Now, on the sad occasion of the tenth year coming to pass without Jack anymore, it occurs to me that he is a rarity of the most uncommon type. In many cases when people pass, their voice tends to fade over time with them. With public figures of his caliber, their name and feats live on long after they do. In the case of Mr. Buck, it’s his voice that made his resounding presence, so it is still very common to hear a call or a speech that he made, so it stays fresh in your ear.
However, for me what I hear when I remember him is much different. While he was responsible for my favorite call in sports history (“Smith corks one down the line, it may go….Go Crazy Folks, Go Crazy!!”), as well as characterizing the exploits that took Joe Montana, Lou Brock, Kirk Gibson and Kirby Puckett, among many others to legend, it’s something far more personal for me that I’ll remember him for.
It was about 1994 or so, at the very latest, and my Father took me out for dinner. The restaurant we went to was J. Bucks in Clayton, an establishment of obvious association. We ate and I looked around at all of the assorted memorabilia and pictures around the place while we waited on our food. I didn’t know a lot of them, but my old man filled in the blanks. I learned a lot about the World Championship teams of the 60’s that night, as well as the fact that there were a lot more great Cardinals that played in “black and white” than Stan Musial.
The night went on, and eventually we got up to leave. On the way out, we stopped by a picture of Jack, and my Dad told me, without hesitation, that “This is his place, and he’s the best to ever do it. All of those moments we were talking about, he was the one that brought them to life.” That in itself was cool enough for me, as I only really watched on TV, and never had the patience for radio when I was that young. But still, you can’t live in St. Louis and not know “the voice”. And I remembered the Ozzie home run call which happened when I was two, so it’d been the soundtrack to my young baseball life thus far. So I was aware of Mr. Buck, just not quite who he really, really was in the big picture, yet.
We took the elevator down to the parking garage underneath the restaurant. We came through to the door into the parking lot and a thin older guy was coming up. He stops to open the door for us to go through, and my Dad stops and says, “Oh no, Mr. Buck, after you.” Then he says to us, in that distinct, yet golden voice, “Well I hope that you all enjoyed your stop by, thanks for coming”. That in itself was pretty amazing, that a Hall of Fame, living legend would not only stop to hold the door for a regular guy and his kid but would stop and have even passing words. If you’ve met some of the greats of any game or arena, you understand how rare this can truly be. Heroes don’t always take their capes off the field with them too.
But he was a most gracious guy. My Father then said to him “Mr. Buck, I’d like to introduce you to my son Matt”, to which he replied “Well it’s nice to meet you Matt, I hoped you liked the food and some of the stuff on the walls tonight too. You’re a Cardinal fan, right?” By this time I was amazed by the fact that “The Voice” I’d always heard, but had just learned about that night, was talking to me by name. He went on to stand there and talk to us for another 5 minutes about the restaurant and St. Louis before he headed upstairs himself. It was surprising at that time to me that he’d be gracious enough to do that with two strangers, but as I’ve grown and heard many times since, that’s just the type of guy that he was.
Around that same time my Dad worked the second shift doing maintenance work at the Marriott across the street from Busch Stadium. He would be getting off work early in the morning and walk past the stadium. He told me much later when I was older that plenty of mornings he’d come across Mr. Buck going into the Stadium to start his day, and they’d always exchange the same convo in passing:
Jack: “Good morning there.”
Dad: “Good morning Mr. Buck, have a good day at work.”
Jack: “Hope the same for you, gotta get up and do it right?”
They say that life breaks down in the end to a lot of moments, some you remember and some that pass right by you. Well nearly 20 years after that moment, it still rings as clear as it did when it happened. It is still as clear as the forever true voice of the Cardinals did when it just focused on me and my young developing love for baseball, for just a few moments.
The night, a few moments made for a lifetime, and also made a direct bond with many eras of the Cardinals forever. And you’ll always be missed, Mr. Buck.
For more on my Buck inspired take on the game, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.