As I was listening to the Harry Caray Cracker Jack game for my last story, I couldn’t help but laugh again – after Steve Stone said I resembled a puppet – when Harry started his sinister chuckling line of “Heh heh heh heh heh … Boy, they got to you, I can see. They got to you. What did it cost them Arne?”
If you were fortunate enough to watch a Cubs game on TV from 1982-1997, it’s very likely you couldn’t go nine innings without hearing the phrase “Hey Arne” – followed by a conversation in which the viewer only knew that Harry was talking to Arne – and Arne was talking back, at least on air.
Arne Harris was the behind-the-scenes magician as producer/director of Cubs television, but he had a big on-screen role as the unseen party that Harry conversed with.
These one-sided conversations might have been nothing more than a few words starting with “Hey Arne” – or a whole soliloquy about some event, or somebody in the stands, or some thought bubble that just popped into Harry’s head. For the record, there’s a button a broadcaster could push to talk to the director, but that’s not how Harry operated. And Arne probably preferred viewers thinking it was a one-way conversation – just for the humor in it.
I can’t imagine how many Cubs viewers in the ’80s and ’90s thought of Arne Harris in the same way people thought of Vera, the never seen wife of Norm Peterson on Cheers – or Maris, the name without a face married to and divorced from Dr. Niles Crane on Frasier.
While Arne truly was a character, he really did exist. I was reminded of that not only in Harry’s words – but from a couple comments after the Cracker Jack story was posted. I even joked around with one of the “commenters” – some guy named Chip who claims he’s related to Harry – and all these images of Arne came flooding back into my mind.
Arne was just as much of a “one-name guy” as Harry was. If you walked into a TV truck and asked for Mr. Harris, you would be told there was no one there with that name.
Arne was this wonderful man who loved all things about the ballpark experience, period. He was a visual storyteller. He wanted the fans on WGN to feel as if they were at the game, too.
The game itself was part of the production – and no one loved bases-loaded situations more than Arne, so he could show runners leading off third, second and first. But he also loved his hat shots – so showing Chuck Wasserstrom in a Cracker Jack hat was right up Arne’s alley. He loved the sail boats on Lake Michigan … the CTA trains passing by the bleachers … the bikini shots during the summer months. It was part of the Wrigley Field experience.
Being the master that he was, he also knew when to use them. There was never the three-second bounce from player-to-player-to-player-to-player-etc. when the game was on the line. Pitcher … Batter … Period. Cubs games were reality TV, and Arne knew drama.
But it was the “away-from-the-yard” images of Arne that really stick with me. He could pack for a two-city road trip with one carry-on bag. He was a white pants/white shoes guy – even after Labor Day. He reminded me on team flights that peanut butter and jelly tasted better than airline food. He knew the hotel-to-ballpark routes – and made sure the cabdrivers didn’t take some tourists the long way. And I can still hear his “Bmmm Bmmm Bmmm” staccato sound he made when he was deep in thought.
The TV truck was his home, but it was on the road where Arne was royalty – and it was good to be with the king. I made a lot of trips to Houston during my Cubs media relations years – and on every Texas excursion Arne made sure we lunched at a place called Shuckers Sports Bar in the Westin Galleria. It didn’t matter which member of the wait staff greeted us; they all knew Arne’s oyster order before he sat down.
Twice on trips to Atlanta, I was lucky enough to tag along with him on trips to Friedman’s Shoes. Despite the store’s name, this shoe store is a big-and-tall shoe store – not a short-Jew-from-Skokie shoe store. And by big-and-tall, I mean this is where your garden variety 7-foot-tall person shops. It’s floor after floor of shoes for people with size 27 feet. But Arne walked in there and had salespeople tripping over themselves to sell him a pair of white shoes.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 15 years since Arne Harris directed a Cubs game. The thought of “Hey Arne” still makes me smile.