of Cards dies; he was soul of city
Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday, June 19, 2002.
He brought the game
to fans for close to 50 years with his descriptive calls and keen wit.
He also was a war veteran, father of eight and raised millions for charity,
becoming one of St. Louis' leading citizens.
Jack Buck, one of America's great storytellers, died Tuesday (June 18,
2002) at 11:08 p.m. He was 77.
He succumbed to infirmities after having endured five operations -- including
brain surgery -- and numerous infections that kept him hospitalized for
the last 5 1/2 months.
Mr. Buck often was asked to sum up his life. He responded with a little
story recalling the day his wife, Carole, asked what he would say to the
Lord when they met at the gates of Heaven.
Responded Jack: "I want to ask him why he's been so good to me." His life
was the stuff of dreams: a decorated war veteran, father of eight, inducted
into 11 halls of fame, recognized as the radio voice of Cardinals baseball
for almost 50 years, familiar with some of America's most popular celebrities
and athletes, beloved as one of St. Louis' leading citizens.
Mr. Buck's recent health troubles started when an X-ray, given after the
batteries in his pacemaker were changed, revealed a spot on his right
lung. He had had surgery Dec. 5 to treat lung cancer, then went home.
"He was doing fine," said his son and fellow Cardinals broadcaster Joe
Buck. "Everything was on track for him to be back in the booth this season."
Jack Buck developed an abdominal blockage about three weeks later and
was hospitalized to have that cleared surgically. But he never was able
to leave, spending all but the first two days of this year in Barnes-Jewish
In the ensuing months, he battled several cases of staph infections and
pneumonia, had surgery to install a device in his throat to help him breathe,
had surgery to implant a device known as a deep brain stimulator to relieve
the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and then had an operation May 16 in
an effort to control the recurring infections. But his kidneys failed
after that procedure and he was placed on dialysis. Although his kidneys
later began functioning and he was removed from dialysis, his general
health declined until he finally lost his long battle to live.
But Mr. Buck will be remembered for his vibrant life. Few people squeeze
as much living into 77 years as did Jack Buck.
"I wouldn't change a thing about my life," Mr. Buck wrote in his 1997
autobiography, "That's a Winner." "My childhood dreams came true."
Actually, his life went far beyond even his wildest dreams. Maybe that's
why Mr. Buck always managed to impress people immediately with his humility
and regular-guy attitude.
"They talk a lot in football and baseball about not beating yourself,"
Mr. Buck said in an interview a couple of years ago.
"The same thing applies in life: Don't beat yourself. Don't smoke. Don't
take drugs. Don't drink and drive. Don't shortchange yourself. Give yourself
a chance. Enjoy yourself. If my work demonstrates that -- I can say without
qualification that if I can do what I've done, anybody can do it.
"I believe we're put on this Earth to work, to help others and to find
time for enjoyment. I think I've done all right."
"The Voice of Summer"
On Aug. 30, 1998 -- a few hours before Mark McGwire's 55th home run of
the season traveled 501 feet -- a large crowd gathered outside Busch Stadium
for an even greater historic moment. The Cardinals unveiled a bust of
Mr. Buck, smiling, left hand cupping his left ear, poised as he usually
was seen in radio booths across America.
"This statue features Jack in his favorite spot -- behind the microphone,"
the plaque reads. "'The Voice of the Cardinals' has broadcast more than
6,500 games. Member of 11 Halls of Fame, including shrines for baseball,
football and radio. One of the all-time greats, he has broadcast all sports.
St. Louis' top emcee is known for his great sense of humor and charitable
work. 'The Voice of Summer,' he was the ticket to the game for those who
could not be here."
Mr. Buck considered it one of the proudest moments of his career. An even
greater one came an hour or so later, on the field at Busch Stadium. The
day before, umpires had ejected McGwire from the game. In his remarks
on the field, Mr. Buck asked Cardinals fans to act out of their typical
sportsmanship and not boo the umpires when they appeared. Sure enough
-- as much a tribute to Mr. Buck as anything else -- fans greeted the
umpires with warm applause.
Mr. Buck would reflect on his 48 years of life in his adopted hometown
and consider all he accomplished. What struck him most was the appreciation
and affection shown him by St. Louisans wherever he has gone. A man who
made a living speaking, he would find himself unable to give words to
He never was sure if he deserved all the fuss.
"I have enough family and friends to keep me where I'm supposed to be,"
Mr. Buck has said. He added with a laugh: "Somebody told me the other
day that I'm a very humble person with much to be humble about. I know
where I stand. I know who I am. I know none of the things measure up to
some of the things that others have done."
He was more than the "Voice of the Cardinals," of course. Mr. Buck ascended
to hold a reputation as one of the country's top sportscasters, including
years as a key football play-by-play man on radio and television. He was
one of the most polished masters of ceremonies, locally and nationally,
and emceed banquets honoring some of the greatest athletes of the last
He associated with the likes of Neil Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly,
Johnny Carson and several presidents. He claimed friendships with Gene
Autry, Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Red Schoendienst and Robert Hyland.
He interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt, broadcast from the top of the Gateway
Arch the day it was completed and was host to one of the first network
studio shows on TV during football season. He was a big tipper, a poet,
a workaholic, a sensitive man given to tears at the plight of others,
a major fund-raising force.
Mr. Buck adopted fighting cystic fibrosis as his highest profile of causes
and raised well over $30 million. "Finding a cure would be the greatest
thing to happen in my lifetime," he said.
That from a man who had diabetes, shook noticeably from Parkinson's disease,
had a pacemaker for almost a decade and finally had to deal with cancer.
"My ailments don't bother me," he once said. "I have a firm grip on who
I am, what I'm doing and where I'm going. That's no different now than
it's been throughout my life."
A tough beginning
John Francis Buck was born Aug. 21, 1924, in Holyoke, Mass. He was the
third of seven children born to Kathleen and Earle Buck, a railroad accountant
who spent considerable time away from the family working in New Jersey.
"Jackie" grew up a big fan of the Boston Red Sox, especially slugging
first baseman Jimmy Foxx.
The family moved to Cleveland in 1939, when Jack was 14. His dad died
a year later, at age 49, after having trouble with high blood pressure.
Kathleen Buck had to go to work, but all the children had to pitch in.
Jack, developing his work ethic early, held a number of jobs during that
Depression era to help the struggling family -- holding as many as three
jobs at once for a while in high school.
Mr. Buck graduated from high school in January 1942, about a month after
the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He got a job on an ore boat on the Great
Lakes at age 17 and decades later recalled how he developed a great love
for life on the water thanks to that job. If he hadn't become a broadcaster,
Mr. Buck speculated, he would have pursued a career on a boat.
The Army drafted a 19-year-old Jack Buck in June 1943. After basic training,
he was made a corporal and instructor. Eventually, Mr. Buck saw combat
in Germany with K Company, 47th Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, early
in 1945 and on March 15 was wounded when shrapnel hit him in the left
arm and leg. He received a Purple Heart. Years later, he still was amazed
that he lived through the attack, considering he was carrying a hand grenade
on his chest. Mr. Buck was about to be sent from a French hospital back
to Germany when, while on a pass in Paris, the war ended.
Though his time in service was relatively brief, those years had a profound
effect on Mr. Buck. He visited the Normandy site of the D-Day invasion
in 1995 and was reminded how easily it could have been him buried in one
of those graves. Emotionally, he penned this poem:
They chatter and laugh as they pass by my grave
And that's the way it should be
For what they have done,
and what they will do, has
Nothing to do with me.
I was tossed ashore by a friendly wave
With some unfriendly steel in my head.
They chatter and laugh as they pass by my grave
But I know they'll soon be dead.
They've counted more days than I ever knew
And that's all right with me, too.
We're all souls in one pod, all headed for God
Too soon, or later, like you.
Turning to the microphone
Mr. Buck worked at several jobs after World War II but knew he wanted
to be a sports broadcaster when he enrolled at Ohio State, in something
of a spur-of-the-moment decision, in September 1946. He began working
at the university's radio station in 1948, then got his first professional
radio job doing a sports show on a Columbus, Ohio, station.
His first play-by-play effort came at that station, WCOL, when he called
an Ohio State-DePaul basketball game. After graduating in December 1949,
Mr. Buck stayed at WCOL to work Ohio State football and basketball. The
station also had picked up broadcast rights for the Columbus Redbirds,
one of the Cardinals' two Class AAA minor-league teams, which allowed
Mr. Buck to grow familiar with future Cardinals stars as well as watch
young prospects such as Mickey Mantle.
WCOL dropped sports in favor of music the next year, but Mr. Buck landed
work with a Columbus TV station, where he worked with Jonathan Winters.
Television still was in its infancy in the early 1950s, certainly not
established enough to keep Mr. Buck from giving up on his desire to broadcast
Missing play-by-play during his year away, Mr. Buck took a job as radio
voice of the Rochester Red Wings -- the Cardinals' other Class AAA team
-- as well as with the Rochester Royals of the NBA in 1953.
Mr. Buck found himself doing advertising work for Anheuser-Busch that
year and, as such, gained some attention from the new owner of the Cardinals.
He auditioned for a spot in the Cardinals' broadcast booth by doing a
Cardinals-Giants game from the Polo Grounds that year and got the job
to be Harry Caray's broadcast partner for the 1954 season.
After being hired, he got a copy of a tape of Caray with a note telling
him that was how his new bosses wanted Mr. Buck to sound.
"I listened to that tape, and I knew I was in trouble," Mr. Buck wrote
in his autobiography. "I could no more broadcast a game in Caray's style
than I could any other announcer's. I wasn't going to try to broadcast
a game like Caray. If the people in St. Louis didn't like my style, I'd
have to go elsewhere."
Mr. Buck didn't need long to realize just how different he was in style
and personality from Caray, who didn't much care for Mr. Buck in the beginning.
In time, they developed an abiding admiration and fondness for each other.
And the people in St. Louis loved Mr. Buck's style.