What I’m Reading: “That’s a Winner” by Jack Buck

In “Jack Buck: That’s a Winner,” the legendary Cardinals announcer takes readers through his life, first as a poor family in Cleveland, Ohio, then as a soldier in World War II, and then as a broadcaster.

Buck’s most interesting stories are about his military service, where he served in Europe and was awarded the Purple Heart from his service. It also was interesting to read Buck’s perspective of the Cardinals teams he covered, though even as a broadcaster his perspective remains somewhat at a distance from the team itself.

Most of the book consists of Buck detailing his career and outlining the various jobs he took, both in St. Louis and nationally, and telling stories about different people he met along the way.

Some of the most interesting details from the book:

  • Buck was colorblind and couldn’t tell the difference between red and green.
  • Buck admits that he and Harry Caray had very different personalities and there was some competitive friction between them, though Buck mostly places that friction at Caray’s feet. Nonetheless, Buck writes, “When Caray and I were doing the games together, we were as good a team as there ever was. His style and mine were so different, that it made for a balanced broadcast. The way we approached the job, with the interest and love both of us had for the game, made our work kind of special.
  • Buck was really not a fan of Vern Rapp and his leadership style, which included telling Bake McBride that he couldn’t go out on the field with a beard and mustache, a fight that Rapp also had with Al Hrabosky. After Buck mentioned the troubles during a show, Gussie Busch called and asked him what was going on. When Buck told him, Rapp was fired and replaced with Ken Boyer.
  • Buck admits that there’s nothing worse than watching bad baseball, and admits that there were teams during the ‘70s that he didn’t enjoy covering, partially due to the poor play but also due to the players’ drug use, dress, and long hair.
  • In speaking about Mark McGwire, Buck writes, “When you meet Mark’s father, John McGwire, what you see is a miniature of Mark. You can tell that his size and strength came naturally.” That line certainly aged poorly.

For fans who love Jack Buck from his days covering the Cardinals, the book is worth a read, but I don’t think I can recommend it for most casual fans or those who aren’t already familiar with his work. Buck was always a fantastic storyteller on the air or at community events that he emceed, but to be honest, the storytelling here isn’t up to par. Too many of the stories are fairly random, or don’t have a clear message, and the book overall doesn’t have much focus. At times, it like a random collection of very brief stories that don’t always seem to have a point.

I wish I could have rated it higher, but this may be a book strictly for those already familiar with Buck’s work. For those who are only passingly familiar with him, I would recommend finding one of his broadcasts on YouTube and enjoying him in his true element.

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