08/14/2001 01:15 am ET
Jack, Joe Buck talk baseball
Jack's legendary broadcasting name lives on with Joe
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Editor's note: This story was published on MLB.com last August.
What makes Jack Buck one of the greatest play-by-play announcers in baseball history? Perhaps he is best summed up by this description in the St. Louis Cardinals' media guide: "Jack Buck has kept baseball fans spellbound with his diction and quick wit since he joined the Cardinals broadcast team in 1954."
During those 47-plus years, Buck has uttered some of baseball's most legendary sound bites -- such as, Go
crazy, folks! Go crazy!" when Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith hit a solo home run to beat the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1985
National League Championship Series. And who can forget the time when Buck himself went a little "crazy" after injured Dodgers
outfielder Kirk Gibson did his Roy Hobbs imitation and hit the game-winning home run against the A's in Game 1 the 1988 World Series?
"I don't believe what I just saw," Buck told the fans and broadcast partner Bill White on CBS radio. And fans throughout the Midwest grew up listening to Buck's signature signoff, "That's a winner!" after every Cardinals victory on KMOX Radio.
No wonder Buck is in the Broadcaster's wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's not too far-fetched to suggest his son, Joe, will one day join him in Cooperstown. Joe Buck, 31, not only broadcasts games for the Cardinals; he is also the No.
1 play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports Baseball Game of the Week every Saturday. He will call the playoffs and World Series with partner Tim McCarver for the next five years.
MLB.com sat down with Jack and Joe Buck last year in St. Louis to discuss the art of broadcasting a baseball game, and what they've learned from each other both inside and outside the booth.
MLB.com: How has baseball play-by-play changed over the years?
Joe Buck: In my opinion, it has changed with the way society has changed -- trying to be politically correct. The common criticism of people in my
generation of broadcasters is we are all cut out of the same mold and all
sound alike. There are no more Jack Bucks. There are no more Harry Carays,
Bob Princes, who could tell a story. The old tapes that you get of (Jack) and
Harry, and the stuff they are talking about, wouldn't fly today. ... To me,
today, you have to play more down the middle because every time you open your
mouth, you are afraid you are going to upset somebody. So I think it has
really toned down and tamed the way play-by-play announcers approach their
Jack Buck: I think back to some of the things Harry said and some of the
things I said trying to be funny. If I said them now, it would be on the
front page of every newspaper in the country.
Joe Buck: Just like the (Bobby) Vinton (incident).
Jack Buck: Yeah, well, I was doing the (National League Championship Series),
working with Tim McCarver for CBS. We were in Pittsburgh, the hometown of
Bobby Vinton, whom I knew quite well. And he screwed up the words to the
National Anthem and I said, trying to take the heat away from him, "If you
are from Pittsburgh and you're Polish" -- meaning that he is a big hero to the
Polish population over there -- "(you can) sing the National Anthem any way you
want to." Well, I damn near lost my job. If I said it now, I would get fired.
Joe Buck: But if you said that in '62 ...
Jack Buck: Nobody would have paid attention. I think this is true: The
old-timers we talk about -- Red Barber, Russ Hodges, Ernie Harwell Connie
Desmond -- they were pioneers in this business because it was a new thing to
broadcasting. So, they set their style one way. (Then came along) the middle
group -- with my peers. Then there's Joe's group. Now I think it has been
pretty well defined as to what you should do. And it takes a unique announcer
in this day and age to be separated from the others. Do you know what I mean?
Joe Buck: Yeah, I do. If you listen to the old-time tapes, it's a totally
different style of broadcasting. ("USA Today" TV critic) Rudy Martzke would
have a hey-day if he were writing a column and grading the announcers back in
the '40s and '50s. Like (Jack) said, they were the pioneers, they were the
first to do it.
I think today, it's kind of the ESPN influence, where everybody has to be a comedian. Everybody has got to be funny, critical.
Otherwise, you are just a bland guy. ... There is pressure there that
you have to be funny, try to be critical when appropriate and be excited and
give a sound bite-type play-by-play call when some good action happens so
they can play it that night on the highlight show. I think those are the
things that enter your mind when you are doing a game.
Jack Buck: I don't think I've ever said "the Cubbies" on the air. I don't think
I've ever said "Wrigley" without saying "Wrigley Field." But now they say "the
Beantowners" and "the Men from the Bronx." And they count on the listeners being
hip to what they are saying. I never took that approach, but as Joe said,
that's the way it is now.
Joe Buck: I think that's more of a retro feel, too, though. I mean, the
Cubbies, the Bronx Bombers? I refuse to call the (Yankees) the Bronx Bombers. For God's
sake, Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill are not the
Bronx Bombers. But everybody tries
to go old school.
MLB.com: It seems like we don't have the homers like in the old days. Do you
agree with that?
Joe Buck: I do. I find myself trying not to be a homer. Although when I hear
guys say, "It doesn't bother me if the team I broadcast for wins or
loses," I don't see how that's possible. I know Vin Scully said that over
the years, and God bless him if that's his honest feeling. I want (the
Cardinals) to win. It makes life better when they win. It's more exciting. I
mean, I would rather come to the ballpark and see a team that's either within
striking distance or in first-place than a team that's out of the picture
during the first month (of the season).
You get to know these guys. For the
most part, they are good guys and they are fun to be around and you root for
them. On the air, (I'm not a homer) and I try to avoid saying, "We."
When I say, "We go to the fifth inning," I don't mean I'm Mr.
Cardinal. I mean, we all go to the fifth inning. I didn't play. I don't have
any connection that way. I try to avoid that stuff.
Jack Buck: We are playing Cincinnati tonight. I'm rooting for the Cardinals.
And the people who tune in know I'm rooting for the Cardinals.
Joe Buck: It is the first thing I think of when I wake up. I try to remember
if we won or lost last night. And I say. "We" because you get
into that traveling party. I don't do it on the air. But I, at least,
consider myself at least part of the group. It's just that life is a lot
better when (the team is) winning.
Jack Buck: It makes a difference to me. It always has and it always will.
When it stops being meaningful to me I'll be out of here.
MLB.com: The Cardinals were a mediocre team in 1998, but you had Mark McGwire
hitting 70 home runs. How did you handle that situation?
Jack Buck: There's always something that comes
along that captures your interest, whether it's Jack Clark, Ozzie Smith or
(Stan) Musial in the days gone by. There had never been anything like McGwire
until (Barry) Bonds came along. And I'm interested to see how Bonds' story comes
out. But the McGwire story was meant to be totally enjoyed by everybody and it was.
Communication is so great in this country that every time McGwire hit a home
run then or Bonds hits one now, everybody knows about it five minutes after
they hit it.
Joe Buck: I think that '98 was like a winning season. And even though the
team was out of it, in the end, that really played into McGwire's hands
because teams didn't care if they pitched to him ... they played teams that
were terrible down the stretch like Montreal. He hit five home runs the last
weekend. There was nothing at stake. The only question was, Will he hit a home run?
I did the 62nd home run call, and it took at least 15 minutes for me to realize that
the Cardinals had taken the lead. I didn't even think to say what the score
was. All that mattered that night was if McGwire hit a home run and he
did and that was the celebration. Then when we went to break that half
inning, I looked at the scoreboard and I said, "Oh, so at the end of three
innings, the Cardinals now lead it, 3-2" or whatever the score was. I didn't
care. And that's how it was night after night. It was, Are we going to see
history tonight? How many home runs is this guy going to hit? The end of the
game, the score of the game and the out-of-town scoreboard were all
meaningless. It was as fun or more fun than anything I've ever been a part
Jack Buck: I don't know how many home runs McGwire would have hit if he
hadn't had the approach that (former Expos manager) Felipe Alou presented at
the end of the year. And Felipe had a lot of Latin pitchers on his ballclub,
who could have totally stayed away from McGwire, never allowing him to hit
the ball. I credit McGwire with the record with a big assist from Felipe
MLB.com: No kidding?
Joe Buck: Yeah. Considering that Sosa is Latin American, Dominican, you had a
lot of guys on that Montreal team that I'm sure wanted (Sammy) Sosa to be the
guy on top. You had a whole country wanting Sosa to be on top. Felipe played
it pretty honest and pitched to (McGwire) and he hit five home runs. Going
into that weekend, Sosa led in the home run race. It was 66-65 and McGwire
ends up 70 to 66.
MLB.com: It appears announcers today have to be a reporter,
sometimes a critic. For example, Joe, you mentioned on a recent Fox broadcast that Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel might play in the outfield. When I was growing up in New York, the fans in New York didn't get that kind of
information from Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy or Phil Rizzuto.
Joe Buck: That all goes into talking to guys, being around the batting cage,
having a relationship with the general manager. (Cardinals general manager)
Walt Jocketty is a good friend. I get things and know what to say and (when)
not to say (them). I didn't think I was giving away any top-secret
information when I said that, but that was one of the considerations.
And I know a lot of people in the organization wanted to see Ankiel go down (to the minors)
and forget about pitching for the rest of the year and swing the bat. I
brought it up on the FOX broadcast just to bring something out that hasn't
been rehashed 58 times.
Jack Buck: When Ankiel was pitching, you just couldn't say, "Here's the
pitch. Ball one, back to the screen. Ball two, half way up the screen." You
had to say, "Oh, my God, he threw it up on the screen." It was like watching
your own kid pitching, and you express yourself accordingly because you are
rooting for him. Everybody in the ballpark, including the opponents, were
rooting for him in Spring Training and during the season to throw a strike
and survive in the big leagues. So you better be able to cover those
MLB.com: Both of you work on television and radio. What the difference between
the two mediums?
Joe Buck: I think (Jack) would consider himself more of a radio guy and I
consider myself more of a television guy. I grew up in the era of television
and I think I understand it better. I don't think anybody does radio like
(Jack) does -- baseball, or even more so with football. The ability to
describe where a football is on a field on the radio ... I don't know how he
does it. But I think he is the best ever at that.
Television is more on the entertainment side because the play-by-play takes
care of itself. You don't concentrate on the play-by-play. You do it
for the highlight reel and that's it. You can add something and react like a
fan would -- "Oh, what a play," instead of groundball to short, diving stop
by (Rey) Ordonez. ... The fans are watching this.
Jack Buck: I think TV is a quartet -- the director, the producer, the color man
and the play-by-play guy. Doing radio (is a solo act).
MLB.com: Could you elaborate on the radio part of it?
Jack Buck: On the radio, you are doing the play-by-play. You have your
analyst there, but for the most part you are telling the story, when Joe is
doing TV or anybody else is doing TV, the director is doing his game, the
producer is doing his game, the color man wants something else, and the
play-by play guy has to react to all the them. He is not on his own like a
Joe Buck: If you are doing something on radio, you can describe what sort of
a night it is. On TV you have to wait to find what you are talking about in
the seats or you have to wait for the cameras to show what the style of play
looks like. Radio, you can do what ever you want. You can start singing, "My
Way," if you wanted to on radio and they couldn't do anything until they
physically pick you up and got you out of the booth.
MLB.com: How do you prepare for a game?
Jack Buck: I read the morning paper. I get to the ballpark two hours before
the game. I talk to a lot of people. I learn as much as I can before the
Joe Buck: I read the paper in the morning. I get to the (Cardinals game) a
half hour before the game (laughing), and I talk to my dad and I do the game.
The Cardinals stuff kind of takes care of itself. You are with these guys
every day. You know what the story is. You read the paper and you catch up on
the other team. I sneak down there before the game and I'll talk to a few
guys. I try to talk to Tony (La Russa) every day.
But on Fox, that's where my main attention is. I'm on the Internet, I read
the papers from the other cities where I'm going to be doing the games. (I go
on) Sportspages.com, and I get articles faxed to me. My focus is (in St.
Louis) but I have stuff going on elsewhere that's I'm trying to keep up with.
MLB.com: Prior to this interview, Joe, your dad said he knows about the
National League and you are informed about both leagues. Do you buy that theory?
Joe Buck: Yeah, I do, because I have to work twice as hard to know the
American League as I do the National. I'm (in St. Louis); I see these guys.
You watch a series of three games, you feel like you know that other team
pretty well. I still haven't seen Seattle, but I still feel like I know
what's going on up there because I've read enough. I work at that. That's
what I consider my homework, learning the other league and keeping up to
date with what's going on in other cities.
MLB.com: It seems like there's more pressure to be a play-by-play announcer
today because of TV critics. Do you buy that theory?
Joe Buck: Definitely. But I think it's good pressure. I think it keeps me
honest. It keeps me from mailing stuff in. If the critics weren't out there,
I think it is human nature to slack off a little bit. And when the critics
are listening, I better know what I'm talking about or they will
get you. And sometimes you still know what you are talking about and you feel
like you had a good game and they still get you. But I think for the most
part critics are a good thing. I've been ripped, not harshly.
Jack Buck: I think play-by-play is like any other job. You better concentrate
on what you are doing and do it right. You can't make mistake after mistake
and have the people appreciate your work because that makes you a bad
MLB.com: So you agree with Joe that critics are a good thing?
Jack Buck: (Hesitating) If they know what they are talking about. If I see
somebody give a motion picture a bad review, I go see the movie.
MLB.com: It also seems that the announcers are getting younger. Why is that?
Joe Buck: We work cheap.
Jack Buck: That's right. (Laughs) They work for food.
Joe Buck: You have the old guard and there not many left in the old guard. ...
Jack Buck: But I'll tell you the truth: Baseball teams are obligated to give
most of the money they receive in the way of income to the baseball player.
So you don't find many baseball announcers making a million dollars a year
working for a ballclub. Joe said it and you said it: They are younger, they
are cheaper. And if you get a kid (announcer) who goes into the (front)
office and says, "I need another hundred thousand dollars," (the bosses) will
say, "Go find (another) job." They are not going to pay it. It's not like
what it used to be.
Joe Buck: (Jack) made a great living from the Cardinals and I've made a nice
living from the Cardinals. I make my money with FOX, really. And I do the
Cardinals to stay sharp. I do the Cardinals to be around my dad. That's the truth.
MLB.com: Joe, what have you learned from your dad?
Joe Buck: He is so sick of me saying this: I think a lot of people in the
Midwest learned how to do a game by listening to him. That's the model that I
grew up on. But more than anything, I learned how to respect others, how
to treat people and how to feel fortunate for the job we have. He work at it
a lot harder to get (the job) than I did. He has no ego. I have a small ego.
Jack Buck: I think the important thing is, you can't make your living at the
expense of somebody else. I'm not going to pick on (Edgar) Renteria. He is
having a bad year. He makes an error, I mention it and I forget about it.
Other people, say, Harry Caray. A (player) made an error in the first
inning, (Caray) would mention it in the second, the third, the fifth and then
at the end of the game, he would say we lost because of the error in the
first inning. You can't do that. At least I don't want to do that.
MLB.com: Jack, what have you learned from Joe?
Jack Buck: (Laughs) That almost anybody can (be a play-by-play announcer).
What did I learn from him?
Joe Buck: Nothing.
Jack Buck: That he is smart enough to know what he is doing and knows what is
he looking at. He's honest. He doesn't cheat the listener and doesn't insult
the player. And I learned that he's capable of taking care of himself. Joe's
first game in New York ... How old were you? Seventeen?
Joe Buck: Eighteen.
Jack Buck: Mike Shannon and I got up after I said, "Here for the play-by-play
for the seventh inning is Joe Buck." He was celebrating his birthday with us.
We left the booth. I wouldn't have done that if I wasn't certain he was
going to take care of himself. He was taking care of himself then and taking
better care of himself now.
MLB.com: Joe, does it bother you that people say you were able to get this job
because of your father?
Joe Buck: It used to because I was unrealistic about things. I think it
bothered me because I wasn't sure that I could do it. It bothered me because
I thought that might be the only reason I was there. Now I realize
there's no doubt that got me the job and it doesn't bother me at all. I get
it every day. Somebody always says, "Hey, I want to tell you, your dad is the
best." And they are right; he is the best. If I'm half as good as him, and
accomplish half of what he has accomplished, that will be plenty for me.
MLB.com: Joe, your father has worked in the broadcast booth for almost 50
years. Do you see yourself doing the same?
Joe Buck: No. Because I think I will have made enough money at some point.
It's obviously not all about money. But that's a big part of all this. I just
don't think I want to travel the way (Jack) traveled. I want to be around
things around town, not have some schedule printed out at the beginning
season that really dictates how my summer is going to go. I don't want to do
it. I love (announcing) enough to do it the rest of my life, but I have a
wife and two kids.
Jack Buck: If you had told me how much traveling I would do -- baseball,
Sunday football, Monday football -- I wouldn't have done it either. I don't
know how the hell I did it.
MLB.com: What is your favorite baseball moment?
Joe Buck: Mine will be quick because I haven't been around that long.
Baseball-wise, McGwire is No. 1, when he hit the 62nd home run.
I called that game. And then the first World Series (as a play-by-play
announcer), being at Yankee Stadium, (the Yankees) return to their glory. They waited a long time to get another World Championship. I seem to find myself there every week since then. So I think that first time in the World
Series, getting to say, "The Yankees are the champions of baseball," ... What
a dream that was.
Jack Buck: I refuse to answer (that question). There are so many of them, I
can't separate them -- Musial's five home runs in a doubleheader, Bob
Gibson's no-hitter, Ozzie Smith's home run (in Game 5 of the 1985 of the
National League Championship Series), Jack Clark's home run (in Game 6 of the
1985 NLCS), Kirk Gibson's home run, Lou Brock's stolen base record. I can't
separate them. Why would you do it?
MLB.com: How important are your broadcast partners?
Joe Buck: They are important in that if you don't get along with them, this
could be a miserable existence. I'm fortunate to work with my father, who is
my best friend, Mike Shannon, who has been great to me and didn't have to be.
I'm a 19-year-old sitting next to him in the booth, filling in full time at
21. He didn't have to be this excepting of me, and he and I get along great.
Tim McCarver and I get along great. McCarver has been in this business a long
time and I haven't. We had a long talk and made sure we were starting from a
common place and really grew to like each other. It all benefits you because
it comes out on the air.
Jack Buck: I've always gotten along with everybody I worked with in baseball.
I've had a string of wonderful people. There's only one guy I couldn't get
along with. No need to mention his name, but everything I said, he said the
opposite. And he knew a little bit more about
(football) than I did, but he didn't know that much more. He was just
confrontational, vindictive. He wanted to be the star. Usually I want the
other guy to be the star anyhow. I don't want to be the star. There's only
one guy I couldn't get along with. That's a pretty good percentage.
MLB.com: Talk about Shannon and McCarver. How important are they in the booth?
Joe Buck: I've learned as much from them as I have from (Jack) about the game
of baseball. I've learned a lot from Mike in particular and I carry that into
my weekend stuff with Tim. And I bring stuff back that I learned from Tim and
I bring it back to the booth in St. Louis. It all mixes to together. They're vital to me because I'm trying to learn more about how this
game is played, especially how it's played through their eyes. Everybody has
their own opinion, but I understand they know how the game should be played,
I think it really adds to the broadcast.
Jack Buck: I get along (with Shannon and McCarver). There was a little
different approach when I was working with McCarver on CBS. CBS wanted him to
be the complete boss and I had trouble adjusting to that. Now Joe has a more
firm footing. It's 50-50, right?
Joe Buck: It's 60-40 me.
Jack Buck: It should be 50-50. But I can back away. I got along great with
(McCarver). (Shannon) has come along way. He's a folk hero.
MLB.com: What advice would you give to kids who want to become play-by-play
Jack Buck: Get a formal education, study four languages, read out loud every
chance you get and get a job.
Joe Buck: (Laughs.) My advice is to get a famous dad. I just tell people,
the more reading you do, the more vocabulary you accumulate, the more those
words are sitting there for you to grab in your mind when you are trying to
describe something. As (Jack) said, get a job. You cannot read on how to do
this job. It's impossible. It's so weird. It's such an odd living, and you
have to practice it, listen to yourself on tape. And (Jack) has told me this:
you start to fall into ruts, you start describing the same thing the same way
every time. The only way you start to learn how to vary it is by listening to
what rut you are falling into.
Jack Buck: You can't get a job without experience and you can't get
experience until you have a job. Once you solve that problem you are home
Bill Ladson is an editor/producer for MLB.com.