I never saw the press box at old Busch Stadium that quiet. Something was wrong. I was working on the Manual Scoreboard on June 18th, 2002, the day the music died for St. Louis Cardinals radio. Jack Buck passed away and the usually raucous press box was chillingly silent. I took a seat and thought about the last time I remembered interacting with Buck.
Living in Brentwood, I saw Buck often at Carl’s Drive In and said hello and spoke to him in the press box many times. He would extend his arm, flash that million dollar smile and ask you how you were. If you were in front of him, Jack Buck gave you respect. It was granted the minute he laid eyes on you.
Sitting at the first table in the red suit and black undershirt, Buck was Elvis sitting easy in a room full of manic obsessive writers, broadcasters and employees. If Stuart Scott had an easy human interpretation for his famous saying, “as cool as the other side of the pillow”, it was Jack Buck every night at Busch right before game time.
His voice spoke for many things, most of them legendary moments. It told us to go crazy when Ozzie Smith went deep in 1985. He told us to watch a baseball orbit space when Mark McGwire launched 62 home runs in 1998. It reminded us to remain calm and civil that same summer season during an August game where Big Mac was tossed against Tom Glavine and the Braves.
In perhaps his greatest moment, Buck read the memorable poem to a packed ground of mourning Cards fans a few days after 9/11 rocked the world. Speaking with the eloquence of a poet pulled from a more peaceful classy era and putting a fragile crowd at ease, Buck told us there would be a light at the end of a tunnel and we believed him.
Buck had a way of describing things so beautifully on the radio that we didn’t even need to run home and watch it unfold on our television screens. You were content to live in Jack’s world and let him spin the tale. He was that good. Only Vin Scully scrapes the surface of great play by play work that Buck achieved for decades in the KMOX booth. Most of us work a job that pays our bills and makes us reasonably happy.
Buck loved what he did and it sung through the microphone every play. He was living the dream and gave us a seat right next to him. Whether it was describing a pitcher, breaking down a scoring play or telling us how special McGwire was to baseball, Buck made us believe that radio was a vital part of our everyday fabric. He made it seem like it was more than necessary, that it meant something.
Buck meant something to all Cardinals fans. We depended on his voice every night and have found him hard to replace. His voice was as cool and crisp as a Sunday breeze and his knowledge of the game and ability to describe it was fascinating. Only a precious few can be as good as Buck.
I’ll never forget that feeling I felt that chilly night at Busch. The painful truth that Buck wouldn’t be around anymore. It was the beginning of the toughest week in Cardinals history. Four days later, starting pitcher Darryl Kile would suddenly die in his sleep, sending Tony La Russa’s club spiraling emotionally. While we knew Buck was close to his end, Kile’s death pulled the rug out from under our feet. People say the team won 57(the number Kile wore, ironically enough) games for their fallen starting pitcher. I’d say they won a few of those with Buck in mind.
The greatest respect a fan can pay to a fallen radio voice is seeing a play and wondering how Buck would have called it. I’ve had a few of those recently and I’m sure there will be more. Jack Buck had that kind of effect on people. 13 year after his death, he still finds a way to secure a spot in Cardinals fans hearts and minds.
What is your fondest memory of Buck? Tell us below in the comment section.