Sudden Death

Halo and hype over Jack Buck pierced by the passing of Darryl Kile

Even though Caray was a native, born Harry Carabina and growing up near downtown and in Webster Groves, he was the one who had to leave for Oakland, then Chicago, to achieve wider fame. Caray was a knuckleball that was hard to predict; Buck may have been a change-up, but he was right down the middle of the plate.

Buck was a raconteur -- he was no rabble-rouser. In addressing Webster University students in 1984, he told them that he knew of drug use in sports but kept quiet. "Why didn't I say something on the air?" asked Buck, who then answered his own question: "It's common sense not to say everything I see."

As his tenure with the Cardinals lengthened, his politics became more conservative. During the 2000 presidential campaign, he emceed a rally for George W. Bush at the Family Arena in St. Charles. In the early stages of the stadium push, he expressed concerns about public financing. Last year, he co-chaired the Ballpark Partnership that sought pubic assistance for a new stadium.

In the last few years he cut back his broadcasting to home games and joked that after giving Cardinal fans the best years of his life, he was now giving them the worst. Parkinson's disease and other frailties impaired his motor functions and sometimes his voice, but the thought of Jack Buck's not being in the booth after 48 years with the club was too much for fans to imagine.

So when Buck died after six months in Barnes-Jewish Hospital, a public parting on a scale unheard of in this city's history was planned. On Thursday, Buck's casket was placed behind home plate; at 7 a.m., the first of thousands started to file past it.

Three of those making the pilgrimage were Jim and Chris Wagstaff of South County and their baby daughter Nikki, who sat in her stroller wearing a red tank top with a cardinal on the chest. Jim wore a replica Stan Musial jersey with a "6" on the back. The Wagstaffs, who drove to a MetroLink stop, then took the train down to the stadium, cited a mix of personal and sports reasons for the trip.

"I grew up listening to him. I loved listening to him," said Jim, who had to be at work that afternoon. Chris said Buck reminded her of her father, who died recently.

Walking single file through the right-field Wagon Gate in 89-degree heat, the mourners followed the warning track around the outfield wall, some stopping to take pictures of each other while they stood on this hallowed ground of the soon-to-be-replaced Busch Stadium. A policeman and a firefighter stood guard at the casket, as did a Clydesdale. As the faithful stepped off the field and back into the stands, ushers had placed a box of Kleenex on the railing for anyone who didn't have a dry eye.

Patty Clarke and her 21-year-old daughter Colleen, of South City, made it down to Busch for the open-air wake. Patty admitted that she cried when KMOX daytime host Jack Carney died in 1984 and that she wondered at the time, "Who at KMOX is going to make me laugh?" She confesses she didn't listen to much baseball and did so only because of Buck. She liked Buck's other radio work at KMOX, she said, because "he spoke from the heart" and showed "integrity."

Now that Buck's gone, Clarke said, she'll mostly listen to National Public Radio, unless "something big happens -- then I might turn on KMOX. They'd have it first."

However the loss of Buck affects the area, it's hugely significant for KMOX. For decades the top-rated station in the region, KMOX must now cope with the loss of the last hero in the station's pantheon.

In covering Buck's death, the station promoted itself to the hilt. Buck died at 11:08 p.m. June 18; and Joe Buck came on the air to announce the death at 11:20 p.m., the same numerals as the station's frequency. It was Joe Buck, son of Jack Buck, telling the news to John Carney, son of Jack Carney.

By the end of the brief interview, Carney was advising Buck that there would come a "time where you and your family need some private grieving. I certainly want you to be able have that time, and it's not wrong to feel that way." Yes, yes, but first let's finish this interview.

"How many times do you get to follow in your father's footsteps?" Buck asked Carney. "You've done it there, and I've done it."

The problem for KMOX is that Joe Buck is going national, calling weekend baseball and football games for Fox. If he's learned one thing from his father, it's to avoid the 162-game grind of announcing for the home squad. In a March 31 article in the St. Petersburg Times, Joe Buck is quoted as joking that Jack Buck was so busy, he didn't pick Joe up until he was five years old. "I don't want to be gone all the time," Joe Buck, father of two young daughters, told the Florida newspaper. "I was part of this on the other end, with my dad gone a lot and trying to earn money where he could."

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