Mike Shannon was so cool he could wear all black on the hottest day in August.
I’d walk into the press box during the seventh inning stretch drenched in sweat, having accepted and found a way to live with the fact that I had every intention to bathe in pink lemonade. But there’s Shannon standing over by the coffee machine in a black polo, which hung over black pants and shoes. Oh, and he had a black windbreaker on as well. The former Major League Baseball third baseman always talked about a desire to see the moon, but he easily radiated sunlight during the dog days of a St. Louis summer.
No, the long-time voice of the Cardinals on KMOX didn’t die; he simply knows when he’s retiring. After his upcoming season, Shannon’s 50th in the booth, he will hang up the headphones and get up baby, get up and out of the stadium for good. Well, mostly at least. I am sure a guy they call “The Moon Man” will break into the airwaves down the line for a call or two, but weekly duty is over and done with.
In recent years, Shannon has only called home games, with a few exceptions. A way of toning down a career has also informed many that his days in the booth were in fact numbered. Everyone put here has a date they stop working, and Shannon has put his time in at 81 years of age. Since 1958, he’s spent every 24/7/365 attached to the Cardinals franchise in some way: player, front office associate, and radio legend. Love, hate, or tolerate the “Shannonisms,” you will find a hard time denying his enrichment of this city.
For myself and so many others, he was the voice that we have heard our entire lives. Jack Buck is #1 in many hearts in Cardinal Nation, but Shannon should be right there in consideration for his longevity and ability to call a game with just about any kind of personality. For a considerable amount of time now, it’s been John Rooney, formerly with the Chicago White Sox. It’s something to drive down Kingshighway on a Tuesday night listening to Shannon and Rooney blend different energies and wits while a baseball game broke out downtown, right behind muscle-bound Stan. No one describes a pitcher’s wind-up and motion to the plate like Shannon, especially in a tight spot late in the game.
“Two on, two out, and two strikes. Deuces wild! Isringhausen checks the runner, sets, and delivers to the plate… strike three! Oh boy, John, Izzy is cooking tonight.”
Okay, I ad-libbed a bit there, but he knew how to sync up a fan hundreds of miles away into a kid’s game being operated by adults. How many times have you turn down extra streets so you could listen to Shannon call seven foul tips in a row. Alleys, parking lots, lonely saloon driveways. I once pulled up almost to my house, as Dave Veres worked a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded. The man threw like a bowling ball was strapped to his back foot, and Shannon never forgot about those details.
As Buck once said, Shannon’s knowledge of and ability to perfectly describe the game to the most casual of fans is second to none. He could pull you in with a play description, hold you right there with three signature tales about the good old days, and think you were his friend inside five minutes. I’m talking about two singles, a broken-bat single, and one out later. He made it all captivating by deviating from the script just enough while adding an original brand of humor.
I feel like 2021 has additional stakes now. A possible end zone for franchise legends Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. A holding pattern disguised as a transition before a few salaries get dumped, or the other way around. Whatever lineup takes the field in the spring will get the honor of participating in the Moon Man’s last trip around the bases.
While succinct at 50 and resolute with the past few years of activity descent, I am saddened by a Sunday afternoon game at Busch without Shannon calling it. Who will fill those shoes?
Who will tell me to, “LISTEN TO THIS CROWD” as I feverishly count the pennies in my car while Anthony Rizzo fouls off another Trevor Rosenthal heater?
Who will constantly repeat the phrase, “Get up, baby, get up” to me while I hang on every single word coming out of his mouth as I drink three beers inside 15 minutes?
Who will talk about a cold, frosty Budweiser so eloquently that it ignites an urge in every single soul in the listening region to head for the fridge, or the cooler?
Shannon is the epitome of “something else.” A play-by-play guy who could deliver the color commentary too. I often thought the man could fly solo during some games just riffing on the past while describing a baseball game to us with only words and random sound. He always felt extremely happy doing what he was doing, and it was infectious. Often times, Shannon would cure a bad mood with a couple jokes and an excellent breakdown of a suicide squeeze sequence.
I feel special for having so many years under my belt listening to his many stories, that I won’t feel isolated when he’s gone. As Tony Stark once said, part of the journey is the end. After nine years in the booth, a few more in between, and fifty up top, the man is calling it quits. Good for him. I bet he won’t get far without a microphone. Shannon will be around.
As I left the press box with enough pink lemonade to fill a high school gymnasium, Shannon turned to me and said, “Stay cool up there while changing those numbers, alright, hehehe!”
Hearing him do the slow cackle and laugh made my month that long ago brutally hot summer. A kid with his head in the clouds (contemplating marriage at the time) getting a quick breeze across his shoulder from a legend.
Shannon is to the Cardinals what Bobby Plager is to the Blues: A franchise Original Gangster. Someone who defines loyalty and dedicates his life to a single team. Isn’t that the dream? Find a place where you are beloved.
Are we sure Molina owns the keys to the city? I think they might eternally belong to Mr. Shannon.
One last ride. 2021 just gained a little more identity. Get up baby, indeed!