ST. LOUIS -- Jack Buck, the revered voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, is getting a send-off usually reserved for heads of state.
For 4 1/2 hours today, the team will hold a public viewing of Buck's closed casket at home plate at Busch Stadium. Buck, 77, died late Tuesday night after being hospitalized more than 5 1/2 months.
"He's a Cardinal," said Red Schoendienst, one of the team's six living Hall of Famers. "If he was a ballplayer, with his timing, he'd probably have been a .400 hitter."
Buck's broadcasting colleagues across the country agreed.
"He became a fabric of the St. Louis society, as (Vin) Scully is in Los Angeles and (Ernie) Harwell is in Detroit," Reds Hall of Fame voice Marty Brennaman said. "Those guys were there so long that they became bigger than any player on that team.
"I had someone say to me, 'Stan Musial's the greatest Cardinal of them all.' I said no he's not, because there are generations of people who have listened to the Cardinals that don't even know who Stan Musial is. They know who Jack Buck is because he's been there through the bad times and the good times."
Major League Baseball hasn't had a comparable stadium ceremony since the Yankees held a two-day visitation for Babe Ruth at Yankee Stadium in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of people paid their respects. Manager Tony La Russa, a close friend of Buck's during his seven years with the team, approved of the treatment.
"I think it's real appropriate," La Russa said. "I'm sure there are going to be a lot of people here and a lot of people that wished they were here. He's the greatest Cardinal."
The team carved the initials "JFB" in the grass just beyond the center field wall and again behind second base. The bronze bust of Buck at the microphone outside the stadium became a shrine crammed with homemade cards, baseball hats, stuff animals, balloons, old framed photographs of Buck and even a transistor radio tuned to KMOX -- the Cardinals' flagship station. Black bunting hung over the statue, alongside an American flag.
On the dugout wall, reserve outfielder and St. Louis native Kerry Robinson and a clubhouse attendant taped Buck's signature signoff, "That's a Winner!" in tiny strips of tape.
In pre-game ceremonies Wednesday, there was a moment of silence for Buck followed by Taps, a video tribute and speeches by team majority owner Bill DeWitt and Joe Buck.
"Words are hard to come by," Joe Buck said. "He would have loved to be with us tonight and I kind feel like he is."
DeWitt said Buck would be added to the list of the team's retired numbers, represented by a plaque and a flag carrying the words, "That's a Winner!"
Buck, who in more than five decades as a broadcaster rose from Harry Caray's sidekick to a St. Louis institution, died late Tuesday after a long battle with various ailments. He had been hospitalized since Jan. 3, about a month after undergoing surgery for lung cancer.
On May 16, Buck underwent another operation to eradicate a series of recurring infections, including pneumonia, and was placed on dialysis. Joe Buck, who announced the death of his father on KMOX late Tuesday, said Jack Buck died with his family by his side.
"He made us proud every day," Joe Buck said. "He battled for his life."
Buck quickly connected with players. Second baseman Fernando Vina, who came to the Cardinals in a 2000 trade with the Brewers, remembers Buck giving him a special silver dollar after he hit his first home run with his new team.
"He gave me one for good luck and I always kept it with me," Vina said. "Now, I just save it in a good place and know he gave it to me. Jack, he had that special aura."
Center fielder Jim Edmonds, who also joined the team in 2000, said Buck belonged on "another tier" of people.
"It's like the president, the Pope, whatever you want to call it," Edmonds said. "It's like losing somebody like that."
Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said he'll miss Buck's sense of humor the most.
"He was a gruff-voiced guy with a big heart," Scully said. "I can understand why the people of St. Louis and throughout the Midwest especially loved him and put him on the highest pedestal."
Buck began calling Cardinals games on radio in 1954, teaming first with Caray. Nationally, Buck called Super Bowls, World Series and even pro bowling for CBS, ABC and NBC.
Buck was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster's wing in 1987. He later became a member of both the broadcasters and radio halls of fame. He was awarded the Pete Rozelle Award by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996 and received a lifetime achievement Emmy in 2000.
Buck, who had six children with his first wife Alyce, and two with wife Carole, is survived by his second wife; sons Jack Jr., Dan and Joe; and daughters Beverly, Christine, Bonnie, Betsy and Julie.