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"I was nine, 10, 11," Joe says. "I had a [room] key, and I knew when to go back up. I'd go get in bed. He wouldn't sleep. He'd be up all night rolling dice. I'd wait till he came back in the morning. He'd say, 'Well, we worked for free this week, Buck.' Or he'd have a wad of hundreds."
It was in many ways a dream childhood. But it meant Joe was never really a child. When Jack was gone, which was often, Carole expected him to take on some of his father's responsibilities. He even helped watch over his sister Julie, who was only three years younger. To this day she jokingly calls him her "replacement dad."
When Jack delivered his alimony payments to his first wife, Alyce Larson, he brought five-year-old Joe with him. And on road trips, Joe says, "I had to sit there and shut up. I wasn't the kid running around the lobby tripping people."
Jack never pushed Joe to be a broadcaster. It just happened. In high school he started to show an acumen behind the mike. He spoke at a pep rally, and Julie was stunned at how smooth he was. He would do a mock broadcasting voice in all sorts of situations: "Annnnnd ... that person is getting a speeding ticket!"
Jack put Joe on the air for the first time when he was 18, for an inning of a Cardinals-Mets game, just for fun. Joe enrolled at Indiana and during summers in college did play-by-play for the Triple A Louisville Redbirds. He never did earn his degree: He occasionally filled in on Cardinals broadcasts in 1990, and joined Jack in the booth full-time the following year. Bob Costas, a fellow St. Louis resident and by then an established national broadcaster, heard the boy, all of 21, and told friends, "This kid is so good, it's scary."
Joe was ready for every part of the job except this: "Why is a kid, still in college, showing up on what many broadcast people consider the premier local team network in baseball?" Dan Caesar wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in June 1990. "The reason is simple. And it's spelled B-U-C-K."
Joe read the column and cried.
What's so funny up there?" asked Joe Girardi.
The Yankees manager was wearing a headset in the dugout between innings of a September game against the Rays. Fox was in a commercial break. Buck and McCarver were supposed to ask Girardi a few questions for an in-game interview that would air in the next half-inning. But the broadcasters were too busy laughing.
McCarver goes way back with the Buck family. As a Cardinals catcher, he first met Jack in 1961, and in '90 and '91 he was Jack's partner on CBS's national telecasts. He was in the booth with Jack at the end of Game 6 of the 1991 World Series, when the Twins' Kirby Puckett hit an 11th-inning home run to force Game 7, and Jack famously crescendoed: