"Reprint" of Brian Gunn's Tribute to the Moonman

I have done my best to find a link to this article, which appeared on Redbird Nation site in September of 2003. I can't find a link, but weirdly, I saved this as a word doc sometime in 2005, about the time I first started visiting the VEB site.

I don't know why I saved it, except maybe to share it with my brother & my Dad. And now to share it with you, gentle VEB readers. Thanks to Brian Gunn for prepping a eulogy 20 years early, and thanks to Mike Shannon for the memories.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Posted 8:23 AM by Brian
A TRIBUTE TO THE MOONMAN, MIKE SHANNON There are some public moments that are so indelible, so searing, that you may feel as if you are waking up to the world for the first time. For many of us it was the Challenger explosion. Or the day Reagan got shot. Others of us may recall exactly where we were and what we were doing when JFK was killed, or during the moon landing, or on V-J Day. Me, I remember, more vividly than any of these, the exact moment when Glenn Brummer stole home.

It happened on a Sunday afternoon, August 22, 1982 at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals, clinging to a 1½ -game lead over the Phillies heading down the stretch, found themselves deadlocked 4-4 in the 12th inning against the San Francisco Giants. Glenn Brummer singled with one out in the 12th and made it to third with two away. Gary Lavelle on the mound; David Green at the plate; 2-2 count. And that’s when Brummer – dumpy third-string catcher, destined for the dustbin of the Baseball Encyclopedia – took off. The moment still comes easily to my mind. Not the moment after, when Brummer slid under Milt May’s tag for a steal of home and a 5-4 Cardinal win, but just before that, when Brummer rumbled down the basepaths and Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon shrieked through the radio: "Brummer’s stealing home!" It’s enough to give me goose bumps, even now.


When Jack Buck passed away last summer, my brother Patrick estimated that, growing up, he heard Buck’s voice as often as he heard our own father’s. The same probably goes for Mike Shannon. He was Buck’s booth partner for 30 years, a time period that spans virtually my entire life. Indeed, the names Buck and Shannon seem about as intertwined with my childhood as Mom and Dad.

But even though Buck and Shannon are linked in my memory, you’d never confuse the two men. Jack Buck is a certified local icon – to my reckoning, the finest baseball broadcaster who ever lived, and as gallant a person as you’d ever meet. Even his irreverence seemed classy and urbane. Eulogies to Buck tended to use words like ambassador and legend and poet. He’s the subject of a bronze statue outside Busch Stadium, a Hall of Famer, and a St. Louis fixture as stately and prominent as the Gateway Arch.

Next to Buck, Mike Shannon seems, well, a clown. Start with his looks. Whereas Buck had a shock of dignified white hair and a peacockish demeanor, Shannon comes across as something of a slickster. With his dyed-black pompadour, goofy sportcoats, and lopsided Robert Mitchum grin, you might easily peg him as some cheapo insurance salesman. Or, come to think of it, you might peg him to be exactly what he is – an ex-ballplayer who still hangs around the clubhouses and hotel bars of his old team.

But it goes beyond looks. Shannon’s on-air antics offer St. Louisans a nightly shtick that’s part vaudeville routine, part drunken soliloquy. The performance is pretty familiar to anyone who’s heard it (indeed, everyone I knew growing up did a Mike Shannon impression, just as every kid did a Howard Cosell). Shannon starts the game genially enough, mellow and low-key. Then, as he gets slightly more lubricated (it’s rumored that he’s allowed one beer per inning), he’ll relish one of the many corporate spots he sprinkles throughout the broadcast, urging us to kick back with "a nice cold frosty Budweiser." And then, especially if the game is nip-and-tuck, Shannon will get loopier, more animated. You might hear one of his famous country squawks – "Ooooo-wee! We got a barn burner goin’ on down here!" And then, with the game on the line, he’ll haul out his famous exultation, "Old Abner has done it again!," followed by his equally famous hillbilly cackle. At that moment, deep into the night, listening to Shannon after two or three hours, you might get the faint impression that you’re riding in a car with no steering wheel.

But that’s not all. You don’t need to listen to Shannon even that long to hear the trippiest, most surreal utterances this side of a CB radio. Here’s Shannon this past August, after Scott Rolen ran the count to 3-0, urging him not to tempt fate and simply take the walk:

You don't kick that dog as he's sleeping on the porch, you don't step on his tail, you just walk on by. If you step on his tail, he might jump up and bite you on the ankle or the kneecap.

Later in the game, after Jason Isringhausen lost command of the strike zone, Shannon blurted out --

Izzy's like a wild hare in March, running all over the lot!

In St. Louis we call these "Shannonisms," and over the years he’s given us some doozies:

Well, folks, this game began as a tiny worm and is blossoming into a large cobra.

Hideo Nomo is the biggest thing to hit Japan since they dropped that bomb on Nagashima!

He's madder than a pig caught under a barnyard gate.

I just want to tell everyone Happy Easter and Happy Hanukkah.

Things are not always as they appear to be as.

Well, he did everything right to get ready for the throw, but if ya ain't got the hose, the water just won't come out.

Gilkey was originally born in University City.

Like Spring makes the rains come, so does the edge of the plate grow.

The Dodgers are ahead by 5 runs or 3 runs or in between there somewhere.

He ran to second faster than a cat in Chinatown.

We'd like to say hello to all those folks listening in Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky.

And my favorite all-time Shannonism, in regard to an official scorer’s questionable ruling:

Well, no one’s perfect. Only one guy was ever perfect, Jack, and they nailed him to a tree!

For my money that line beats Yogi’s "it aint’ over ‘til it’s over" as the ultimate in cock-eyed wisdom.

This isn’t to suggest that Shannon is an idiot. Sure, he may be a rube, but he’s no mere rube. In fact, he has one of the keener minds of anyone I’ve ever heard talk baseball. Not baseball in the macro sense (Shannon has never been too adept with statistics, and he can be a clod when it comes to editorial opinions). But he’s a wizard when it comes to what the old-timers called "fundamentals," that is, the type of nuanced stuff that coaches work to death in spring training: the precise footwork on the pivot at second base, the proper way to execute a 9-3-1 relay, and the means by which a pitcher gets a batter to swing northwest while his slider goes southeast. Shannon picks up these mechanics on the fly, and describes them to fans at home as lucidly as can be.

But still, at the end of the day, it’s Shannon’s enthusiasm, and not his mind, that wins the day. Sports broadcasting can be a dreary business these days. With cable packages beamed nationwide, you’re less likely to hear voices with any regional flavor and more likely to hear announcers who sound as if they were churned out of the same communications grad school. But Shannon remains one of those fiercely partisan talkers who describes every game as an unfolding drama, a parade. What Cardinal fan doesn’t get a shiver of pleasure recalling Shannon follow a runner around the bases: "Here comes Pujols… Here comes the throw... And he is... SAAAAFE at the plate!" Of course, sometimes this "homer" attitude can be infuriating, especially when Shannon comes up with one of his famous miscalls. (I distinctly remember him calling a long drive: "GRAAAND SLAAAAAM—Nope nope nope, it’s gonna be caught at the warning track," like some guy trying to put springy snakes back into a can of peanuts.)

But for each of Shannon’s annoying miscalls, there are countless other calls that come out all wrong, but somehow capture the moment just right. Consider Jack Buck’s line in the thunderous aftermath of Mark McGwire 61st home run: "Pardon me a moment while I stand and applaud." It was Buck’s last great moment on the air, terse, humble, even elegant. Now compare it to Shannon’s call when McGwire corked #70 some weeks later: "Swing and... Get up, baby! Git up git up git up! Home run! He's done it again! Seventy home runs! Take a ride on that for history!" It was a classic Shannon moment: clipped and twangy, with joy and energy and busted syntax spilling all over the place.


Baseball is called the National Pastime, but in reality there are two National Pastimes, two sides to the heart and soul of baseball. On one hand you have the Official History of Baseball. In a nutshell, it’s the side of baseball that MasterCard and the Commissioner’s Office want you to see. It includes Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Field of Dreams, Cal Ripken worship, Nolan Ryan’s 7 no-hitters, Gehrig’s "luckiest man" speech, Rick Reilly, Roy Hobbs, Bart Giamatti, HOK Sports, hitting the cut-off man, Ted Williams throwing out the first pitch of the ’99 All-Star Game, the use of the phrase diamond cathedral, and Mark McGwire hugging his son Matt at home plate.

Just as the culture at large has its Politically Correct, you might call this side of baseball the Athletically Correct. Its followers tend to fetishize the pastoral aspects of baseball; they’ll tell you that baseball’s Golden Age has past, and they long for a time (that never existed, by the way) when the Church of Baseball was free of labor strife, brawls, salary disputes, slugfests, and me-first ballplayers. It is, in some ways, baseball love as necrophilia.

And then there’s the flipside of all this piety, the underground history, the side of baseball that’s been 99% untold, exaggerated, or forgotten. And it’s this side of baseball that I’ve always enjoyed most of all. It includes Lee Smith grabbing a bee off his nose as he goes into his windup (it really happened!), Dock Ellis pitching a no-hitter on LSD, minor-leaguer Rodney McCray running through that outfield wall, Disco Demolition Night, Mark Fidrych, the home run off Canseco’s head, Bill Lee duking it out with Graig Nettles, the Gas House Gang, and the 1993 Phillies. It’s the kind of baseball hated by the purists – in fact, it says that baseball without the impurities isn’t really baseball.

As far as heroes go, you can keep Cal Ripken for all I care (a friend of mine once said "beware of anyone with no sideburns and anyone who wears a class ring;" I’d add to that list, beware of anyone who gets choked up over Cal Ripken). For me the soul of baseball is kept alive by the oddballs and the outlaws: Rickey Henderson, Casey Stengel, Satchel Paige, Ty Cobb, Leo Durocher, Jim Bouton, Billy Martin, Billy the Marlin, Kirby Higbe, Lenny Dykstra, Steve Dalkowski, Albert Belle, Lenny Randle, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bob Gibson, Earl Weaver, and, yes, Mike Shannon and Glenn Brummer.

Which is really the reason I’ve gone off on this little digression. Because the moment that Brummer stole home – or really, the moment that Shannon called it – epitomizes what the soul of baseball is all about. More than any other sport, baseball is the history of small men. Think of over-the-hill Howard Ehmke striking out 13 Cubs to win the first game of the 1929 World Series; Francisco Cabrera driving home Justice and Bream back in ‘92; or Tom Lawless yanking that homer in ’87. Brummer stealing home worked the same way. It was ungainly, impossible, a back-up announcer describing a back-up catcher – and yet it became, for me, my greatest baseball memory. Old Abner, as they say, had done it again.