ST. LOUIS — An unbreakable amalgam of baseball and family binds Joe Buck to this city, so much so that it’s hard to say where one begins and the other ends.
His father, Jack Buck, called Cardinals games for 47 years. He remains so beloved 11 years after his death that reminders of his legacy aren’t just prominent at the ballpark, where homage is paid with a statue at Gate 4 and a small microphone alongside the retired numbers of legendary players, but also en route to the ballpark.
A section of I-64/US-40 that leads to Busch Stadium is named the Jack Buck Memorial Expressway. It takes Cardinals fans to the ballpark just as his voice once did for generations.
“We were best friends,’’ said Joe Buck, Fox’s lead Major League Baseball and NFL announcer who, at age 43, is calling his 14th straight World Series and 16th overall for the network.
“He was the best man at my wedding. I was the last person he got to talk to before he died. I saw how he lived his life, how he treated anybody who came in his path, and I think that’s why his name still resonates in this city as strongly as it does because he just was nice to people.
“And then getting into this business as his kid, I mean, I was a complete beneficiary of nepotism getting in. I mean, I was broadcasting the Cardinals at 21 years old. That doesn’t happen if my last name is not Buck. And so again, because we were best friends, it was nothing that I shied away from. I love hearing stories about him because it keeps him alive to me. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I think about him three or four times every time I walk into this place.”
This St. Louis baseball broadcasting legacy of the Buck family is common knowledge, and that can lead to occasional problems of perception for Joe Buck.
His Cardinals connections are so deep that brings inevitable accusations of bias from opposing fans when he’s calling their games nationally. That’s despite evidence that he rises to the occasion even when things aren’t going the Cardinals’ way. His call of the final out of the Red Sox’ sweep of the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series still resonates today: “Back to Foulke. Red Sox fans have longed to hear it: The Boston Red Sox are World Champions!”
“Oh, I get plenty of grief,” Buck said. “I’ve called plenty of big moments of the Patriots, including the Super Bowl win over the Eagles in . But I get it and I appreciate it. It comes with the territory. The funny thing is, I get grief from Cardinals fans for going too far the other way. They’ll say I’m rooting for the Red Sox this year, or the Rangers [in the World Series against the Cardinals] two years ago.
“My first year [calling the postseason on Fox] was in 1996. I was 26 years old, and the Cardinals were playing Atlanta, and I heard it even then from Braves fans. And that was a different world, without Twitter and all the social media. You get it from both sides, and I was around my dad when he was doing the World Series on CBS [in the early 1990s]. It’s a completely understandable phenomenon. I’m just glad that people care. I get excited for both sides. I just don’t think fans always hear it when you’re getting excited for their side.’’
Buck, who is in the elite company of Curt Gowdy and Al Michaels as the only announcers to have the lead role for both the MLB and NFL on one network at the same time, did acknowledge he is rooting for one specific thing in this series.
“Walking around the streets of Boston when they’re in the World Series, there’s nothing like it,’’ said Buck. “If I’m guilty of rooting for anything, it’s rooting for this to go seven games. It’s such a fizzle when it’s anything less, especially when the teams are so evenly matched like this year.”Chad Finn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.
Correction: This story mistakenly reported that Buck’s first year calling the postseason for Fox was 2006. His first season with the network was 1996.