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Harry Caray Spent An Astounding Amount Of Time In Bars When He First Arrived In Chicago

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jun 3, 2014 2:15PM

Harry Caray doing what he does best in the Comiskey Park bleachers in 1978. (Photo by Alex Balcerski)

We’ll say it before and we’ll say it again: long before Harry Caray became a legend with the Cubs he was the star of the show eight miles south at Comiskey Park, where he would do everything he could to keep the turnstiles humming at 35th and Shields for 10 riotous years.

Caray was also a savvy businessman. One of the main reasons he left the White Sox for the Cubs was The Sox’ decision to throw in their lot with Sportsvision, Eddie Einhorn’s brilliant idea to broadcast White Sox games via a subscription service. Tribune Co. was primed to introduce the Cubs and Wrigley Field (not necessarily in that order) to a national audience via basic cable television. Caray jumped ship, became a “Cub fan and Bud man” and the rest was history.

In 1972 Caray cut a deal with the White Sox that tied his salary to White Sox attendance, and he was nothing short of a brilliant salesman, whether he spent time shirtless in the Comiskey Park bleachers being flashed or tearing up Rush Street at night with ballplayers and celebrities. This definitely helped Caray’s earnings potential.

Grant DePorter, CEO of Harry Caray restaurant group, recently inherited eight diaries from Caray dating from the 1970s to early 80s and shared Caray’s 1972 diary with Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg. What is inside the diary is an epic account of drinking like a champion. As DePorter told Steinberg, “Remember, you used to be able to deduct a three-martini lunch.”

And practically everything else Caray bought and drank that season.

Saturday, Jan. 1, lists four bars: the Back Room, still on Rush Street, plus three long-ago joints: 20 E. Delaware, Sully’s and Peppy’s, with expenses for each $10.30, $9.97, $10, and $8.95. This in a year when a six-pack of Old Style set you back $1.29.

You needed to cite who you entertained to get the write-off, so on New Year’s Day he lists Dave Condon, the Tribune sports columnist; Billy Sullivan, who owned Sully’s; and Joe Pepitone, the former Yankees first baseman who had been traded to the Cubs.

And so it begins. A chain of old-time Chicago bars — Riccardo’s, Boul Mich, Mr. Kelly’s. A posse of early 1970s sports figures — Wilt Chamberlain, Don Drysdale, Gale Sayers. Plus a few unexpected blasts from the past: boxer Jack Dempsey, comedian Jack Benny.

“These guys did nothing but go out and have a few cocktails,” said Jimmy Rittenberg, who owned Faces, which Caray visited 14 times in 1972. “I don’t know how they did it. They were 20, 30 years older than me and I couldn’t keep up with them.”

Caray spent Jan. 16 in Miami, which he declared “Super” yet claimed no expenses. (Deadspin notes that is a reference to Super Bowl VI, which was held in Miami.) Here’s the epic part: from Jan. 17 through Nov. 3, 1972, Caray spent 288 consecutive days in bars, hobnobbing and keeping tabs all the way. That rivals Cal Ripken’s consecutive games played streak.

The Tribune’s Rick Kogan told Steinberg he spent several nights at the Pump Room (which Caray visited 16 times in 1972) and called the experiences “drunk but joyful.” All told, Deporter said Caray spent 354 of 357 days in bars in 1972 and Steinberg writes “Harry Caray could have taken his drinks at home. He went out because it was his job.”