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Cardinals, fans say goodbye to 'a winner'
ST. LOUIS -- Jack Buck's impact on St. Louis was made crystal clear Thursday as thousands of mourners streamed past his closed casket near home plate at Busch Stadium.
Fans, many dressed in Cardinal red and some of them weeping openly, paid their respects to the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals for nearly a half-century. Buck died Tuesday night after 5 1-2 months in a hospital.
The team set aside 4 1/2 hours for the visitation and there still was a steady stream of mourners about a half-hour after the time had elapsed. Officials said there were 10,077 mourners, about the same number that attended a memorial service later in the day.
"It won't be the same listening to the radio now that we know Jack won't be back on it," said Ron Dieckmann, 52, a St. Louis engineer. "We all hoped he would be able to get back and be on the radio. This was a great tribute."
The team's game against the Anaheim Angels was pushed back to accommodate the services.
The casket was accompanied by a color guard, a large bouquet in the shape of a baseball and a Clydesdale horse stood guard.
The tributes began Wednesday as the initials "JFB" were carved in the grass just beyond the center field wall and in the dirt behind second base and the bronze bust of Buck at the microphone outside the stadium became a shrine crammed with cards, caps, stuffed animals, balloons and photographs. Black bunting draped the statue, alongside an American flag. A transistor radio was tuned to KMOX -- the Cardinals' flagship station.
The send-off for the 77-year-old Hall of Fame broadcaster, as revered an institution as any in St. Louis, recalled the death of Babe Ruth more than a half-century ago.
Buck died from complications following lung surgery Dec. 5. He had been hospitalized more than 5 1/2 months and was in and out of a coma the last few weeks.
On Wednesday night, when the Cardinals beat the Angels 6-2 for their fifth straight victory, several players said they sensed Buck's presence in the stadium.
"It's one of the first games he's watched in a while," pitcher Matt Morris said. "It's a difficult situation, but this is where he belongs, and I think he'll be with us the rest of the season."
Tributes poured in from Buck's broadcasting colleagues across the country such as Ernie Harwell of the Tigers, Marty Brennaman of the Reds and Vin Scully of the Dodgers.
"It's a personal loss for me, and of course for baseball, because he was a great ambassador," Harwell said. "He'll be missed by so many people."
Baseball hasn't had a comparable ballpark ceremony since the Yankees held a two-day visitation for Ruth at Yankee Stadium in 1948 with hundreds of thousands of people paying respects.
On Wednesday night, reserve outfielder and St. Louis native Kerry Robinson and a clubhouse attendant taped Buck's signature signoff -- "That's a winner!" -- in tiny strips on the dugout wall.
Before the game, there was a moment of silence followed by Taps, a video tribute and speeches by team majority owner Bill DeWitt and broadcaster and son Joe Buck.
"Words are hard to come by," the son said. "He would have loved to be with us tonight and I kind of 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 began his broadcasting career nearly five decades ago and quickly connected with players.
"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."
Fernando Vina, who came to the Cardinals in a 2000 trade, 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 also joined the team in 2000. He 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."
Scully said he'll mostly miss Buck's humor.
"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."