Fly the W

When I moved to the Midwest in the summer of 2000, I learned that Phil Rizzuto was not the baseball announcer who had coined the phrase, “Holy cow!” I also learned that there was a controversy about this, and that, as a fan of the New York Yankees and a native New Yorker—and worse, someone unaware of any controversy—I was on the wrong side of said dispute. Born wrong.

No, I was informed, the recently departed Harry Caray was the first to use the phrase on-air and was the announcer with whom “Holy Cow!” should always be associated. Not the beloved Yankees announcer.

For Chicago Cubs fans, a long-simmering resentment against all things New York became easy to openly express after a “Seinfeld” episode featuring a Phil Rizzuto keychain that exclaimed “Holy cow!” when its head was squeezed unfairly cemented in popular culture the notion that the saying was Rizzuto’s.

Upon learning that I was from New York and a sports fan, one new Iowa friend (he remains my friend, Ben is his name)—in our very first conversation—brought up the issue: “You know who used to say ‘Holy cow,’ right?” I consider myself to be an astute observer of humankind and its many denizens, so I picked up that there was only one answer to this inquiry and if I said “The ‘Scooter'” I was going to be inciting conversational violence.

But I was not certain what the correct answer was. From my lofty perch inside my ivory tower, from inside my “New York values” head, I was oh-so dimly aware that Harry Caray, the voice of several Midwest baseball teams over several decades, who had passed away just two seasons before (in 1998), had been in a feud with my beloved Yankees announcer. Or that Cubs fans were in a feud. I also dimly “knew” that it was possible that both men used a really common euphemistic exclamation, Caray in the broadcast booth and Rizzuto on the field and later in the booth. Many people say “Holy Cow,” after all.

When I am confronted with a statement that is either false, uninformed, or ill-informed, but I do not see the value in debating the merits of facts, I will respond to such statements with a nod and say something like, “That is an idea.” Period. No emphasis on any syllable. Or even more aggressively passive-aggressively, “That is a sentence.” It is a technique I learned once when I needed to escape from a hostage situation: do not make definitive statements. (I employed this technique not an hour ago today when a new acquaintance asked me if I am interested in politics after he spent several minutes extolling the virtues of voting for Donald J. Trump. “Are you interested in politics?” he asked me. I am not a Trump supporter. “Not locally,” I replied. It was so specific that he could not muster a response, which was exactly the response I desired: no response.)

Back to Iowa. I shared my theory with my new Midwestern friend (Ben) about how both iconic baseball figures may have come up with the expression independently, since it is a common euphemistic exclamation. He replied with a nod and said, with no emphasis on any syllable, “That is an idea.”

Because it is almost the same distance to every major metropolis with a major league sports team, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I lived, is one of the luckiest cities in the country for a sports fan. “Local” television broadcasts include the Cubs, the White Sox, the Cardinals; and the Bears, the Vikings, the Rams.

I became a Cubs fan in part, I believe, because of all the day games that the team plays at home and because I could listen to them while at my job writing instruction manuals.

In August 2001, my “That is a sentence” friend and I drove to Chicago for a memorable day: a Friday afternoon loss game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals and dinner at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, a day that made me feel like I was finally a Midwesterner. The meal was terrific, and the Harry Caray name is now more associated with the seven establishments bearing his name and caricature than with the memorable broadcaster himself.

A little over 25 years ago, as the Cubs ended one more frustrating season, Harry Caray spoke of the hope that the Cubs would be in the World Series someday. He did not live to see it.

The Chicago Cubs played in the team’s first World Series since 1945 this week, won the team’s first championship since 1908 by triumphing in one of the most exciting Game 7s ever played, and the victory parade is live right now (1:00 p.m. EST) in Chicago:

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Thanks, Ben, Greg, Mike for a memorable Cubs experience one day in 2001. And congratulations to Chicago!

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Some of this first appeared in March 2014.

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