed.
Consequently, as happens sometimes in life, the bad guys won. Steve and Chip resigned/got fired/whatever you want to call it. Kent Mercker left for Atlanta. Moises Alou left for New York. Jim Hendry had attempted a great douche, failing to recognize that the true inner rot -- Dusty Baker -- remained. And so, with great fanfare, and some regret, and a lot of anger, the Cubs voice of my generation left for good, looking a lot less shiny than he was after his previous departure. Steve had shown himself in his second go-round to be an angry man, bitter at the team, and excessively defensive of Chip Caray. Steve seemed to take it personally when the fans and team turned on Chip, and toward the bitter end he expressed his affection for Caray on national television, saying "I love you, Chip" in front of the world, creeping out many of us and explaining a lot about his actions. Stone had always gotten attached to his broadcast partners, particularly the ones near his age. He'd taken it equally as hard when Thom Brennaman left after the '95 season, which perhaps shows us a lot about how isolated he must have felt when dealing with Harry Caray.
Anyway, soon after their departure the Cubs turned to a new broadcast team -- a duo now in their fifth year with the Cubs: Bob Brenley and Len Kasper. Perhaps they've had rocky moments, but they have been competent, complimentary of each other, and as time has gone on and the Cubs have gone from bad to good to disappointing, they've expressed their frustrations as honestly as the duo they replaced used to. Maybe it has something to do with how, like Stone before him, Brenley dreams of managing the Cubs, or perhaps honesty is honesty and it's hard to sugar-coat crap 162 games a year. Either way, it seems as if they haven't learned from the past lessons of Chip and Steve. Perhaps this time things will be different. The team seems far less sensitive than they were back in 2004. But it would be truly frustrating to see history repeat itself.
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