Awarded the Purple Heart for his service in Germany, Buck enrolled at Ohio State after World War II and was later hired as a broadcaster at Columbus’s WCOL. Assigned play-by-play duties for college football and basketball games, he shifted to baseball when the station briefly acquired the broadcast rights to the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate in the city. That experience served him well, and thanks in part to another year broadcasting for the Cards’ other Triple-A affiliate in Rochester and his work on some Anheuser-Busch advertising campaigns a few years later he was tabbed to share Cardinals broadcast duties with Harry Caray in 1954.
The two did not get along at first, but eventually developed a rapport and would work together for fifteen years, with Buck providing a needed counterpoint to Caray’s bombastic enthusiasm. (In 1960, Buck was moved out of the booth in a short-lived experiment that saw Buddy Blattner team with Caray and Joe Garagiola.) When Caray was let go in 1969, Buck became the No. 1 man, joined briefly by Jim Woods and, two years later, Mike Shannon — who remained his partner for the rest of his life.
Buck was in the Cleveland Stadium stands on July 17, 1941, the night the Indians stopped Joe DiMaggio‘s 56-game hitting streak, but grew up a fan of the Red Sox; his idol was Jimmie Foxx. In his autobiography, he recalled once writing a letter to Boston skipper Joe Cronin to suggest a new lineup. Not only did Cronin answer his letter, but three days later used the lineup Buck had suggested. (The Sox won.) Years later, Buck met Foxx at a reception honoring Stan Musial. “He was drunk at the dinner,” Buck recalled. “It tore my heart out.”
Buck was best known for his work with the Cardinals, but he also worked football and basketball games throughout his career. In October 1965, he reported live from the top of the just-completed Gateway Arch. Twenty years later, he made the most famous call of his Cardinals career, exhorting fans to “go crazy!” after Ozzie Smith slammed an improbable home run to win Game Five of the 1985 NLCS. But his best-known moment was his call of Kirk Gibson’s dramatic blast off Dennis Eckersley in Game One of the 1987 World Series; “I don’t believe what I just saw!”
A statue of Buck was unveiled outside Busch Stadium in 1998. “I’ve given the Cardinals some of the best years of my life,” he remarked at the dedication ceremony, after announcing his plans to continue broadcasting at the age of 74. “Now I’m going to give them some of the worst.”
Buck’s son, Joe Buck, followed in his father’s footsteps, but unlike his dad was more comfortable working on television than on the radio. (Buck the Elder was tabbed as CBS’ lead announcer on national telecasts in 1990, but was fired less than two years later due to bad chemistry with analyst Tim McCarver.) “My dad was brought up in the golden age of radio,” noted the younger Buck. “I think he had his hands tied somewhat, being accustomed to the freedom of radio. I’m more used to acquiescing to what the producer wants to do, what the director wants to do.” But his father was more direct. “In television, all they want you to do is shut up,” he explained. “I’m not very good at shutting up.”