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"... And we'll see you tomorrow night!"
It was a classic call in a career full of them. It was also the culmination of the two most miserable years of Jack Buck's career. He was used to the pace and hierarchy of radio, where the play-by-play man is king. McCarver was a TV guy and the best-known commentator in the game. Jack never figured out what the network wanted from him, and his trademark humor rarely surfaced. His family thought he did not sound like himself. Critics were harsh.
"It almost killed him," Joe says. "I mean that seriously. He had an ulcer. The stress of being criticized the way he was, it was ripping him up inside."
The teaming of McCarver and Joe, which began in 1996, has been much smoother. McCarver marvels at his partner's ability to manage a game, to describe the action as it happens and to be witty without acting as if the game is just a backdrop for his comedy act. "The greatest multitasker that I've ever met," McCarver says. "Fifteen things going on at once is right up his alley. He loves that. Those are his moments of relaxation."
What's so funny up there? What isn't? Buck does not watch as many games as diehard fans, preferring reality shows in the company of his teenage daughters, but he enjoys broadcasting them as much as anybody alive. Joe Buck, you see, did not really grow up on sports. He grew up on sportscasting.
Julie, his sister, babysat the Cardinals' kids and got to know their wives. She saw the team as family, and she became a passionate fan. Joe knew the players as professionals. He saw that the best jobs in the world are still jobs. Even as a kid he never had Cardinals pennants in his room. Actor Paul Rudd, a longtime friend and a Royals fan, says he has had many conversations with Mad Men star Jon Hamm—who is also a friend of Buck's—about Don Denkinger, the umpire who famously blew a call in the 1985 St. Louis--Kansas City World Series. "But I've never really had one with Joe."
"If Bruce Sutter's not devastated after giving up a home run to [Ryne] Sandberg, why am I going to sit next to my dad and cry about it?" Joe says.
Joe did his first NFL game for Fox at age 25 and his first World Series at 27. He married his high school sweetheart, Ann, in 1993, at 24. "He had a career while the rest of us were still figuring out what the hell we were doing," says Hamm, who met Buck when they attended rival high schools in St. Louis. "He had kids and a wife while I was living on somebody's couch, waiting tables and bartending."
Long before he turned 30, Buck was at the top of his profession, with the power to shape his career as he wished. He chose to keep doing Cardinals games, even with a full national TV schedule. But in 2008, Joe stopped broadcasting Cardinals games altogether. He wanted more time with his daughters Natalie, who is now 16, and Trudy, now 13.
Buck tried to mesh family and work, but happiness rarely lasts until ever after. His marriage fell apart. The stress of his 2010 divorce and his worries about his daughters sent him into a deep funk. It hit him in the one place he could least afford it: his throat.