The Braves always won with Skip in the booth

My mama didn't like Skip Caray when he first started calling Braves games in 1976. I am quite certain she hadn't listened to any of his work with the NBA Hawks before he started doing baseball in Atlanta. She called him "that Yankee" broadcaster. Never mind the fact that, among Skip's predecessors, Milo Hamilton was from Iowa. Ernie Johnson was from Wisconsin and Larry Munson - yes, he came here to work for the Braves - was born and reared in Minnesota.

Skip Caray was brash and caustic and sarcastic - all qualities my mother associated with folks from the North.

But he grew on her. And then Tommie Huckaby got cable television and became the biggest Chicago Cubs fan south of the Sears Tower. And by Chicago Cubs fan, I mean Harry Caray fan. After that, well, she'd fight you over Skip Caray after that. You'd better not say anything bad about Harry Caray's boy in my mama's presence.

I liked Skip Caray from the very beginning. Brash, caustic and sarcastic didn't bother me when it came from someone as good at what he did as Skip Caray.

Let's face it, y'all. For a long time - and I mean a long, long time - the Braves were just a bad baseball team. There's no way to sugarcoat it. They were just awful. But we watched and listened anyway, didn't we? And part of the reason we watched and listened was because Skip had grown on all of us, just like he grew on my mother. Listening to Skip and Ernie was just a part of what we did, and by we, I mean all of us who waited so long for the major leagues to find us and our entertainment dollars here in the sunny South. They were like family. Ernie was everybody's favorite uncle - and later, everybody's grandfather - and Skip, well, he was that smart aleck cousin or uncle from the "spouse's" side of the family.

But whatever he was, he was a professional. He was a true-blue Brave, and he pulled for the club to win, but he was nobody's shill and nobody's yes man and he never abandoned his objectivity for the sake of making life easier in the clubhouse, the front office or at corporate headquarters. His life and his career would have been a lot simpler if he had, but he didn't. Not once in 31 years that I am aware of.

Howard Cosell claimed to "tell it like it is." Skip Caray really did.

And suddenly, Skip Caray is gone.

He had struggled with his health for a while and had cut his work schedule back considerably. In fact, he was only doing the home games this year. And he sounded a little weak at times and his voice wasn't what it once was, but nobody saw this coming.

The entire Braves' world was shocked when the announcement came that Skip had passed away.

I saw it on the 11 o'clock news Sunday night but couldn't grasp it at first. I had just seen him in his customary spot in the Turner Field press box the previous Thursday. I was out of pocket all weekend and didn't realize that he hadn't been on the air. Called in sick, they said.

And just like that, the caustic, sarcastic voice is silent.

No more "chopper to Chipper."

No more "a fan from Gastonia, N.C." or some other random place Skip pulled out of his proverbial hat catching foul balls in the stands.

No more fans who "live in a post office box" trying to win at Home Run for the Money, or whatever it is they call the contest now.

No more berating the unfortunate caller who dares express an opinion devoid of common sense, or - worse yet - asks how the infield fly rule works.

No more Skip and Pete.

Skip Caray was an Atlanta icon. You don't become one overnight. Few ever become icons after any length of time, of course, and in today's fluid society there will be fewer and fewer still.

Ernie is retired. Munson is nearing the end of his career. The big city newspaper that once covered Dixie like the dew - and wasn't ashamed to admit it on its masthead - is in the process of putting Furman Bisher out to pasture.

And Skip Caray is gone.

I am having to say this far too often these days, but I can assure you, there will never be another like him.

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.