A Legendary Voice Is Lost

Aaron Thomas stands near his father Ed Thomas' casket following graveside services, Monday, June 29, 2009, in Parkersburg, Iowa. Ed Thomas, the Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach, was shot in the school's weight room last week. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Jack Buck, the broadcaster who in more than five decades behind the microphone became a St. Louis institution and one of the most recognizable voices in sports, died late Tuesday.

Buck, who once described himself as a fan first and a sportscaster second, will have a very public farewell. His casket will be at home plate at Busch Stadium on Thursday, for a viewing that will be followed by a public memorial service at the stadium, and a day later, a private service for the family.

The Hall of Fame broadcaster underwent lung cancer surgery Dec. 5, then returned to Barnes-Jewish Hospital Jan. 3 to have an intestinal blockage surgically removed. He never left the hospital.

On May 16, Buck underwent another operation to eradicate a series of infections that kept recurring, including pneumonia, and was placed on kidney dialysis.

"We miss him already," said Joe Buck, speaking on CBS Radio Station KMOX, where his father worked for many years. "But I've been missing him for months."

"I loved him as a person, and I respected him as a broadcaster. Loved to hear him do Monday Night football," former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda told CBS Radio News.

They first met when LaSorda was playing for a minor league team in Montreal and Buck was the Columbus Redbirds' announcer, and they got together whenever they were together in Los Angeles or St. Louis. Whenever they did, the topic was obvious.

"Definitely (we) talked of baseball," LaSorda said. "He lived and died the game."

Starting in 1954, Buck called Cardinals games on the St. Louis AM powerhouse KMOX, teaming first with Harry Caray and for the last three decades with former Cardinals third baseman Mike Shannon.

"Jack Buck was my childhood," one fan told KMOX's Kevin Killeen.

Nationally, Buck called everything from pro bowling to Super Bowls to the World Series for CBS, ABC and NBC, including CBS Radio's Monday Night Football for 16 years.

"He had a great life," said Buck of his dad. "He didn't waste one minute of one day. He did everything he could. He packed two lifetimes into one lifetime. He went from poor to wealthy in his lifetime yet he never changed. He was the same guy. I'm so proud of what he was able to do."

"I wouldn't change a thing about my life," Buck wrote in a 1997 autobiography. "My childhood dreams came true."

Buck's gravelly voice - crafted in part, he said, by too many years smoking Camel cigarettes - described to a national radio audience the indescribable end to Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

"I don't believe what I just saw," he said after hobbled Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Kirk Gibson, barely able to walk, hit a two-run, game-winning homer off Dennis Eckersley.

He was behind the microphone for the first telecast of the American Football League and at the NFL championship "Ice Bowl" in 1967.

But in St. Louis and throughout the Midwest, it was Buck's calls of Cardinals games that made him a beloved figure. With each final out of a Cardinals victory, he wrapped things up with his tidy, "That's a winner."

John Francis Buck was born Aug. 21, 1924, in Holyoke, Mass. He left home as a teen-ager to work as a deck hand on the iron ore boats of the Great Lakes and was drafted into the Army at 19 during the height of World War II.

Buck shipped out for Europe in February 1945 and was promptly wounded the next month in Germany. Back home a year later, he bumped into an old friend who needed a roommate at Ohio State. Buck obliged and launched his broadcasting career at the school's radio station.

"When I went on the air to do a sports show at WOSU, I had never done a sports show before," Buck wrote in "That's a Winner," his autobiography. "When I did a basketball game, it was the first time I ever did play-by-play. The same with football. I didn't know how to do these things. I just did them."

In 1990, Buck began a two-year stint as lead baseball announcer for CBS. All the while, Buck continued to call Cardinals games.

"I don't let any of the outside interferences get in the way of my enjoyment of the game of baseball," he said in an interview for the CBS News Weekend Roundup at the beginning of the 2001 baseball season.

Buck was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame's broadcaster's wing in 1987.

Suffering from heart trouble and Parkinson's disease, Buck in recent years had mostly called Cardinals home games only.

During his illness, he also kept right on pushing, according to his son, Joe.

"He continued to fight to his last breath," said Joe Buck. "He made us proud every day. He battled for his life. He did it with dignity and with pride."

Buck, who had six children with his first wife Alyce, and two with wife Carole, is survived by his second wife; three sons and five daughters.