In Honor of Father's Day

Jack Buck, Sept. 17, 2001

Fathers and sons are understandably a common baseball archetype, the basis for movies like Field of Dreams and books like Will Leitch’s Are We Winning (which is sitting on top of my to-be-read pile). In recent years for the Cardinals, we saw Chris Duncan join his father Dave on the team and Scott Spiezio become a Cards World Series champion just as his father Ed had been in 1964 and 1967. Yet the Cardinals father-son combo that meant the most to me personally was in the broadcast booth instead of on the field: Jack and Joe Buck.

As I detailed in my history here, I’ve only been a Cardinals fan for 10 years. My first as a fan in 2000 was decidedly old-fashioned, as I mostly followed the Cards via radio. (And not today’s MLB Gameday Audio on an iPhone I could take anywhere. No, it was the radio in my car or home stereo from a station 30 miles away that sometimes wouldn’t come in clearly.) It was quite a change of pace from having been a Cub fan and having access to games via WGN on cable and an in-town radio station where I never needed to worry about static. Yet listening to the Cardinals helped me to learn more about the team each game too, thanks to the wit and wisdom of Jack Buck.

There’s a wonderful book called What Baseball Means to Me that features essays from a variety of people about the sport – everyone from Dave Barry and Rudy Giuliani to Tim Russert and Pat Sajak plus more than a hundred others including both Jack and Joe. “In baseball you tell a story as the game goes along,” Jack wrote in his entry. And even in 2000, as he was reaching the end of his broadcasting career, he told masterful stories.

I especially loved hearing Jack and Joe together. That season, I kept an ongoing journal about the season (my intention at the time was to write a book about becoming a Cardinals fan). Flipping back through it, I found this entry from April 9, 2000: “Following the games only on radio is taking some getting used to (there’s no box in the corner to give me the score!) but it does have one benefit: listening to Jack and Joe Buck. Today was Willie McGee Day, with a tribute to him before the game. At one point during their first inning broadcasting together, Joe asked his dad ‘Did you cry?’ as they were talking about the pre-game ceremony. It sounded like something one of my brothers would ask our Dad.”

Hearing the two of them together was always special, because you could tell from listening how enjoyable they found it. During the 2001 season, I was at a Sunday ESPN night game so Joe was in the radio booth with Jack instead of on Fox Sports Midwest. There was a rain delay during the game and the team was in the clubhouse, so my friend could no longer use her binoculars to watch Mark McGwire’s every move. So I used them and watched Jack and Joe together. They sat side by side and it just looked like they were having a conversation. I didn’t hear any of the radio broadcast, but it looked like it could be a chat around the kitchen table or at a bar. Just hanging out, talking. “I know what baseball means to me,” Joe Buck wrote the book mentioned above. “Baseball is that which binds me to the man I most admire.”

While I didn’t have the opportunity to experience most of Jack’s signature moments live, there is one unforgettable moment that brought me – and no doubt everyone – to tears. Sept. 17, 2001, was the first Cardinals game since the terrorist attacks nearly a week before on Sept. 11. And, as described here, he read the poem he had written, “For America.” I can’t tell you what the score was of the game, or even who the Cardinals played that night, yet I will always remember Jack saying, “Should we be here? Yes!”

And, sadly, that was one of the last Cardinals games Jack ever did. It’s perhaps fitting to remember Jack Buck today, June 19, since yesterday was the eighth anniversary of his passing in 2002. That was the start of such an unbelievably emotional time for all of us as Cardinals fans, although of course we didn’t know then how much worse it was going to get – we only knew how sad it was that Jack was now gone and that memorable voice silenced for good.

I am sure that Joe Buck is remembering and missing his father this weekend, just as I am remembering and missing my own Dad and how much I learned about baseball from him too. “No sport celebrates its history quite like baseball,” Joe Buck wrote. “It is a great game filled with good-hearted people and surrounded by fans who care about it … It links generation to generation, father to son—” And father to daughter.

Happy Father’s Day.

0 thoughts on “In Honor of Father's Day

  1. >Good job, Chris. Lot of greast memories with Jack. My favorite Budweiser commercial ever was the one where Joe mentions his dad as his hero.

  2. >A fine piece of writing, indeed.You know, I grew up in a family that didn't care for sports. My dad tried, occasionally he'd take time away from working on his tractor, or truck, or whatever, to play catch with me for a while. But I never could sit down and talk baseball to him. The limits of his baseball talk with me usually would be trumpeting whatever small and temporary victory the Cubs might have had over the Cardinals — and that certainly didn't bring us closer together.So who did I have to talk baseball to? Well, it was a once-sided conversation, but it was Jack Buck and Mike Shannon, my virtual uncles, who brought me through the mid-1980s, night after night. And over a static-filled station from Geneseo.Whenever I hear a recording of Jack Buck, I'm taken right back to my bedroom, in the dark, listening to his accounts of Van Slyke, McGee, Herr and The Wizard.Decades from now, every mid-June, Cardinals fans are going to pass down the story of Jack Buck to a new generation. And those new fans are going to wonder what the fuss about Jack was all about. I'm very lucky to know, personally — there was no fuss about Jack Buck. Just our favorite uncle, teeing up the action, and letting the players tell the story.

  3. >Your post got me to thinking and I remembered that I was first introduced to baseball by my dad. He was managing my little brother's khoury league team (none for girls in those days) and taught me how to keep score for him. I can't look at a boxscore without thinking about my dad.

  4. >Thanks, everyone, for all of your comments.Susan, that's exactly how I learned to keep score too: when my dad was coaching my brother's Little League team. Those memories are definitely sweet.

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