By Scott A. Rowan
Beautiful women can make men do crazy things. In recent years, embarrassing truths about extramarital affairs have damaged the reputations of world-famous athletes in nearly every sport. Golfer Tiger Woods and basketball coach Rick Pitino had their careers sullied because of their infamous flings. Football coach Bobby Petrino lost his job at the University of Arkansas because of one. Former National Football League quarterback Steve McNair lost his life over one. But one MLB icon enjoyed a career renaissance because of an affair.
No, we’re not talking about the infamous rumors that Ryne Sandberg’s ex-wife was involved with former teammates such as Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace, and/or Dave Martinez. Those rumors were never proven, and nobody has ever discussed the matter publicly. However, there was one affair that has been discussed over the years that actually made the Chicago Cubs better, not worse.
Harry Caray was so connected with the Chicago Cubs that an image of his face adorns Wrigley Field, a statue of him outside the Friendly Confines welcomes fans, and his Chicago restaurants are a popular attraction. None of that would have happened had he not been caught in an alleged affair with the daughter-in- law of former St. Louis Cardinals owner August “Gussie” Busch.
The Busch family has been synonymous with St. Louis for generations, and Caray had a lucrative endorsement deal with their family business, Budweiser beer. But all of that changed when Caray’s contract was dropped after the 1969 season. The reason was clear to baseball insiders: Caray, who was married to his first wife, Marian, at the time, was having an affair with Susan Busch, wife of August Busch III, son of the Cardinals owner. Susan Busch denied the rumors over the years, though Caray’s comments were far from a denial according to authors Peter Hernon and Terry Ganey in their expose on the Busch family, Under the Influence: “You couldn’t say I did and I wouldn’t say I didn’t.”
According to author Peter Golenbock’s book The Spirit of St. Louis, the affair began to go public on a rainy night in November 1968 when Caray was crossing the street in St. Louis and was hit by a motorist. Caray’s nose and legs were broken and one of his shoulders was separated. Gussie Busch allowed Caray to stay at one of his Florida homes to recuperate after he was released from the hospital. What Caray didn’t know was that while he was in the hospital before leaving for Florida, his phone records revealed what neither he nor Susan had. Wrote Golenbock, quoting an anonymous friend of Caray’s:
While Harry was still convalescing, some members of the Busch family began to notice there were a lot of telephone charges on bills linking Harry’s room to one of the Busch residences. This rang a bell, and after some checking around, some following by a detective of Harry, it was discovered that Caray was apparently having an affair with the wife of young August Busch [III], Gussie’s son. Naturally, this isn’t the greatest way to keep your job.
William Knoedelseder, author of Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser- Busch and America’s Kings of Beer, was a witness to the affair one night when he was working at a St. Louis restaurant. He discussed what he had seen in an interview years later with The Riverfront Times on November 8, 2012:
I was working the night when the two of them came in together and were seated downstairs. Everyone in the restaurant knew who Harry Caray was, and it quickly flashed around to the staff that the beautiful blonde woman who was with him—and who he was getting along with very well—was Mrs. [Susan] Busch. They were openly affectionate. The conclusion you would jump to is that there was something going on there. No one on the staff had heard any rumors prior to that, so it wasn’t like we were making it up. It got to the point that the owner, Vince Bommarito, told people to stop staring.
Gussie Busch, who was married four times and divorced twice himself, wouldn’t have batted an eye at this behavior had it not involved his own family. In Under the Influence, Hernon and Ganey quoted the conversation Caray and Gussie had about the rumors when Caray began to worry that his contract would not be renewed:
Caray decided to confront Gussie about the stories. He told him, “I’m supposed to be breaking up a marriage.” The following dialogue, Caray said, then took place.
“You didn’t rape anybody, did you?” Gussie asked. “No.”
“If you had a relationship, it was mutual desire, right?” Caray nodded.
“I’ve screwed a lot of people because of mutual desire,” Gussie said. “So what do you got to worry about?”
Caray was dismissed anyway, prompting the observation, “I guess blood is thicker than water.”
Susan and August Busch III were divorced in 1969. Caray remained married to his first wife, Marian, until their divorce in 1974. Caray and his second wife, Dolores, or “Dutchie” to most fans, were married from 1975 until Caray’s death in 1998.
After one year calling Oakland A’s games and ten years with the Chicago White Sox, Caray began his tenure with the Cubs in 1982, where he became famous worldwide for his enthusiasm and support of the Cubs and, of course, Budweiser beer. Blood may be thicker than water, but business is business, apparently, and nobody was better for Budweiser’s business than Caray. In 1980, long after his divorce, August Busch III rehired Caray to help sales in Chicago. In fact, Anheuser-Busch Budweiser took out full-page advertisements across the country praising Caray when the National Baseball Hall of Fame gave him the 1989 Frick Award, which is given to a media member each year.
Caray’s huge following in Chicago erased a low moment in his past; in fact, it was because of that low moment that Caray became the most popular announcer in baseball. If the Cardinals hadn’t let him go, he would never have resurfaced in Chicago, where he achieved his iconic stature in baseball history and his huge statue outside of the ballpark.
Peter Hernon and Terry Ganey, Under the Influence: The Unauthorized Story of the Anheuser-Busch Dynasty (New York: Avon Books, 1992), 246.
Golenbock, Spirit, 512.
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