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Caray lets his personality come through

With sardonic wit and a pull-no-punches delivery, Skip Caray has broadcasted Atlanta Braves baseball on TV and radio since 1976. In recent years, both the NBA and NFL have been regular Caray assignments for cable's TNT. The midpoint to a well-known three-generation broadcasting family, Caray addressed various topics with Times staff writer Don Banks.

Q: Your father (Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray) is fond of saying the best way to break into the business these days is to have hit .300 or won 20 games. Do you share the sentiment that your profession is too laden with ex-jocks?

A: If you can add and subtract you can see that's the way it's going. It's good and bad. Obviously, a former player can bring something to a game that we can't bring. He's been there; he's played the game. By the same token, being an ex-player doesn't necessarily make you a good broadcaster. Because if the inverse of that was true, I'd be able to go out and play the game. And I assure you I can't.

Q: Has all the money in baseball ruined anything about the game?

A: Guys making $4-million, it's really hard for fans to relate to that. But when owners can't pay it, they won't. The thing that's changed is that salaries are a compelling part of every story now. I wish we could go back to talking about ability rather than salary. Let's face it, when the guy's up there with two out in the ninth and down by a run, it really doesn't matter how much he makes.

Q: What is your opinion of the Otis Nixon saga? Should the Braves have re-signed him (to a three-year, $8.1-million deal) just two months after he failed a drug test and was suspended during the pennant race?

A: There was room to question it. But what you have to keep in mind is that (Braves general manager) John Schuerholz's job is not to save souls. His job is to win as many games as possible, and Otis Nixon, he felt, was an important part of helping the Braves win those games. And don't forget, under the rules of baseball Otis Nixon was eligible to play again this season. But it is difficult, I grant you. I have a 10-year-old son and he's a tremendous baseball fan, and it's difficult to explain to him how Otis Nixon deserves a new contract.

Q: Your style of broadcasting combines dry wit and understatement and seems to appeal to a broad base of fans. How do you describe your approach?

A: People talk about style, but I think it's all b-------. You don't have time to think, "How would Vin Scully or Joe Garagiola do it?' You just react and talk within the confines of your personality. I don't analyze it. All I do is stay with my personality. I mean, we're broadcasting baseball. It's not brain surgery.

Q: In branching out to Turner Network Television's NFL Sunday night games, you missed some big moments in the Braves' miracle season last year. Did that hurt?

A: The first year I did the NFL, the Braves were 30 games out in August and I couldn't wait to get away. They didn't make me sign the contract and I'm well compensated for it. But the one that hurt the most last year was the Saturday the Braves clinched the division. I was at the airport waiting to fly to do a less-than-memorable Colts-Steelers game.

Q: If you were commissioner for a day, what one change would you make in baseball?

A: I would try to speed the game up. Baseball is a leisurely game and I don't get paid by the word. But these days every pitcher over-analyzes every pitch and every hitter takes a little walk after every pitch. It's getting ridiculous. He's going to throw it. You're going to hit it. It's going to happen eventually. So let's get on with it.

Q: Is baseball better off staying with its current format, or dabbling in inter-league play, expanded playoffs and realignment?

A: Let me tell you something about baseball. The people who run the National League are so smart they think Atlanta and Cincinnati are further west than St. Louis and Chicago. So if this is the intelligence of the folks running things, I think they best leave well enough alone.