The late, great Cubs sportscaster Harry Caray is no longer alive, but the specter of the legendary showman will surface next week on behalf of the refugees of war-torn Ukraine.
“Harry was always larger than life itself,” said Grant DePorter, CEO of Harry Caray’s restaurants and founder of the Annual Worldwide Toast to the Cubs legend — which kicks off Thursday at Harry Caray’s Tavern at Navy Pier, triggering a wave of tributes across the world.
“Harry knew what it was like to be a displaced person,” said DePorter.
“Growing up as an orphan, Harry knew personally what it was like to sleep on benches and have no home,” explained DePorter.
“This will be only the second time we used Harry’s annual toast to benefit a charity,” said DePorter, who deconstructed the infamous “Bartman ball” in 2004.
The stunt in which DePorter, a sports memorabilia savant, had the ball blown up was “to get rid of the Cubs curse” — but also benefited the “Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in honor of beloved Chicago Cubbie Ron Santo.”
The pitch this year: helping feed Ukrainians by donating 100% of all Budweiser and Bud Light sales that day from all six Harry Caray’s locations in Chicago to the World Central Kitchen, which is providing fresh meals to displaced Ukrainian citizens.
Even some Ukrainians have taken part in the annual toast.
“The people of Kyiv once participated in toasting Harry from their TGI Fridays restaurant on a street no longer in existence since the war,” he said.
So at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, sports greats Ryne Sandberg, Ryan Dempster, Ron Kittle and Richard Dent, actor George “Cheers” Wendt, former Bulls announcer Tom Dore and Harry’s beloved wife, Dutchie, will all raise a glass of beer in honor of the man who claims he “consumed” approximately 73,000 Bud beers in his lifetime … out of a total of 300,000 alcoholic beverages!
DePorter, an arbiter of statistics, claims Harry’s drinking diaries showed that Harry averaged 1,400 bar visits per year; his longest bar-hopping streak went 291 days; and his most famous drinking friends were Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
“Over 5 million fans from all 50 states and over 150 countries have toasted Harry at the worldwide event since 1998, and the 2001 toast had over 300,000 fans toasting Harry at the same time,” added DePorter.
“And the Toast to Harry in 2008 set an official Guinness Record for the World’s Largest Glass of Beer” — 101.5 gallons.
And, of course, there have been ranking toasts: President Bill Clinton and wife, Hillary; U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the troops in Iraq; and First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond toasted in 2012 while wearing giant Harry glasses.
And let’s not forget the “Farthest Reaching” toasts by astronaut Dan Tani on the International Space Station and National Geographic Expeditions toasting Harry while in Antarctica backdropped by thousands of emperor Penguins.
And then there’s the “Scariest Toast” when a female Caray fan bungee jumped off the tallest tower in Auckland, New Zealand, wearing a Harry mask.
Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick performed twice at the Toast; Eddie Vedder joked he toasted Harry so many times, he got hammered; and Billy Corgan wrote original music he performed at a Toast.
And finally, the “Funniest Toast”: Actor Will Ferrell leaving Harry a voicemail while claiming to drink a beer stein full of Robitussin while doing his best Harry imitation.
Batter Up! “A fan said he would double Harry Caray’s Chicago donation” from beer sales, said DePorter.
I repeat: Holy cow!
Hold that Fork! Grab that bottle! Talk about environmental sustainability: When Coldplay and later Kenny Chesney hit Soldier Field this summer, the musicians had written into their contracts that all plastic bottles must be recycled and plates and eating utensils have to be able to be reused! ... Blimey! The permanent cancellation of Queen Elizabeth’s annual summer garden party attendance at Buckingham Palace last week brought back this memory of my attendance in the 1980s at the private royal soiree: Polished wooden toilet seats and boar bristle brushes in the loos! Only the royals! ... Writer Maureen Orth, widow of the late journalist Tim “Meet the Press” Russert and whose fascination with Chicago politics factored into her magazine repertoire, was just made a citizen of the nation of Colombia in recognition of the work of the Marina Orth Foundation there. “The honor of my life,” said Orth. ... Saturday birthdays: fashion designer Chiara Ferragni, 35; pro football player Alex Smith, 38, and wrestler Kevin Owens, 38. Sunday birthdays: NBA player Kemba Walker, 32; singer Enrique Iglesias, 47, and actress Melissa Gilbert, 58.