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The Cardinals, Baseball, and the Ties That Bind

Honoring Jack Buck, my mom, and their legacies

Jack Buck Memorial Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Jack Buck passed away on this date 19 years ago. He was 77 years old at the time and had been struggling with lung cancer and Parkinson’s. It feels wrong to start off an article that way because Jack Buck’s life was extraordinary. His passing was a mere footnote, the completion of a journey that brought joy to so many. Admittedly, it saddens me that there are college age St. Louis Cardinals fans- and just baseball fans in general- who never had the privilege of enjoying a baseball game called by Buck. But it also makes me infinitely happy that generations of baseball fans did get a chance to hear Buck imploring them to go crazy, or expounding on how he couldn’t believe what he just saw, or just playing the straight man to Mike Shannon, Harry Caray, and others. It thrills me that his life is weaved into the tapestry of St. Louis history because of his humor, kindness, and charitable efforts. You see, it’s not about the sadness of Buck’s passing. It’s about his journey along the way and the lives that he touched. The same was true for my mom. She passed away a few weeks ago at age 78 at the end of her own struggle with Alzheimer’s. It’s only fitting that my tribute to her, here, would begin with an introduction featuring Jack Buck.

Like Jack Buck, my mom had a profound interest in sports and journalism. She was a lifelong Cardinals fan and an English major at Mizzou. She loved to tell us that she grew up sitting on the front porches of my great grandfather’s and grandfather’s home in the bootheel of Missouri, listening to Jack Buck call games on KMOX. Later, when she had grown up and become a mother, she would do the same with all three of her sons. No matter where we lived, my mom and dad would make it a point to break out the radio and try to pick up KMOX. We had more success when we lived in Wisconsin and Iowa than we did living in South Carolina, and a good stiff wind or rainy night always helped a little. The nearly annual summer camping excursions to the Jack’s Fork River or just St. Louis in general offered a rare treat- a static-free version of Buck and Shannon calling a Cardinals game. That was during the Whiteyball years. Buck on the radio describing the thrilling exploits of Willie McGee, Ozzie Smith, John Tudor, Whitey Herzog, and others was aural ambrosia, and I have my mother (and father) to thank for that. Those trips were usually punctuated with a trip to St. Louis for a game.

I love that Buck and the Cardinals create a multi-generation throughline in my family. It’s impossible to tell my mom’s story without mentioning the Cardinals. Earlier, I mentioned our trips to Missouri to watch the Cardinals during my childhood. We also took trips to Florida for Spring Training- first to Al Lang Stadium in St. Pete, and then eventually Jupiter in my adulthood. She even got a chance to bond with my lovely wife- also a baseball fan- on these trips. In her Grandma Years, by which time I had moved to St. Louis, I’d attend games with my mom and dad for Mizzou Night. A few times, we went for Mother’s Day. The floppy red Cardinals sun hat giveaway one year delighted her to no end.

My mom had an exhaustive list of interests that helped her bond with friends and family. They helped her forge memories and ultimately leave a legacy. They were the ties that bound her to her loved ones. The Cardinals were prominent amongst those interests. As a matter of fact, the Cardinals came up three times in her eulogy. I should know because I was the one who wrote and gave it- like Jack Buck, she was eulogized by her youngest son. Her fandom was also in her obituary, penned by my brother. She shared ballpark trips with everyone in the family, including her beloved grandkids.

The fact that I’m even writing this article is a testament to her legacy. When I was a kid, my mom would teach me to read using baseball game stories and box scores in the newspaper. For her, it was a perfect marriage of writing, grammar, math, and journalism, all wrapped up inside a game she loved. It’s little wonder, then, that I now write about baseball in my spare time.

This would all be incomplete without mentioning several of my Cardinal-specific memories with her. I came home from school and walked through the door just in time to see Ozzie Smith’s homerun in the 1985 NLCS. My mom leapt for joy around the living room- she was going crazy, in the parlance of the day. She let me stay up late to watch both 1985 and 1987 World Series games, and found a way to help me dress as John Tudor for Halloween one year. In September 1989, I got home from school on a gray, drizzly Wisconsin day soon before Pedro Guerrero blasted a clutch three-run dinger against the Cubs to put the Cardinals on top, a moment we commemorated with a high five. Nobody remembers that homerun because the Cardinals faded, but I do because it was a shared moment with my mom. In the spring training trips of my youth, my mom was more excited than even I was when I got autographs from Whitey Herzog, Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst, Milt Thompson, Rod Booker, and so many others. My childlike joy was her maternal joy. Into adulthood, we shared conversation after conversation about Mark McGwire’s homerun chase, my first trip to a playoff game in 1996, countless playoff teams, and several World Series championships.

Obviously her legacy goes far beyond her love of baseball and the Cardinals. But it makes for quite a few wonderful steps in her journey.