The father is never more than 10 digits away, and when Joe Buck
gets desperate for the sound of his old man's voice, he dials
Jack's cellphone so he can hear the rasp that entertained St.
Louis Cardinals fans--and national TV and radio audiences--for
nearly half a century. "I always gave him a hug and a kiss on the
cheek whenever I saw him," says Joe, reminiscing about his
father, who died after a lengthy illness on June 18. "I loved him
so much, and I showed that a lot. One time we were in Pittsburgh,
and I did it. He smiled and said, 'Take it easy, kid. Not
everybody knows we're father and son.'"
In a bittersweet twist, Joe's broadcasting career has soared to
its greatest heights in the months since his father's death. In
September he replaced Pat Summerall as Fox's No. 1 pro football
announcer, and this week he is calling his fifth World Series for
the network. Curt Gowdy and Al Michaels are the only other
broadcasters ever to have been their network's No. 1 voice for
baseball and football simultaneously.
Following his father into the family business, Joe landed a job
in 1989 as the voice of Triple A Louisville. Two years later, at
21, he joined Jack in the radio booth in St. Louis. (He still
does about 25 Cardinals home games each year.) Fox hired him in
'94 to call NFL games, and two years later he became the youngest
announcer (27) to broadcast a World Series game since Vin Scully
(then 25) did it in 1953. Buck has won two Emmy Awards and last
year signed a contract with Fox that runs through the 2006
baseball season. "Broadcasting 101 says that a play-by-play man
explains the what and where and an analyst answers the why and
how," says Buck's partner and Fox baseball analyst Tim McCarver,
who called the World Series alongside Jack for CBS in '90 and
'91. "Joe can do both--and that is very rare."
Buck combines old-school fundamentals--he's a baseball wonk with
a feel for pacing and the ability to capture a dramatic
moment--with a Generation Xer's pop-culture sensibilities. (In a
nod to his youth, his cellphone plays Nena's 99 Luftballoons
whenever it rings.) He is married to his childhood friend's
next-door neighbor, Ann, who wrote to him on Valentine's Day in
1984 to let him know she was sweet on him. They started dating
soon afterward and were married in 1993. They now have two
daughters, Natalie, 6, and Trudy, 3, and live in a suburb
outside St. Louis. "Rockwellian is a good term for Joe's life,"
says his best friend, singer-songwriter Preston Clarke.
The night that Jack died, Joe was where his dad would have
expected him to be: broadcasting the Cardinals' game against the
Anaheim Angels at Busch Stadium. Afterward he drove to St.
Louis's Barnes-Jewish Hospital for a farewell. "They had taken
him off the respirator [earlier that evening], and I knew it was
a matter of time," says Joe. "His breathing had slowed, and I
didn't know if he was still breathing. I leaned in and talked in
his ear for about 50 seconds before leaving the room. I never
looked back. I didn't want to be there like in some movie ending
when a father takes his last breath, because I know what he
would have said: 'Get out of here, kid.'"
Jack died about 20 minutes later, and if you ask Ann, she's sure
it went according to Jack's plan. "It's like his dad was waiting
for him," she says softly. "All of us believe that Jack waited to
see Joe one more time before he passed away."
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK TWO OF A KIND Like his father, Joe is a baseball wonk with the ability to capture the drama.
COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA (INSET) [See caption above]
Joe Buck picks the five most memorable moments of his
1. Sept. 8, 1998 Mark McGwire breaks Roger Maris's home run
2. Sept. 27, 1998 McGwire hits two homers on the final day of the
season to reach 70.
3. Oct. 26, 1996 The Yankees win their first World Series in 18
years with a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Braves in Game 6.
4. Nov. 4, 2001 The Diamondbacks rally in the bottom of the ninth
to win Game 7 of the World Series over the Yankees 3-2.
5. July 9, 2002 The All-Star Game ends in a tie for the first
time since 1961.