Jack Buck, one of the country’s most popular sportscasters and a beloved institution in St. Louis and throughout much of the Midwest during a broadcasting career spanning five decades, died Tuesday night in a St. Louis hospital. He was 77.
Afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, Buck underwent lung cancer surgery last December. He returned to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis on Jan. 3 to have an intestinal blockage removed and never left the hospital.
Joe Buck, a broadcaster for FOX and the St. Louis Cardinals’ broadcaster, said his father was in and out of a coma several times over the last few weeks. On May 16, Buck had another operation to treat a series of recurring infections, including pneumonia, and was placed on dialysis.
He died peacefully with his family at his bedside.
The gravelly voiced Buck began calling Cardinal baseball games on radio in 1954, teaming first with the legendary Harry Caray. Buck became the lead Cardinal broadcaster in 1970, and spent much of the last three decades on radio teamed with former Cardinal third-baseman Mike Shannon.
Buck--who also broadcast Super Bowls and World Series for CBS, ABC and NBC--may be best known nationally for announcing “Monday Night Football” for CBS radio with Hank Stram.
Although he broadcast every sport, including basketball, hockey and bowling, baseball was his favorite. And he always seemed to say a lot with few words.
When the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire tied Roger Maris’ record with his 61st home run to set a single-season record in 1998, Buck said, “Pardon me for a moment while I stand and applaud.”
Another famous Buck call came in Game 5 of the 1985 National League championship series, when Cardinal shortstop Ozzie Smith homered off L.A. Dodger pitcher Tom Niedenfuer.
“Go crazy, folks. Go crazy!” he told his St. Louis audience.
One of his most famous calls came at the end of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, when the Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson, believed to be too injured to play, hit a game-winning home run against the Oakland A’s at Dodger Stadium.
“I don’t believe what I just saw!” he said to much of the country on CBS radio.
Buck was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame’s broadcasters’ wing in 1987.
Of Buck, longtime Dodger announcer Vin Scully said Wednesday, “I was privileged to know [him] for nearly 50 years and we had a wonderful relationship. He was a gifted sportscaster of any and all sports, and I admired his overall ability.
“But I also admired his sense of humor, which was marvelous.”
John Francis “Jack” Buck was born Aug. 21, 1924, in Holyoke, Mass. His father, Earle, was an accountant for the Erie Railroad, based in Hoboken, N.J., and came home only on weekends. When the railroad headquarters moved to Cleveland, Earle Buck moved there too while young Jack remained in Holyoke.
In his autobiography, “That’s a Winner,” named after his signature cal after a win by the baseball Cardinals, Buck said his father once sent him $5 so he could go to a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. But his mother took $3 of it to pay bills.
“When I look back on my career and my life,” Buck wrote, “I think of my father. He died in 1939 at age 49. I frequently say he never would have believed what followed. Our family never had an automobile. When I bought a Plymouth in 1950, I was the first one in our family to ever own a car.”
Buck left home as a teenager to work as a deckhand on the iron ore boats of the Great Lakes and was drafted into the Army at 19 during the height of World War II.
He served in Europe and was wounded from shrapnel in Remagen, Germany. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
Buck returned from the war and went to Ohio State. He launched his broadcasting career at the school’s radio station. He was hired by the Cardinals in 1954. Also up for the job was Chick Hearn, who was working in Peoria, Ill., at the time.
“Jack won out,” Hearn, the Los Angeles Lakers’ longtime broadcaster, said Wednesday. “We’d have a laugh about that over the years. We’d say the way things worked out we both did OK after that.”
In the 1960s, Buck broadcast Cardinals’ baseball, AFL games on ABC and, later, the NFL on CBS.
He was one of the CBS broadcasters of the famous “Ice Bowl Game,” Green Bay’s 21-17 home victory over Dallas in the NFL title game on a day when the temperature was 13 below zero.
He would call 17 Super Bowls for CBS radio with Stram from 1978 to 1996 as well as “Monday Night Football” through most of that time.
Besides announcing Cardinal games, Buck was also the sports director at the Cardinals’ powerful flagship radio station, KMOX-AM, heard throughout the Midwest.
Dan Dierdorf, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the football St. Louis Cardinals, as well as NBC’s Bob Costas and many other broadcasters, were among Buck’s disciples.
Dierdorf began working at KMOX as a talk-show host while he was still playing. At Buck’s urging, Dierdorf retired from football in 1983 and became the Cardinals’ football commentator the next season. Buck was the play-by-play announcer.
“Working with Jack was like going to broadcasting school at Harvard every day,” Dierdorf said from his home in St. Louis. “He was always offering suggestions.”
“I owe my broadcasting career to Jack Buck,” Dierdorf said.
Dierdorf served as master of ceremonies at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Wednesday night as the Cardinals honored their longtime broadcaster before their game with the Angels.
There will be another public service, with Buck’s casket there for public viewing, before today’s game against the Angels.
For the rest of the season, the Cardinals will wear a black armband with Buck’s initials, JFB, on the right sleeve of their uniforms. Buck’s initials will remain cut into the grassy area behind the wall in center field.
Buck, who had six children with his first wife, Alyce, and two with wife Carole, is survived by his second wife; sons Jack Jr., Dan and Joe; and daughters Beverly, Christine, Bonnie, Betsy and Julie.
Times staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report from St. Louis.