Did you know I once was a guest star on a reality TV show?
No, I’m not talking about being in the background for a split second during an episode of “Undercover Boss.”
I’m talking about true “reality TV” – when WGN was WGN … and Harry was Harry … and you never knew what he might say during a live telecast.
And on this given day – June 16, 1993, to be exact – I was asked if I would do something potentially embarrassing to me.
Cracker Jack was celebrating its 100th anniversary, and all the Cracker Jack powers-that-be were at Wrigley Field that afternoon. I was asked, with just a bit of arm-twisting, if I would be OK putting on the Cracker Jack sailor hat and wearing it around the press box for the first couple innings of the game. The WGN cameras would show me on TV … Harry Caray and Steve Stone would get a good laugh at my expense … they would then talk about the deliciousness of caramel corn and peanuts and Cracker Jack’s 100th anniversary celebrating … and everybody would be happy.
I agreed to do it, as long as I got to keep the hat. Sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do. If it’s good for the ratings, who was I to argue?
Seriously, other than people making fun of me, what harm would it do if I wore Sailor Jack’s hat?
Let’s just say my confectionary military career lasted all of one inning.
Sometimes, you have to let the story tell itself.
I’ll set the stage for you. Cubs vs. Marlins at Wrigley Field on this fine June 16, 1993, afternoon. Bottom of the first inning. One out. Jose Vizcaino stepping up to the plate.
Arne Harris, in the TV truck, with the Cracker Jack execs nearby, saying something like, “Hey, now’s a good time to put the camera on the press box. Look for Chuck in the sailor hat.”
Harry and Steve, take it away …
Harry: “There’s Sharon Pannozzo, the publicity director of the Cubs. And her assistant.”
Steve: “Chuck Wasserstrom. He looks kind of like a puppet today with that hat.”
Harry: “I don’t know what the big deal about Cracker Jack is. Did you ever go buy a pack of Cracker Jack thinking you’d get a prize and find no prize in the box?”
Mr. Stone starts laughing
Harry: “Here’s the pitch … That might not sound important to some people, but when you’re a little kid, especially from humble origin, and they cheat you out of a prize … ”
Sound of bat hitting ball.
Harry continues on: “There’s a bouncing ball, second baseman has it, Barberie over to first … It’s hard to think in laudatory terms of the product.”
Steve: “I think there was an occasional box of Cracker Jack that found no prizes for the little Harry Caray many years ago.”
Harry: “You got that right. And boy, when a box of Cracker Jack to me meant a lot of money … Two out, and here is Sandberg … ”
Harry: “Heh heh heh heh heh … Boy, they got to you, I can see. They got to you. What did it cost them Arne? … Here’s the pitch, bounced foul … That’s the most asinine marketing I’ve ever heard of … One ball, one strike … These guys say, ‘Well, you sing about Cracker Jack.’ I said, ‘I only sing it because it’s in the song’ … Here’s the pitch, fouled back … And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised, even to this day, some youngsters buy a box of Cracker Jack and don’t find a prize in the box … One ball, two strikes, two out … If you’re going to talk about our congressmen being crooked … Here’s the pitch, fouled out of play … Why not talk about commercial products that don’t do what they represent to do … One ball, two strikes, two out … Baseball to me is apple pie, hot dogs, beer or soda pop – depending on your age, a nice juicy hot dog, sitting out at beautiful Wrigley Field, watching Ryne Sandberg face Luis Aquino – and going down swinging on a wicked curve ball … 1, 2, 3 … at the end of one, Florida leads 1-0.”
Cue the commercial.
When the top of the second inning started, the Sailor Jack hat was out of sight.