The father is never more than 10 digits away, and when Joe Buck gets desperate for the sound of his old man's voice, he dials Jack's cellphone so he can hear the rasp that entertained St. Louis Cardinals fans—and national TV and radio audiences—for nearly half a century. "I always gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek whenever I saw him," says Joe, reminiscing about his father, who died after a lengthy illness on June 18. "I loved him so much, and I showed that a lot. One time we were in Pittsburgh, and I did it. He smiled and said, 'Take it easy, kid. Not everybody knows we're father and son.' "
In a bittersweet twist, Joe's broadcasting career has soared to its greatest heights in the months since his father's death. In September he replaced Pat Summerall as Fox's No. 1 pro football announcer, and this week he is calling his fifth World Series for the network. Curt Gowdy and Al Michaels are the only other broadcasters ever to have been their network's No. 1 voice for baseball and football simultaneously.
Following his father into the family business, Joe landed a job in 1989 as the voice of Triple A Louisville. Two years later, at 21, he joined Jack in the radio booth in St. Louis. (He still does about 25 Cardinals home games each year.) Fox hired him in '94 to call NFL games, and two years later he became the youngest announcer (27) to broadcast a World Series game since Vin Scully (then 25) did it in 1953. Buck has won two Emmy Awards and last year signed a contract with Fox that runs through the 2006 baseball season. "Broadcasting 101 says that a play-by-play man explains the what and where and an analyst answers the why and how," says Buck's partner and Fox baseball analyst Tim McCarver, who called the World Series alongside Jack for CBS in '90 and '91. "Joe can do both—and that is very rare."
Buck combines old-school fundamentals—he's a baseball wonk with a feel for pacing and the ability to capture a dramatic moment—with a Generation Xer's pop-culture sensibilities. (In a nod to his youth, his cellphone plays Nena's 99 Luft-balloons whenever it rings.) He is married to his childhood friend's next-door neighbor, Ann, who wrote to him on Valentine's Day in 1984 to let him know she was sweet on him. They started dating soon afterward and were married in 1993. They now have two daughters, Natalie, 6, and Trudy, 3, and live in a suburb outside St. Louis. "Rockwellian is a good term for Joe's life," says his best friend, singer-songwriter Preston Clarke.
The night that Jack died, Joe was where his dad would have expected him to be: broadcasting the Cardinals' game against the Anaheim Angels at Busch Stadium. Afterward he drove to St. Louis's Barnes-Jewish Hospital for a farewell. "They had taken him off the respirator [earlier that evening], and I knew it was a matter of time," says Joe. "His breathing had slowed, and I didn't know if he was still breathing. I leaned in and talked in his ear for about 50 seconds before leaving the room. I never looked back. I didn't want to be there like in some movie ending when a father takes his last breath, because I know what he would have said: 'Get out of here, kid.' "
Jack died about 20 minutes later, and if you ask Ann, she's sure it went according to Jack's plan. "It's like his dad was waiting for him," she says softly. "All of us believe that Jack waited to see Joe one more time before he passed away."