Buck is remembered by millions as a close friend

Thursday, June 20, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- His voice was the Cardinals, it was baseball, and it was summertime. And for millions of Cardinal fans, Jack Buck's voice was that of a familiar pal.

"I've never met him personally, but I've known him all my life," said Mary Eikemeier, a lifelong St. Louisan who visited Buck's statue Wednesday to mourn a loved one. Buck died Tuesday night at age 77 after a long illness.

Eikemeier is 47, which means Buck arrived here about the time she was born.

"You know, in the early years, your house was filled with Jack Buck and Harry Caray. When you think of St. Louis, you think of Jack Buck.

"That's what his voice was like," she said, occasionally dabbing tears with a tissue. "It was like a best friend. I mean, he touched so many lives like that. Imagine all the lives he's touched."

Late-night news

Most fans of Buck and baseball either went to bed or woke up with the news. By morning rush hour, callers flooded radio stations with personal tributes.

Among them: A man recalled that years ago, as a boy taking up collections for a fund-raiser, he approached Jack Buck and said the top money-raiser would win a trip to a Cardinals game. Buck pulled a $100 bill from his wallet and stuffed it into the boy's can, saying, "I'll see you at the game."

The boy won the trip to the ballpark, where he sat in the broadcast booth as Buck called the game, occasionally touching the boy to assure him he still knew he was there.

In homes and offices that spanned the historically long reach of KMOX radio, fans recalled the voice that entered their homes every baseball season and, over the years, became a member of the family.

"He meant so much," said Michael Roarty, a longtime Anheuser-Busch executive and close pal of Buck. "I tell everybody he's my best friend, but he's the best friend of every baseball fan in this community."

A steady crowd visited Buck's statue at Busch Stadium throughout the day Wednesday to bow their heads and pay respects, beginning well before sunrise. Besides the growing collection of flowers, signs, balloons and American flags, several mourners left their red Cardinal ballcaps. Most of the hats appeared well worn and many years old.

Many of the mourners who visited the shrine, including Steve Tripp, also attended Wednesday's game.

"That's my man," said Tripp, 49, a security officer in St. Louis. "I grew up with him, listened to him all of my life. I remember everything, all the good calls, all the good stuff."

Tripp was in the hospital when Buck called Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series.

"When he said, 'I don't believe what I just saw!' that was it, man," Tripp said. "I've been a Cardinal fan all of my life. I'm really going to miss him."

Another occasion remembered fondly by fans: Mark McGwire's 61st home run in 1998, when Buck excused himself from the microphone to stand up and applaud.

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