Monday, August 07, 2006
Meeting Jack Buck On the Radio
California is the most populated US state that doesn't pick up the night time signal of KMOX's 50,000 watt broadcasts. A big part of the reason is that the Rocky Mountains act like a giant wall dividing California from the rest of the country. So, back in the days before satellite or internet radio, Californians were among the only people living in the United States who never got to listen to Cardinal baseball.
Instead, we had "West Coast Baseball", and for most of us, that meant the Giants and Dodgers. For me, growing up in the northern half of the state, it meant the Giants. Sure, we had the Oakland A's, a team that gave us multiple world championships, including the dynasty years of the early 70s. But the A's could never win the hearts of Northern Californians. Their loyalty was with the Giants.
Unfortunately for California, the storied Giants left most of their magic back in New York. In the forty-plus years since their move west, they've never won a World Series. And besides all the losing seasons, being a Giants fan was just plain tough duty for a baseball fan.
Many games drew less than three thousand spectators. Conditions at Candlestick Park, or the "Stick" as we called it, were horrid for baseball: nasty cold and windy. Hardcore fans wrapped themselves in blankets and down parkas for night games, when Giants management came out with a new gimmick: awarding medals to those fans who would stick it out until the end of an extra-inning night game. They called the medals the "Croix Du Candlestick", and I earned a few of those.
Looking back, I wonder how many home runs Willie Mays might have hit had he not played hundreds of games in front of meager audiences in the frigid conditions at the 'Stick.
Even with little success to celebrate, Giants fans were loyal baseball fans. And since we didn't much care for the A's, and couldn't stand the Dodgers, for baseball excellence, we looked east. And for National League fans, that would often mean the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now back to that spring visit in 1986 to St. Louis. We Californians only seldom heard the voice of Jack Buck, and then usually only on national CBS broadcasts of football games. We're riding in the car with our new St. Louis friends showing us around. The husband, a guy about my age, reaches for the radio. He makes a comment about this radio station, KMOX, and how it is the radio station in St. Louis. He made the point about it being the home station for the Cardinals. He went on and on about how great KMOX was, and I'm thinking, "All this fuss over a local radio station? This seems a little strange".
He clicked on the radio. A Cardinal game was in progress. Then we heard the gravelly voice of Jack Buck announcing the game. With him was a screwy sidekick who seemed more interested in his frosty Budweiser than the proceedings on the field. I asked our host about Jack Buck being the announcer for the Cardinals. Noting just the slightest touch of smugness (something I would learn later to be a trait seldom exhibited by St. Louisans for anything having to do with this town), he smiled, and confirmed that, indeed, Mr. Buck was the regular daily announcer for Cardinal baseball.
Baseball was made for radio. And Jack Buck had the perfect baseball voice. I sat in the car and listened. I thought about how nice it must be to listen to that voice year after year announcing baseball.
That weekend we started some traditions. Our new friends showed us around St. Louis. They took us to Grant's Farm and Rigazzi's. We drove downtown and visited the Arch and got a glimpse of Busch Stadium. We ate toasted ravioli and drank from Frozen Fish Bowls. At the end of the visit, our new St. Louis friend gave me one his prized possessions: a red golf-cap, with a Rigazzi's logo.
A couple of days later we were back on a plane headed home to Northern California, seriously thinking about the idea of leaving everything we knew and moving to the Midwest. Our family and friends would think we must be nuts.