FOX Sports Exclusive
Buck sent message to heartbroken nation
One of the most stirring moments of baseball’s return from 9/11 came not from a player, but a broadcaster.
Jack Buck looked frail when he stepped to the microphone at the old Busch Stadium before the Cardinals faced the Brewers on Sept. 17, 2001.
But Buck’s original poem, “For America,” and his stirring postscript, “Should we be here? Yes!” combined to produce a powerful message.
Buck spoke not just as a broadcaster, but also as a patriot, a war veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart after nearly losing his left arm when hit by shrapnel while crossing a bridge into Germany during World War II.
His son, Joe Buck, FOX Sports’ lead announcer for its Major League Baseball and NFL coverage, also was present that night. Jack, then 77, was there to call the first Cardinals game since the terrorist attacks on radio. Joe, then 32, sat one booth over, calling the game on TV.
Jack’s emotional address during the pregame ceremony proved to be one of his final public appearances; he was suffering from lung cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and died just more than nine months later.
For Joe, the memories of the night remain vivid.
Q: When did you become aware that your dad was going to read the poem?
A: At the end of his life, probably the last five or six years, he started getting more and more into poetry writing. He would always try out his new stuff on me. Most of the time, I would just roll my eyes. It was kind of our inside joke. His poems were funny. They were poignant. They were just kind of off the cuff. He had such a great way with words.
When that happened — it’s easy for all of us to forget how we all felt when those towers came down — but it was a scary time. He was a guy who was in World War II, a guy who was shot in Germany, a guy that really wore his heart and his emotions on his sleeves. He was constantly putting his thoughts into words. So, considering his history, his love for the United States, I kind of knew a poem was on its way. I just didn’t know when.
When we all went back to work after 9/11, he read it to me on the phone the day before. When we got down to the ballpark, he said, “They want me to read my poem on the field before the game.” I was aware of it the day before. And I found out he was going to read it right when he did it, basically.
Q: You mentioned his service in World War II. How much did that frame his perspective?
A: Again, at the end of his life, when he was at home and I’d walk in, if there wasn’t a football game on to watch, there was something on World War II that he was watching. For whatever reason, at the end of his life, he kind of went back and reconnected with all that.
How much did that shape it? I think it completely shaped it. That’s something you and I never experienced. But for somebody who had gone to Germany in World War II and was shot at by the enemy, I’m sure that never leaves you.
When he saw something in the United States of America come down at the hands of terrorists, some foreign entity, it made him mad. It took him back to that time. I think that was completely the impetus behind him writing what he did.
Q: How difficult was it for him, being in poor health at that time?
A: It was really difficult. We had a conversation before he went down to read it. I said, “Dad, you’re going to break down.” Not only was he in the throes of Parkinson’s and really not feeling well, he also was an easy cry. I knew the emotion of that, reading that in the stadium, was going to overcome him. Add to that Parkinson’s and shaking and having to stand down there and hold the poem still — and his voice wasn’t great — it was asking a lot.
I remember before he went down there, I said, “Dad, you can’t do this, you’re going to break down. You really need to think about this.” And he said, “I’m not going to cry.” I said, “Dad, you’re going to cry.” He put his finger in my face and said, “I . . . will . . . not . . . cry. I’ll bet you $100.” I said fine. He could have bet me a million dollars and I knew it was a sure bet on my part.
He went down there and read it. And the only one of the two of us that was crying was me, watching him do it. He came back up and put his hand out. I just slapped his hand and said, “You know I don’t have 100 bucks.” I never paid him. I still owe him $100.
Q: Do you recall the public reaction to the poem? It seemed like it was extremely positive.
A: It was. I know that in the stadium, it felt like the right thing to do. I can tell you: Being in a ballpark, six days later, it felt like you were kind of vulnerable, for whatever reason. It kind of gave everybody a little resolve to say a couple of things: “First of all, we’re safe. And secondly, it’s OK to be here.”
It seemed so irrelevant to be heading down to a baseball game at that point after watching all day on the news people digging out of the rubble in New York and the Pentagon. Then there was the story about the plane in Pennsylvania. It was like, “Who cares about going to a baseball game?”
It just kind of shifted the mood back and let people know that it was OK to be there. I told him afterward, in some regard, everything you’ve been through in your life — being in World War II, being kind of the authoritative voice here in St. Louis on baseball, all the money you’ve raised, all the good you’ve done — it kind of led to this moment.
It was on SportsCenter that night. He got a call from Commissioner Selig thanking him for kind of taking the edge off and setting the mood when we were all back in the stadium right after the tragedy.
Q: I’m sure you’re proud of him for 100 different things. I’m wondering if you can put this in perspective, where it might rank for you among the moments where you were proud of your dad.
A: Wow. It’s funny. I don’t know that he ever did anything that I wasn’t proud of. I’m lucky to be able to say that.
I’m sitting here with a friend of mine that I went to high school with. I was proud of him when he delivered the keynote speech at our high school graduation. He did it in front of all of my friends and contemporaries. And it was good.
I was proud of him for all the great calls over the years and the money he raised for countless charities, Cystic Fibrosis . . . for what he did for the BackStoppers, and police officers killed in the line of duty in supporting their families.
But I think for that moment, to step up as sick as he was and deliver, and have it be that good and that relevant, that was probably the most proud moment I ever had with and of my dad.
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