At one time major league baseball was very important to my life. I listened to the Cincinnati Reds on the radio faithfully. I wrote down the results of every game. One year I think I successfully recorded every “Star of the Game,” the player featured on the post-game show of that title, despite the fact that some games take place at night on the west coast, so that I would have to be up very late to get those results. If I missed any “Stars” that year, they were very few.
I attended quite a few games, despite the fact that it was a two hour drive one way to Cincinnati.
So yes, baseball was very big in my life. I suppose I was the kind of nerd who could have been told, “Get a life.” Well, I was never really very good at getting a life, but eventually, after a very long time, I did move on to spending much less time on baseball. Now I never listen to games. I still hope the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox do well. If someone will drive me to a game, I’ll still be glad to go, but one game every two or three years would be enough for me.
These reflections are brought on by my having just finished a very interesting book by Joe Buck, currently a nationally known sports announcer. The book is Lucky B——: My Life, My Dad, and the Things I’m Not Allowed to Say on TV (2016 original date of publication). I have censored the title; this is a blog intended for a family audience.
Yes, Joe Buck didn’t mind putting the word b—— right in the title. Other vulgarities appear in the book; Mr. Buck, unlike me, is not writing for a family audience.
However, the title is not entirely gratuitous. Joe Buck was the son of famed St. Louis Cardinals announcer Jack Buck. Jack Buck had a wife and six children. Then he didn’t. He began an affair with Joe’s mother, left his wife and family, and married Joe’s mother. Joe was born about a month after the marriage. Eventually a daughter was born as well.
The “lucky” part is that Joe Buck grew up spending an enormous amount of time with his father, often in broadcast booths around the country. Joe Buck learned how to call games by osmosis. At a very early age he was calling games himself, first in the minor leagues (briefly), then at the astonishing early age of 20 or 21, in the major leagues. This of course drew the charge that he was advancing so quickly simply because he was the son of famed announcer Jack Buck.
But as Joe Buck points out, you can either do the job or you can’t. Joe Buck could not have carved out a career as an announcer–first as a Cardinal announcer, then nationally–had he not been able to do the job.
Joe Buck came along on television after most of my days listening to or watching sports were done.
Why all this is resonates with me is that I remember Jack Buck very well. And he was a fantastic baseball announcer.
I was a Cincinnati Reds fan. I had heard three Reds radio announcers. The first was Jim McIntyre, who I listened to in 1969–when I first started listening to games–and 1970. I liked Jim McIntyre, and still mourn over the fact that he was fired after 1970. I think it was unfair. There was nothing wrong with Jim McIntyre.
After him the Reds had Al Michaels for three years, 1971-1973. Al Michaels was special. It is no surprise at all that he went on to national fame. He left after 1973 for higher pay with another team. Here’s the thing, though. The Reds were very foolish to let him get away. They could not have kept him forever–he was headed for national fame eventually–but they might have signed him for at least another three years. The Reds were penny wise and pound foolish. Al Michaels would have been glad to stay, as his own memoir makes clear. The Reds should have opened their pocketbook just a little. But as my brother pointed out a week or so ago, sometimes people in positions of authority can let you down badly. It is a lesson my brother learned early in life. I guess I should have learned that lesson when the Reds let Al Michaels get away.
The next announcer was Marty Brennaman. He was good, and won many awards, but I admit I never warmed to him as I did to Al Michaels. Al Michaels had spoiled me. Marty Brennaman stayed around a long time (1974-2019). He was paired with former Reds pitcher Joe Nuxhall, who also had been paired with Jim McIntyre and Al Michaels. Brennaman and Nuxhall made a good announcing team.
But there is a difference between good and world class.
In the summer of 1984 I was living on the west side of town. Radio reception was slightly different there. I could pick up KMOX out of St. Louis. They broadcast the games of the St. Louis Cardinals. Possibly–not sure–there may also have been an FM station in the western part of Indiana which carried the Cardinals, which I was able to access.
Anyway, I begin to hear Jack Buck call the Cardinal games with former player Mike Shannon.
That was a revelation. The insights into the game were fantastic. The personalities of the two men meshed perfectly. It is difficult to believe there could be a better broadcast team than Jack Buck and Mike Shannon.
While I remained a Reds fan, I found myself listening to Cardinals games a lot. (Of course rooting for them as I listened.) I looked up 1984 just now. I wasn’t missing much in regard to the Reds that year. They finished 70-92, fifth out of six teams in their division of the NL. The Cardinals? They were significantly better, 84-78, third out of six teams in their division. But it wasn’t the fact that the Cardinals were slightly better than the Reds, that caused me to listen to the Cardinals. The Cardinals announcers were fantastic.
I only lived at that location for a brief period. My next home was a basement apartment. If memory serves, and I think it does, I couldn’t pick up the Cardinals as easily. So my time hearing Jack Buck and Mike Shannon was relatively brief. But I never forgot them.
There is a lot about Jack Buck (and a bit about Mike Shannon as well) in Joe Buck’s book. Some of it is disappointing. I had not realized how Joe Buck came into being. There were other aspects of Jack Buck’s character which were admirable. We all come into God’s hands needing mercy through Jesus Christ. Jack Buck (b. Aug. 21, 1924–d. June 18, 2002), rest in peace.
So I was glad to read Joe Buck’s book partly because it had so much to say about Jack Buck. Joe loved his father, and it shows.
The book contains many vulgarities. Parts are very funny. It rings true almost all the time. Joe Buck can see his own faults as an announcer. He is rich and famous, but really doesn’t seem arrogant.
Sadly, his own marriage collapsed. He has two daughters whom he loves. He remarried.
It’s just me of course, but I continue to believe that collapsing marriages could be avoided if people got regenerated and converted, and got in good Bible believing churches, and adjusted their lives according to the truths in the Bible. I suppose I’m hopelessly naive.
So be warned that if you read Lucky B——, you are not reading a memoir by a guy who believes the kind of things Christians tend to believe. That didn’t keep me from getting great enjoyment out of the book.
It is appropriate to give some credit for the book to Michael Rosenberg. The title page says the book is by Joe Buck “with Michael Rosenberg.” He has done an excellent job in helping Joe Buck find his written voice. It never occurs to either that some words are considered vulgar for a reason, and should be avoided. But greater writers than Joe Buck and Michael Rosenberg often make the same mistake.
When Joe Buck was just 21, already he was doing St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio. He was criticized by the media critic Dan Caesar at the St. Louis “Post-Dispatch.” Mr. Buck quotes part of the article, which says that being Jack Buck’s son is why Joe Buck was there, and that Joe Buck had not paid his dues. Then we read what happened over the next few weeks.
‘It was hard to read that in the only paper in my town, as a twenty-one-year-old. I felt like I got torpedoed before I even got started. I was so devastated that I actually cried.
‘A few weeks into the season, Caesar criticized me again. Then he asked for an interview.
‘I said, “Dan, you have my permission to just make up my quotes. I’ve got nothing to say. So if you want to make it up, I’m giving you free rein.”
‘He said, “Well, what does that mean?”
‘”It means I’m not interested in talking to you. You’re going to write whatever you want. You haven’t even really given me a chance. So just make it up. Go ahead.”
‘He asked me if he could take me to lunch to try to talk it out. We met at some restaurant at the mall. I told him: “I realize I’m being sensitive. I realize I’m my dad’s kid. But give me a chance. Let me do it and then tell St. Louis if I’m good or not good.”
‘And you know what? He did. He gave me a chance. And we got along great after that. But I kept that first article in my wallet for many years.’ (p. 76)
Giving a writer permission to make up whatever quotes he wants is a unique way to deal with criticism you feel is unfair. I got a huge kick out of that. But it seems to have worked. I also was fascinated to hear about Joe Buck carrying the article in his wallet for many years.
This book will not be for everyone. There are many vulgarities–the title gives us fair warning. But if you remember Jack Buck, as many Midwesterners will, this might be a book you will want to read. It is inexpensively priced on the Internet. I found my used paperback copy for $5.20 total, in early February, at Amazon. Doubtless similar prices can easily be found.