It was 1985 when I moved to Missouri. A magical season that captured my attention. Two teams from my new home state would reach the pinnacle of the game I loved.
Until that year, I was a baseball fan. I had liked various teams in my youth and followed others closely, even at my young age. I had baseball cards and favorite players. I played ball in my back yard imaging what it must be like to be on that field. I envisioned larger than life men playing that game along side of me. That year changed the way I saw the game. That year I became a consistent observer of the Royals and adopted them as my “step-team”. That year, I became a Cardinal fan.
I have been asked many times why I became a fan of this team? Why I write about this game? Why I do so many radio appearances and host my own show? All of those answers are remarkably answered with the same two words.
It was Jack that taught me how to see this game the right way. His voice over the airwaves, the smooth transition from play to interview and back again. The genuine excitement in his voice over the game he loved. I loved the game beyond belief but when I heard the voice of Jack Buck and the way he described the simple action before him, it became magical. It took on a trait that I never knew was possible. A ground ball to deep short was seemingly fielded in left field and would manage to appear in the first baseman’s glove before the runner could reach safely. Home runs were majestic moon shots that would all but disappear in the night sky. Line drives must have had fire coming off of them. The players themselves floated around the field.
While the game seemed full of magic as I got lost in his voice, the images in my mind were so real I could imagine sitting in the stands. The magical description translated into my mind into a film reel of exact science. I could picture right where Ozzie stood on the field when he unleashed a throw that most shortstops would never attempt and still get his man. I could picture the seat a home run landed in and how much beer was left in the cup being held by the guy who caught it.
Jack Buck began his career in St. Louis in 1954 along side Harry Carray after graduating from Ohio State. Prior to college, Buck was a decorated war veteran of World War II. His fifteen years with Harry Carray would become the launching pad of two hall of fame caliber careers and endless memories for a generation of baseball fans who relied on the radio to bring them their beloved game of baseball.
In the 1960’s Buck had left for a year to broadcast football but would return and continue his work for the mighty KMOX out of St. Louis. He would also miss a year in the 1970’s as he tried to launch his own show on CBS. Ultimately, it was his pairing with former Cardinals outfielder Mike Shannon in the 70’s that would lead to the team that many remember vividly.
While Jack called World Series (8), Super Bowls (17), and various other sports broadcasts, it was his calls of Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series and Ozzie Smith’s 1985 NLCS home run that are most remembered. Perhaps it was the magestic voice that told us after 34 years in the booth that he “can’t believe what I just saw” for Gibson. Maybe it was the 31 year veteran of the booth that showed that he too was a fan when Ozzie launched a home run into right field and all the golden voice could say was “Go crazy folks! Go crazy!”. He would again show that he respected, loved and was a fan of the game when Mark McGwire broke the single season home run record when he simply asked the audience “Pardon me while I stand and applaud.”
For many of us Cardinal fans, Jack is the voice in the background of our memories. He is the announcer in our memories of the team. He was the reason we took small radios to the baseball game. Personally, I fell asleep to the sound of Jack describing the game far more times than I fell asleep to a bed time story or reading a book. My father loved the game and he taught me to love it too. My father drew the picture, Jack filled it with enough color to last a lifetime.
In the early 2000’s it became public knowledge that Jack was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. It would keep him off the road and limit the number of games fans would hear him. It would turn him, physically, into a shell of the man he once was. When baseball returned to action after the horrific events of September 11, 2001, he stood on the field and delivered a poem that left very few dry eyes in the crowd. Very few people knew what to make of it. The sound of his voice saying “Should we be here? YES!” was a resounding call to all of America.
It was nine years ago today, June 18, 2002 that the world lost Jack Buck. The majestic voice was gone. The booth in St. Louis would find a new inhabitant soon. No one would ever compare. No one could even try.
In one of my first articles I wrote for Baseball Digest I wrote the phrase “I miss Jack Buck”. That phrase is as true today as it was then. Last year I had the privelage of visitng with his daughter, Christine, and you can read that here.
The game simply doesn’t sound the same anymore.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.