“Mark McGwire just hit the scoreboard with another batting practice home run.”
True story, folks.
Few people in life get to work their dream job. For eight years on the Manual Scoreboard at the old Busch Stadium, I had the opportunity to watch the St. Louis Cardinals 81 games a year and get paid for it. It involved a lot of sweat and stress, but there was nothing like it.
As my colleague Jim Kleinschmidt repeatedly told us on the 100 degree August days up top the metal housing in a section of terrace reserved seating, “I can’t believe they pay us to do this.” The sentiment was shared by many. If you didn’t mind sweating through a couple shirts and working around scaffolding, the Cards paid you to watch and monitor baseball.
What did this job entail? I’d get to Busch around 4pm in the afternoon. I’d pick up the Dow Industrial numbers, notes on the Cards game and a printout of the night’s games. By 5pm, I was changing team names if needed, setting up leaderboards and getting all the starting pitcher numbers ready to rock and roll. By 6pm, it was time to head down to the Press Box. One of the perks was getting to eat there, drink all the pink lemonade the body could handle and maybe toss a few notes at Bernie Miklasz or the late Joe Strauss about a story idea I was writing up. Maybe greet an announcer or two. And then we were off.
When the Cards game was firing up, the rest of the board was brought up to speed. The East coast games needed 2-3 innings filled in and yes, the fear of dropping a number out of the board was constant. Like the players we watched, the scoreboard crew became a family. We’d scream at each other about a late risky Tony La Russa pitching change and use a bag of ice to engage in cross league ice throwing battles, but we became good friends. There isn’t a day that goes by without me pausing to think about the moments behind a board during the top of the ninth when the Birds were going to win and the building was going to go nuts.
The 2016 season marks 10 years since the Manual Scoreboard shut down. I worked the Scoreboard from 1998, when Big Mac reined, until 2005, when Roy Oswalt turned off the lights on old Busch and the Scoreboard. Here are the 10 things I’ll remember the most about working the scoreboard.
Getting a call from Tony La Russa
One night, the Cards destroyed the Cubs. Scored ten runs in one inning even. In order to rub it in, the crew left the 10 in the inning slot. The next day, La Russa called the board and believe me, I’d never seen my comical supervisor sound so stern and shocked. “Yes, Mr. La Russa, sure, you know it, yes, of course, right Tony.” Lesson: Don’t show up another team on Tony’s watch.
The Birth of #5
Albert Pujols arrived on the scene and the crew thought he was just another guy. The person who made the roster because Bobby Bonilla was hurt and McGwire liked a lot. By the end of the 2005 season, when Pujols hit the moon shot off the train against Brad Lidge, #5 was a legend. I got to see him play over 75 times a season from 2001-2005. He put together 8 straight seasons of 7 WAR or more. He averaged 42 HR, 120 RBI and 45 doubles for those 5 seasons. Pujols eventually left, but I’ll never see a better ballplayer in my lifetime come along like him.
Troy Siade and the Jim Edmonds and Art Holliday fascination
My late friend Troy and I had a fascination with Edmonds. Nothing left us speechless longer than a classic Edmonds catch or spin away from an up and in pitch. We were mesmerized by his baseball skills, but we also couldn’t help but count the seconds it took for him to rise off the ground after a great catch. He would milk that moment for as long as he could. Troy loved Edmonds more than any ballplayer, even Pujols. Why? He was lefthanded, played center field better than Flood and was cocky. That was my friend Troy. He also almost stole a framed picture of Art Holliday from a suite once. No one knows why. When Siade passed away to Non Hodgkins Lymphoma Disease before his 39th birthday in 2004, the Cards let us spread some of his ashes in center field. Finally, he got to lay where Edmonds laid out on so many breathtaking occasions. Rest in peace my friend.
Working the Scoreboard made you a Rock Star
All my friends wanted to come up on the board, and they didn’t just want pictures. They wanted to work. One time, my dentist came up on a night where the board was shorthanded. For two hours, Dr. Anderson and his friend helped take care of an entire league. That’s how you use a scoreboard allure to your advantage.
The Bittersweet Big Mac Roller Coaster
My first year on the board featured the dramatic and ultimately bittersweet epic tale of Big Mac and Sammy Sosa. Their Ali-Frazier like slugfest in the pursuit of Roger Maris’ single season home run record. On the National League side of the scoreboard, a slot was used for the individual battle. Using two pitching numbers, one of the crew would slide in a new number when McGwire or Sosa went deep. Later on, when Mac was racking up career HR highlights, supervisor Joe Gramen would post up near the exit door where the leaderboard was or the 60 year old would run down to it when Mac went deep. I’ve never seen an old man move that fast.
Years later, I don’t care what Mac said he did or didn’t do. Those were fun seasons.
Press Box Perks
Every time I’d walk into the press box and see Jack Buck sitting by himself in the red suit and calmly taking a few moments before the game, it was a pleasure I kept in my memory bank. I’d occasionally go over to him and say hello, and he would flash that 10,000 watt smile and make me feel like the most important man on the earth. When he died, it wasn’t fair to anyone. He was truly the best. Still is.
Non Press Box Perks
Having Al Hrakosky joke to one of the crew that they put a zero in upside down. True story.
Worst moment ever
Listening to a game I couldn’t work at home and hearing Joe Buck say on the air that a number on a game was put in upside down. Uncommon but forgivable mistake. When the person working that game is your best friend that you brought on, it was a problem.
Breaking the board down after a game
When the teams left the field and fans left the seats, Busch got empty and quiet. The lights would get shut off. On the nights I’d choose to clean the board and set it up for the next day, I’d come out afterwards, sit on the retired banners concourse and just take it in. One of the underrated perks of working at a stadium is seeing it when it sleeps. Looking down on the field where so much had happened and so much would happen, it was hard to not get nostalgic. I miss those midnight hangouts.
Talking to the sportswriters
Every chance I had, I’d walk over to Miklasz, Strauss or Bryan Burwell and just bounce stuff off their shields. They were the hot stuff beat writers and commentary artists, and I was the scrappy young blogger/aspiring journalist. I’d present a theory to them and see how much it weighed. Sometimes a good conversation broke out. Sometimes, I’d look like an idiot. They were always classy and gracious. I miss those days.
I don’t miss the hair I had, the buckets of sweat I shed or banging my head seventy times a season. The Manual Scoreboard will always be the best job I ever had. It combined baseball, friends, and some cash. I was disappointed the new stadium didn’t retain the board but was quietly happy to retire after 8 grueling yet special seasons.
What are your greatest memories from the old Busch Stadium?