Media Views: Current Cardinals announcers were scolded, and glad they were, by Buck early on | St. Louis Cardinals

Jack Buck lives on for the Cardinals’ lead radio and television announcers, both of whom fondly remember being scolded by the legendary broadcaster while working with him early in their careers. Those memories remain vivid now two decades after Buck’s passing.

John Rooney, who now is in the top radio play-by-play chair that Buck occupied for four decades, was working his way up by calling games of the Louisville Redbirds, the Cards’ top farm team, in 1983. One time that season when the Cardinals were playing in Cincinnati, about 100 miles away, he was invited to join Buck and partner Mike Shannon to get a taste of broadcasting a big-league game.

“I called a double by George Hendrick like it was a fast-break dunk to win the championship game in the Final Four,” Rooney recalls. “Jack said, ‘Slow it down, kid. We’ve got 162 of these to do. We don’t want to wear out in a week!’”

Lesson learned, as Rooney made it to the majors with the Minnesota Twins a couple years later. They played the Cardinals in the 1987 World Series, and no local announcers were involved in the broadcasts as they all were national productions. But Buck, who was on the CBS Radio broadcast, pulled in Rooney for a cameo appearance.

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“He said, ‘Sit down, I’ve got something to do.’”

Buck actually probably had nothing special to do, but wanted to give Rooney an inning on the sport’s grandest stage. Rooney said it was a quick one, but that didn’t matter.

“That was Jack,” he said.

To the trash can

Dan McLaughlin, now the longtime TV voice of the team, had a memorable encounter with Buck early in his career before he became entrenched in television.

“I was called in to do a game with Jack on the radio and the Cardinals were facing the Dodgers,” he recalls. “I walked into the booth with a pile of notes on the teams from doing the two teams on TV from the weekend before. He grabbed the notes and said, ‘These are great.’ Then he took them and tore them up into a thousand pieces and dumped them in the trash. He pointed at the garbage and said, ‘That’s not the game. That’s the game (pointing at the field). Describe what you see, kid.’

“Then, he walked out of the booth for a few innings and left me by myself and then joined me later. He was 100% right. I’ve never forgotten that. It was a great lesson to be the eyes and ears of those that aren’t at the game.”

That was just one of many valuable lessons McLaughlin said he received from Buck.

“He was extremely instrumental in my early days of doing games,” he said. “He would pull me aside and give me helpful tips on what I was doing. He never talked down to me. It was always encouragement and guidance. It was amazing.”

His first interaction with Buck came in the KMOX (1120 AM) studios, when McLaughlin was an intern and Buck had a mighty presence.

“Whether I was behind the scenes or on the air, he was always helpful and amazing to me,’ McLaughlin said. “He treated me like a peer and I couldn’t believe it. In many ways, he led by example.”

He learned other things from Buck.

“Recently, I have been really fortunate to do some radio games with John, Mike and Rick (Horton) and I have thought about him a lot,” McLaughlin said. “He would always tell me that when I was on radio, that I was the eyes and ears of those that can’t be at the game. The listener could be bedridden, in a hospital, or the elderly. So, describe what you see and paint the picture.

“I feel so lucky to have said that I got to work alongside Jack Buck,” McLaughlin continued. “In many ways, he was my idol. This is all I ever wanted to do and he set the bar as high as it can go. There will never be another Jack Buck.”

The big calls

Buck’s two most famous calls were on improbable postseason home runs, the first by the Cardinals’ Ozzie Smith in the 1985 National League Championship Series and the latter three years later from the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson in the World Series.

Both came on radio, the first locally on KMOX and the other nationally on CBS.

The odds of either player homering in those situations were long, further cementing the spontaneity of Buck’s calls into baseball lore.

Smith had, at the time, batted left-handed 3,009 times in the majors without homering. But on No. 3,010, he drilled a pitch from Tom Niedenfuer off a pillar barely above the right-field wall. The solo shot gave the Cards a 3-2 victory and a 3-2 lead in the series, which they wrapped up two days later on the road in Game 6.

• Buck’s call, voice rising throughout:

“Smith corks one into the right, down the line. It may go… Go crazy, folks. Go crazy! It’s a home run and the Cardinals have won the game by the score of 3-2 on a home run by the Wizard. Go crazy!”

Renowned sportscaster Bob Costas, who got his start in St. Louis at KMOX in the 1970s when Buck was his sports director, once summed up the magnitude of that call to the Post-Dispatch.

“He wasn’t just calling the play, he was spontaneously sensing what the reaction of everyone listening would be,” Costas said. “He was articulating what they felt, and that’s what he did extremely well. You can’t just put that down to skill. Yeah, you need skill to do it, but you also need a human quality of connecting with people that way.”

Costas amplified on that on a recent MLB Network special looking at Buck’s career.

“That is about as good a call of a big moment … as you will ever hear,” Costas said. “It has all the details — it doesn’t lose the broadcaster’s responsibility to provide the details. But it also has the elements of surprise because everyone in the ball park was shocked by this outcome. And also appreciation of his audience. You don’t say, ‘Go crazy folks, go crazy!’ we have national broadcast. But he knew that everybody listening to that broadcast — there were horns honking on Highway 40 in St. Louis, people told me, (people in cars) looking out the window at strangers knowing that they were thinking exactly the same thing and feeling exactly the same thing in that moment. And Jack Buck understood that intuitively.”

• The Gibson homer was equally unlikely, but for a different reason. Gibson had power, but was so hobbled by hamstring and knee injuries that he didn’t start and limped badly to the plate as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1 of the ’88 Series. The Dodgers trailed the Athletics 4-3 and had a man on base while Gibson was facing the best reliever at that time in the game, Dennis Eckersley.

Buck’s call, with his voice again rising in anticipation as the moment unfolds while he is on the air with analyst Bill White:

“Gibson swings. And a fly ball deep to right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers have won the game 5-4! I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw!” Is this really happening? … I don’t believe what I just saw! One of the most remarkable finishes to any World Series games. A one-handed home run by Kirk Gibson. … I am stunned. … It was simply one of the most dramatic moments ever in the history of sports.”

Rooney still marvels at that delivery.

“It’s as perfect a call as any I’ve ever heard,” he said. “‘I don’t believe what I just saw!’ Well, neither did I — or anybody else, for that matter.”

Rooney added that calls as high-caliber as that are a better way for fans to experience a big moment “than you could get it by watching TV.

“Jack had such a feel for the game. He was as good as it gets.”

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