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© St. Petersburg Times, published June 23, 2002
His strong, crusty, baseball-wise voice cascaded across the U.S.A. heartland, stretching the Cardinals well beyond St. Louis to tumbleweed precincts of Oklahoma and Texas, through willowy corn fields of Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska, sneaking as far as the snow-kissed Rockies.
Local radio, indeed!
KMOX was a radio power long before ESPN, CNN and Fox came barking to cable-TV life. Jack Buck spiced muggy summer nights with astute, friendly delivery of the Redbirds from the elegance of Stan Musial to the bombast of Mark McGwire.
In a long-gone, less-complicated baseball time, Jack became to Middle America what Red Barber was to Brooklyn, Ernie Harwell to Detroit, Vin Scully to Los Angeles, Bob Prince to Pittsburgh, Jack Brickhouse to Chicago and Mel Allen to New York.
Often working alongside feisty Harry Caray, the wounded World War II hero quickly matured into a beloved Missouri icon as well as a Middle America legend to a vast landscape of farmers, truckers and generations of school children before the coming of big-league franchises to Kansas City, Denver or Dallas-Fort Worth.
In the spring, the Cards came to St. Petersburg for training, which allowed me a sterling honor, becoming a Buck pal. We frequently shared dinner, notably amid Don CeSar elegance, where Jack would enjoy a few drinks while blessing me with stories about his unique affair with Cardinals Country.
There are a thousand stories of Buck helping budding broadcasters and newspaper writers, always with the touch of an old friend. Twenty years ago, Jack introduced me to Bob Costas, who experienced radio education at Buck's KMOX, like many noted sports announcers.
"Bobby's a great kid who cares about people, his craft, the English language and making impact far beyond personal wealth and national fame," Buck told me. Words that could have been spoken about young Jack in the '50s.
Buck even gave me a little KMOX hug. Listening to my radio sports-talk show, Jack had an idea. A second newspaper was being born in St. Louis, so he proposed an intriguing 50-50 opportunity, with me writing three columns a week while earning the second half of my livelihood on a nightly KMOX talk show.
I was fascinated, but lucky for me, the St. Petersburg Times was too good a place to leave. It didn't take long for that upstart newspaper to go under in St. Louis. No matter, what an honor to have Buck working on my behalf.
He was always doing that kind of thing, never with fanfare. Tough old pro but what a sweet guy. Always extraordinarily prepared for broadcasts, whether it was the 114th game of a Cardinals season or part of his extensive multisports TV associations at CBS, NBC and ABC. All of this caring, savvy and attitude also was at work at the Buck home, developing a son named Joe, now a splendid Fox-TV and Cardinals broadcaster.
Miss you, Jack.
Thanks for being my hero.
CORNER KICKS: Twenty-five years ago, with the NASL Rowdies drawing 25,000 and more to Tampa Stadium, it seemed soccer was about to become a hit in the United States, so now, with a fabulous U.S. run in the World Cup, can it finally occur? ... They must be thrilled in Tuscaloosa Kingdom, as The Sum of All Fears delivers the movie imagination of a Super Bowl featuring a team called "Alabama Gators." ... Success of the Ozzy Osbourne family on TV could push Fox creators toward a bloody, vulgar, overpriced show called "The Tysons." ... Olympic volleyballer Bob Ctvrtlik spun off into a different sort of jock venture, selling Iranian fish eggs harvested from the Caspian Sea, delivering $2.5-million in caviar per month. ... In a rare move among the NBA rich, Cleveland Cavs center Mike Doleac returned to his alma mater (Utah) to earn a degree in biology, including courses in wilderness medicine and human dissection. ... Jeffrey Maier, famous as a 12-year-old who reached over a Yankee Stadium railing to steal a Derek Jeter fly from a Baltimore glove, turning an out into a homer, is 17 and a baseball recruit at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. ... Tatum O'Neal had a one-word comment on the autobiography of former husband John McEnroe: "sociopath."
READER'S RANT: Letter from Mike Goldman of Jacksonville suggests, "Our economy makes it difficult to support pro sports. (I am) a State of Florida employee who holds Jaguars season tickets. Many others in my office would love to go to (NFL) games but simply can't afford it.
"Florida's manufacturing base and blue-collar segment are shrinking. Corporate mergers, particularly in banking and insurance, are reducing the number of well-paying jobs. A non-unionized work force with lower wages has a definite impact.
"My son and I love the dome, downtown St. Pete and the ambiance of a ballfield. We have made five weekend trips to see baseball there, but the Rays do a crummy job of promoting to out-of-area markets."
Whatever happened to John Brockington?
-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.