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Broadcast legend Jack Buck dead at 77

Posted: Wednesday June 19, 2002 12:58 AM
Updated: Wednesday June 19, 2002 7:10 PM
  Jack Buck Jack Buck had been the voice of the Cardinals since 1954. AP

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- One of the most distinctive voices in sports has been silenced.

Jack Buck, who in nearly five decades as a broadcaster rose from Harry Caray's sidekick to a St. Louis institution, died Tuesday night after a long hospital stay. He was 77.

"He had a great life," said Joe Buck, who joined his father in the booth in 1991 and called the Cardinals' victory over the Anaheim Angels for Fox. "He didn't waste one minute of one day. He packed two lifetimes into one lifetime. He went from poor to wealthy in his lifetime, yet he never changed."

Buck underwent lung cancer surgery Dec. 5. He returned to Barnes-Jewish Hospital on Jan. 3 to have an intestinal blockage removed and never left the hospital. Joe Buck said his father went in and out of a coma several times the last few weeks.

On May 16, Buck underwent another operation to eradicate a series of recurring infections, including pneumonia, and was placed on dialysis. Joe Buck said his father died with his family by his side.

"He made us proud every day," Joe Buck said. "He battled for his life."

Jack Buck began calling Cardinals games on radio in 1954, teaming first with Caray. Nationally, Buck called Super Bowls, World Series and even pro bowling for CBS, ABC and NBC.

Voice remembered by millions as a dear friend
ST. LOUIS -- His voice was the Cardinals, it was baseball, and it was summertime. And for millions of fans, Jack Buck's voice was that of a pal.

In homes and offices that spanned the historically long reach of KMOX radio, fans recalled the voice that entered their homes every baseball season and, over the years, became a member of the family.

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"It's a sad day for the game of baseball," Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly said. "He was baseball for a lot of people who grew up in the Midwest."

The gravel-voiced Buck, a heavy smoker for decades, authored several memorable calls.

After a gimpy Kirk Gibson hit a game-winning two-run homer off Oakland's Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series, Buck was incredulous: "I don't believe what I just saw!"

Buck was also behind the microphone for the first telecast of the American Football League and at the NFL championship "Ice Bowl" in 1967.

In St. Louis and throughout the Midwest, it was Buck's calls of Cardinals games that made him a beloved figure. His signature call after Cardinals victories: "That's a winner!" In 1998, the team unveiled a bronze sculpture outside Busch Stadium of Buck's likeness behind the microphone.

"There only is and always will be just one Jack Buck," said former slugger Jack Clark, who played for the Cardinals in the 1980s. "He's a Hall of Fame announcer and a Hall of Fame person. He was in the game when it was at its purest. His calls of Stan Musial, (Bob) Gibson, Ozzie (Smith) and all the way up to Mark McGwire are classics."

Buck also told Cardinals fans to "Go crazy, folks, go crazy!" when Smith homered -- his first ever left-handed -- off Tom Niedenfuer of the Dodgers to win Game 5 of the 1985 NL Championship Series.

Buck took a minimalist approach when McGwire tied Roger Maris' home run record in 1998. Then, he said, "Pardon me for a moment while I stand and applaud," while the crowd noise washed over the airwaves.

Broadcasters in the Hall
Ford C. Frick Award recipients
Broadcaster Inducted
Mel Allen 1978
Red Barber 1978
Marty Brennaman 2000
Jack Brickhouse 1983
Jack Buck 1987
Buck Canel 1985
Harry Caray 1989
Herb Carneal 1996
Jimmy Dudley 1997
Bob Elson 1979
Joe Garagiola 1991
Curt Gowdy 1984
Milo Hamilton 1992
Ernie Harwell 1981
Russ Hodges 1980
Jaime Jarrin 1998
Harry Kalas 2002
Arch McDonald 1999
Bob Murphy 1994
Lindsey Nelson 1988
Bob Prince 1986
Rafael Ramirez 2001
By Saam 1990
Vin Scully 1982
Chuck Thompson 1993
Bob Wolff 1995

"It was a thrill just to be interviewed by the man and sit down and talk to him," Arizona ace Curt Schilling said. "He was living baseball history."

John Francis Buck was born Aug. 21, 1924, in Holyoke, Mass. He left home as a teen-ager to work as a deck hand on the iron ore boats of the Great Lakes and was drafted into the Army at 19 during the height of World War II.

Buck shipped out for Europe in February 1945 and was wounded the next month in Germany. Back home a year later, Buck went to Ohio State and launched his broadcasting career at the school's radio station.

"When I went on the air to do a sports show at WOSU, I had never done a sports show before," Buck wrote in That's a Winner, his autobiography. "When I did a basketball game, it was the first time I ever did play-by-play. The same with football. I didn't know how to do these things. I just did them."

In 1954, Buck beat out Chick Hearn -- who went on to become an institution with the Los Angeles Lakers -- for a job with the Cardinals.

Buck left the Cardinals booth for a year in 1960 to work for ABC. He later had a falling out with the network, which led him to not return a phone call that could have landed him the first play-by-play role on the network's Monday Night Football.

Instead, he called Monday night games and 17 Super Bowls on CBS radio with sidekick Hank Stram from 1978-1996.

In 1990, Buck began a two-year stint as lead baseball announcer for CBS. All the while, Buck continued to call Cardinals games. Joe Buck is now the lead baseball and football play-by-play announcer at Fox.

An amateur poet, Buck often read his work on the air and, on occasion, to crowds. When baseball resumed last year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Buck's patriotic words were a highlight of a pregame ceremony at Busch Stadium.

Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame's broadcaster's wing in 1987, Buck later became a member of both the broadcasters and radio halls of fame. He was awarded the Pete Rozelle Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996 and received a lifetime achievement Emmy in 2000.

Buck, who had six children with his first wife Alyce, and two with wife Carole, is survived by his second wife; sons Jack Jr., Dan and Joe; and daughters Beverly, Christine, Bonnie, Betsy and Julie.

A public memorial service will be held Thursday at Busch Stadium before the Cardinals' game against Anaheim.

Related information
Jack Buck: Memorable Calls
Life of Reilly: The Spirit of St. Louis
Buck remembered by millions as a dear friend
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