Harry Caray’s Restaurant gives fans chance to collect namesake

harry-caray-glasses

If you know a Chicago Cubs fan and haven’t finished your holiday shopping, this is your post.

If you’re a fan of Major League Baseball and collecting its legends, this is your post.

A nice piece of mail — something Buzz found online and ordered this weekend — arrived on Wednesday with a surprise inside. What you see here is an oversized pair of plastic glasses — an apparent jovial bonus this holiday season with any purchase of $49 or more from 33 West Kinzie Street in Chicago.

Not familiar with the location? That’s the home of Harry Caray’s Restaurant. And, while it’s funny, this simple gift to me can’t touch what I bought.

harry-caray-signed-check-adolphs

On Saturday night as Holy Cow! The Story of Harry Caray aired on the MLB Network, telling us all the story of the legendary Cubs broadcaster, I vaguely remembered that the restaurant’s online store sold memorabilia — at least it did more than a decade ago when I was a college kid still trying to collect on the cheap in the Internet age.

Now, in this age of the Chicago Cubs as World Series champions, I figured I’d search again.

I hadn’t thought about it since, but it turns out that Harry Caray’s still does sell memorabilia and autographs. I scrolled through Harry’s Store past the T-shirts, hats, pint glasses and pricey autographs from Chicago Blackhawks, Bears and Cubs of the past to discover the final item on the site. I clicked and was shocked by the bargain price to own a signed check from the 1989 Ford C. Frick Award-winner who died back in 1998.

harry-carayFor just $50 — and that includes shipping (along with my free glasses) — I nabbed a signed check that’s a tad older than I am and seems like a perfect piece of Caray-bilia.

It certainly is to me — keep reading.

Why did I go this direction? Despite decades in and around MLB, Caray appears on fewer than 50 different baseball cards — and nearly 20 of those are certified autograph cards via cut fashion that most people will never own. Most of those autos are 1/1 creations but Upper Deck‘s Legendary Cuts releases of the past showed that it knew about his legendary place in the game as both a Cub fan and a Bud man and they made a few more for those sets.

Another reason I bought one immediately? A signed check can fetch a decent amount more than what I paid (roughly double even if not authenticated and slabbed per actual eBay sales), which explains the limit of four checks per customer. These come with a printed letter of authenticity from Grant DePorter, the CEO of Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, noting that he backs them to be authentic.

But what about my particular check? It’s interesting — not just because his name was misspelled and he took the time to fix it. (I can imagine him chuckling in his iconic voice as he corrected it.)

This one was written on Feb. 9, 1976 — not a Cubs gameday, of course — but it got me curious about what the $28.25 was for that Monday night at “Adolphs.” It was solely marked “E” in the memo section, so I turned the check over for more info — it’s endorsed by “Adolph’s Restaurant.” Chicago people probably know more details here, but this was a steakhouse at 1045 N. Rush Street. So, to me, that “E” must mean entertainment.

I was still curious, so I turned to Google and found a 2004 Chicago Sun-Times obit for Fortune Renucci Sr., who owned the establishment until 1983. (Harry Caray’s didn’t open until 1987.) Its opening line?

“Every celebrity knew Adolph’s on Rush Street.”

Sounds like the right place. In the piece, the restaurant was noted as a haven for celebrities as well as others: “[Sun-Times columnist] Irv Kupcinet made constant reference in his column to celebs hanging out at Adolph’s, from football great Paul Hornung to comedienne Lucille Ball.”

Adolph’s also is mentioned in the book I Remember Harry Caray as Caray was reluctant to open his own restaurant. It was an idea he declined at first — firmly — as remembered in the book.

“I’m not going to do it and I’m going to tell you why,” he’s remembered as saying. “I don’t want to have a bar or restaurant because of the other bartenders. I’m their guy. I’m the one they identify with. I’m their customer. I don’t want them to think I’m competing with them.”

Well, I’ve got some proof here of his customer status — but that wasn’t the best nugget of info that I found in just a few searches. This next one’s pretty cool. Here’s what was said in an Aug. 13, 1972, profile in the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine.

“Harry is as gregarious off the field as on. His world in Chicago stretches from at the Ambassador Hotel {Where this check is addressed — Buzz} down Rush street to his favorite watering hole, Sully’s on Elm. It touches down at Adolph’s … ”

And later in the piece?

“Caray has been eating post-game vittles for more than 20 years at Adolph’s. Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst used to go there with him when he aired Cardinal games. Fortune Renucci, the co-owner, says Harry habitually orders sausage and green peppers.

“‘But he wants the sausage burned up — cremated,’ says Renucci. ‘My chef refuses to prepare it that way, so I have to do it myself, and Harry invariably says “Man, that’s good … just the way I like it” even though it looks to me like a piece of coal.'”

This simple slip of paper signed more than 40 years ago carries much more of a story than a cut autograph entombed into a baseball card frame that might come with a picture. And it was only sent to me via the random selection of someone fulfilling the orders off of a website decades later.

Had it been dated on the day of a game at Wrigley Field, it would be even more spectacular — but it’s not a bad piece at all for a guy who was also known as a Hall of Famer out on the town.

Follow Buzz on Twitter @BlowoutBuzz or send email to BlowoutBuzz@blowoutcards.com. 

>> Click here to buy cards on BlowoutCards.com

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