‘Recreated’ Harry Caray startles viewers of MLB ‘Field of Dreams’ game

[The mixed reactions to a digital recreation of beloved baseball announcer Harry Caray, at a game celebrating a much-loved film about “a farmer who builds a baseball field in his cornfield that attracts the ghosts of baseball legends” (Wikipedia), illustrate the challenges of creating effective presence illusions of people who have died. The report below is from The Washington Post, where the original includes more pictures, video clips and Tweets; find more reactions in coverage from TV Insider, CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated. Note that the reactions seem to have been more positive in the stadium than on social media where the flaws in the digital Caray were likely more apparent. –Matthew]

[Image: Source: Fox Sports]

‘Recreated’ Harry Caray startles viewers of MLB ‘Field of Dreams’ game

By Des Bieler
August 12, 2022

The Fox Sports telecast Thursday of MLB’s second annual “Field of Dreams” game had several charming aspects, but not all viewers were pleased when a virtual version of Harry Caray led a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.

The virtual appearance of Caray, the beloved former Chicago Cubs announcer who died in 1998, in a press box above the Iowa field did not come as a total surprise. A rumor emerged the day before that Fox Sports might render him in hologram form, and the network teased a tribute of some sort before and during the game.

Sure enough, after the Cincinnati Reds got three quick groundouts from the Cubs in the top of the seventh, a brief commercial break was followed by the sight of the Caray apparition. Presumably, the network used his real voice from any of the renditions of the signature song over his 16 years calling the home team’s games at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

The setting Thursday was in Dyersville, Iowa, at a temporary, 8,000-seat stadium built last year to host the first “Field of Dreams” game. It sits next to the cornfield and diamond where the 1989 film was shot and where visitors can still tour the premises, including the farm house familiar to fans of the movie.

While the 2021 game featured the New York Yankees against the Chicago White Sox, whose infamous 1919 squad figured prominently into the movie’s plot, the Cubs’ presence this year created a natural tie-in to Caray.

Given that the Reds were technically the home team, Fox Sports had what it described as a “recreated animation” of Caray leave it up to the fans in attendance to proclaim their root, root, rooting interests. After the song ended, the virtual announcer told the crowd, “Boy, you never sang better in your life!”

“This is about paying tribute to what makes baseball iconic,” Brad Zager, an executive producer for Fox Sports, said in a statement. “We hope this moment allows parents to tell their children about what it was like to watch Harry Caray, or what it was like to listen to Harry Caray lead the singing of the seventh-inning stretch in Wrigley Field, so the next generation can understand and appreciate how much it meant.”

“Everything about the Field of Dreams is about taking our favorite aspects of baseball history and bringing them to life in the modern day,” added Zager, “whether it’s from an all-time iconic baseball movie or from the game of baseball itself.”

A spokesman for Fox Sports confirmed to The Washington Post that the representation of Caray was not a hologram, as it was widely referred to online Thursday, but something “closer to augmented reality.”

Fox Sports executive Michael Davies said the network used a production partner’s “cutting-edge tech that allows photo-realistic animated re-creations” to present “as faithful a tribute to Harry Caray and his legacy as technology allows.”

Not all of the reaction online was negative, but many wondered why Fox Sports had bothered to do it. An informal Twitter poll conducted by New York Post sports-media reporter Andrew Marchand of whether people liked it found a majority of respondents choosing neither “Yes” nor “No” but “That was really weird.”

Elsewhere on the platform, a popular term among shared assessments was “creepy.”

Fox Sports was on firmer footing earlier in its telecast when it used just the voice of recently deceased broadcasting legend Vin Scully. As viewers were shown scenes from the Kevin Costner film interspersed with great moments in baseball history, the longtime Los Angeles Dodgers announcer was heard reciting the “People will come” speech originally delivered by James Earl Jones.

The film was also nicely evoked before the game, when Ken Griffey Sr. and Ken Griffey Jr., the first father and son known to have played together in an MLB game (Tim Raines Sr. and Jr. later accomplished the same feat), emerged for the cornfield beyond the outfield for a game of catch. Players for the Reds and Cubs then also came out onto the field, accompanied by former team stars including: Chicago’s Billy Williams, Andre Dawson, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Lee Smith; and Cincinnati’s Johnny Bench and Barry Larkin.

When the game began, the Cubs jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, and they went on to get a 4-2 win.

One has to assume that Caray would have been delighted. His quasi-hologram version certainly seemed happy enough, even if his appearance wasn’t universally well-received.


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