Monday, June 18, 2012

My Memory of Jack Buck

"Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!"

Jack Buck
Oct. 14, 1985

When I think of Jack Buck, the legendary St. Louis Cardinals radio announcer who died 10 years ago today, I think of an October day in 1985.

It was a Monday, and the Cardinals were playing my favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the National League Championship Series. It was an afternoon game, but that wasn't a problem for me in those days. I was working nights for a metro newspaper, and my regular days off were Monday and Tuesday.

The series was tied, two games to two, and I was looking forward to settling in to watch the game. I was anticipating it all the more because my best friend, Randy, had promised to drive to my apartment after his workday ended and watch the end of the game with me.

Randy was a Cardinals fan — still is, for that matter — and, although I wanted the Dodgers to win, I wanted the score to be close when Randy arrived. If the outcome was already decided when he got there, it would spoil the experience.

It could hardly have worked out any better. The score was 2–2 when he arrived, and the Cardinals were coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth. With one out and no one on base, St. Louis' switch–hitting shortstop Ozzie Smith came to the plate to face Los Angeles' right–handed ace reliever, Tom Niedenfuer.

Mind you, Smith was never a power hitter. He hit a few home runs in his career, but he had never hit a home run when batting on the left side of the plate, and I recall hearing Buck say something about that (whenever I have a choice between the TV and the radio for play by play of a game, I choose the radio) only seconds before Smith connected with Niedenfuer's pitch and drove it over the right–field wall.

I had listened to Buck on the radio many times in my life before that afternoon. Heck, I grew up in Conway, Ark., which was smack dab in the middle of Cardinals territory in those days (it may be different now, with other regional and broadcast options for baseball fans).

When I was a kid, if I wanted to listen to a baseball game on the radio, I could listen to the Cardinals — or no one. And the only televised games in those pre–cable days were NBC's games of the week on Saturday afternoons.

Also, the minor league club that was based in Little Rock — the Travelers — was part of the Cardinals farm organization. The Cardinal influence was all around me.

So I listened to the Cardinals games, and I associated Buck's voice with baseball on the radio on warm summer evenings. No other voice has ever sounded quite right to me for describing the action on a baseball field.

Buck's signature sentence when a Cardinals victory was assured was "That's a winner!" But he sounded emotionally drained after Smith's unexpected blast, and I could imagine him slumping in his seat and urging his listeners to "Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!"

I've heard old–time Dodger fans say that the baseball moment that broke their hearts was in 1951 when the Giants, after overcoming a seemingly insurmountable Dodger advantage in the standings to force a rare playoff, beat the Dodgers to claim a spot in the World Series.

That was before my time. My most painful baseball moment may have been that day in 1985 when Ozzie Smith drilled a walkoff home run to beat the Dodgers. Ultimately, the Cardinals won the league championship and went on to face the Kansas City Royals in the World Series.

But I was happy for Randy. And I was glad that we had shared that experience together. Other than the outcome, it was everything I could have wanted.

In the years ahead, we attended many Dodger–Cardinal games at Busch Stadium. And I always liked knowing that Jack Buck and I had watched the same game in the same place.

It's been many years since I went to a game in St. Louis, but the last one was when Buck was still alive and still calling games for the Cardinals.

Randy and I never took a radio with us when we went to a game so I never had the experience of listening to his play by play of a game I attended.

But I think the knowledge that Buck is no longer in the press box would make it difficult for me to feel the same about being at a game.

1 comment:

Cardinal70 said...

I'm in Russellville and this is still heavily Cardinals country.

Ten years can go by in a blink, can't it?