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In considering a career path for 1972, Mike Shannon could have attempted a comeback as a Cardinals player or accepted a position on manager Red Schoendienst’s coaching staff. He might even have become a minor-league manager. Instead, he became a Cardinals broadcaster.

mike_shannon3More than four decades later, Shannon still is on the job.

On Jan. 13, 2014, the Cardinals announced that Shannon, 74, had signed a three-year contract extension to remain on their broadcasting team through 2016. The 2014 season will be Shannon’s 43rd as a Cardinals broadcaster.

Shannon, who helped the Cardinals win three National League pennants and two World Series titles in the 1960s as a right fielder and then a third baseman, had his playing career cut short in 1970 because of a kidney disease. After spending the 1971 season as the Cardinals’ assistant director of promotions and sales, Shannon was looking for another role.

In a column for The Sporting News in October 1971, Dick Young wrote that none other than Stan Musial told him that Shannon “will try to make a comeback with the Cardinals” in 1972.

A month later, The Sporting News reported that “Shannon had been in the picture as a coach” for Schoendienst’s 1972 staff.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch revealed that Bing Devine, St. Louis’ general manager, had offered Shannon the chance to become manager of the Cardinals’ 1972 Class AAA Tulsa club, replacing Warren Spahn.

So it was somewhat surprising when Shannon was selected in November 1971 to replace Jim Woods on the Cardinals broadcast team for 1972.

Uncommon common sense

“I don’t think I was looking at doing it past one year,” Shannon told Mike Eisenbath of the Post-Dispatch in an Aug. 11, 1996, article that paid tribute to the broadcaster’s 25th anniversary on the job. “I just figured, ‘I think I’ll try this.’ “

Wrote Eisenbath: “It’s been 25 years since someone had the wild idea to try Shannon in the KMOX broadcast booth. Turned out to be pure inspiration … Shannon has given Cardinals fans 25 years of expertise, laughter, malaprops, insight and frequent doses of uncommon common sense.”

Reflecting on his 1972 debut in the booth alongside Jack Buck, Shannon said, “My big problem was the mechanics of it. It’s like walking into a new home. Where’s the kitchen? Where’s the bathroom?”

Shannon said he tries to assume the role of a teacher in his broadcasts. “I might have the knowledge, but for me to try to get it across to someone _ this is what my job really is all about,” he said. “To teach, to entertain, to report. And I like to have a little fun.”

He never tried to be perfect. “Perfection was hung on a cross a long time ago,” Shannon said.

From player to broadcaster

Shannon’s first year in the Cardinals’ broadcast booth was the second year that his 1964 St. Louis teammate, Bob Uecker, worked as a Brewers broadcaster. Like Shannon, Uecker remains in that job in 2014.

Other former players who joined Shannon and Uecker as team broadcasters in 1972: Jerry Coleman (Padres), Don Drysdale (Rangers), George Kell (Tigers), Phil Rizzuto (Yankees), Bill White (Yankees), Johnny Pesky (Red Sox), Herb Score (Indians), Rocky Colavito (Indians), Lou Boudreau (Cubs), Joe Nuxhall (Reds), Waite Hoyt (Reds), Ralph Kiner (Mets) and Richie Ashburn (Phillies).

The 1972 Cardinals broadcast team was Buck, Shannon and Mike Walden.

Besides Jack Buck, here are others who were Cardinals broadcasters on radio or television during Shannon’s tenure in the booth:

Jay Randolph, Harry Walker, Bob Starr, Dan Kelly, Bob Carpenter, Ken Wilson, Al Hrabosky, Ozzie Smith, Rich Gould, Joe Buck, George Grande, Bob Ramsey, Dan McLaughlin, Joel Meyers, Wayne Hagin, Rick Horton, John Rooney and Mike Claiborne.

Previously: Mike Shannon almost became Cardinals’ coach

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In search of a late-night drink at a venerable St. Louis hotel, longtime Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray nearly was killed when struck by a car.

harry_carayOn Saturday afternoon, Nov. 2, 1968, less than a month after he had called the World Series between the Cardinals and Tigers, Caray did the broadcast of the Oklahoma State vs. Missouri football game at Columbia, Mo.

Afterward, he drove to St. Louis and, on a whim, decided to stop by and watch the NHL game between the Blues and North Stars. During the hockey game, Caray, who was estranged from his second wife at the time, called a friend and arranged to meet for dinner.

After dinner, unwilling to call it a night, Caray headed to the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, a landmark in St. Louis since the 1920s and a venue for music and shows. It was about 1:15 a.m., Sunday morning, Nov. 3, when Caray drove up to the hotel in the rain.

A regular at the Chase Park Plaza, Caray, 51, usually left his car with a parking attendant at the entrance. But, because of the rain, there was a backup of vehicles in the hotel driveway.

Impatient, Caray noticed an empty parking spot along the curb on the other side of the street, directly across from the hotel. He parked, exited the car and started to cross the busy street, Kingshighway.

Sent flying

Midway across, Caray told The Sporting News, “I turned to see if anything was coming from my left. The last thing I remember was, ‘Am I OK out here?’”

A car driven by Michael Poliquin, 21, a Vietnam War veteran from Overland, Mo., struck Caray. Reported The Sporting News: “He was knocked 40 feet in the air. His shoes were found 25 feet south of the hotel and he landed 40 feet north.”

Poliquin, who hours earlier had been engaged to be married, told police he saw a pedestrian step into the street in midblock and wasn’t able to stop on the rain-slickened pavement, the Associated Press reported. Poliquin said Caray saw the car at the last moment and jumped in the direction the vehicle was skidding.

In his book “Holy Cow!” (1989, Villard), Caray wrote, “I was lying in the street … in the pouring rain. People started to gather around. Many recognized me; all were afraid to touch me.

“A Goodwill truck came down Kingshighway. The driver saw a body in the street and … stopped his truck. When he saw I was just lying unattended to in the rain, he pulled a few burlap bags from the back of the truck and covered me with them _ keeping me warm and dry _ then just drove away. I think he saved my life.”

Taken to a hospital, Caray was treated for compound fractures of both legs, a broken right shoulder, a broken nose and facial cuts, the Associated Press reported.

Wrote Caray: “I had almost died on the street when the rainwater and blood nearly congested my lungs … I was extremely fortunate they didn’t have to amputate my left leg during surgery.”

Police cited the driver of the car for failure to display a driver’s license and Caray was cited for crossing a street while not at an intersection, the Associated Press reported.

Party room

Initially, the only visitors permitted in Caray’s hospital room were family members and Robert Hyland, general manager of Cardinals flagship radio station KMOX, according to United Press International.

“We can’t keep Harry from talking,” Hyland said. “He’s full of spirit and already tired of being in the hospital. He’s been pestering the doctors to let him go back to work.”

The doctors informed Caray he would need to remain in the hospital until just before Christmas. Caray convinced hospital staff his recovery would progress if he could have lots of visitors.

“My room became headquarters for off-duty nurses, for kids who wanted to talk baseball, for all my friends,” Caray wrote. “At night they would send martinis down from the restaurant on the top floor, as well as specially prepared meals, so I didn’t have to eat the awful hospital food. After a while, it was like a nightclub in there. It got so I hated to leave.”

Upon Caray’s release, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch offered the broadcaster the use of Busch’s beach house near St. Petersburg, Fla. Caray recuperated there _ under the care of a male nurse, he said _ and was back in the Cardinals’ broadcast booth for the start of the 1969 season.

Previously: An inside look into the last game for Stan Musial

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In 2012, when Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday launched a mammoth home run into the area of Busch Stadium III known as Big Mac Land, it naturally drew comparisons with the shots hit by former St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire.

But before McGwire, who played for the Cardinals from 1997-2001, another Big Mac, Giants first baseman Willie McCovey, may have hit the longest home run seen in St. Louis.

On July 20, 2012, Holliday crushed a split-fingered fastball from Cubs starter Ryan Dempster that resulted in what Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon called “a king daddy” of a home run. Boxscore

The towering third-inning solo shot near the Big Mac Land section in the upper reaches above left field was reported by several sources, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and MLB.com, to be 469 feet, making it the longest home run at Busch Stadium III since the ballpark opened in 2006. (ESPN calculated the distance at 438 feet.)

“That was the longest one I’ve seen,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said to MLB.com.

(First baseman Albert Pujols had held the Busch Stadium III record for longest home run with his 465-foot shot to left field against the Rockies’ Esmil Rogers in the first inning on Aug. 14, 2011, according to a Cardinals media guide. Boxscore)

Shannon, calling Holliday’s king-sized home run on KMOX radio, immediately thought back to Sept. 4, 1966. On that Sunday afternoon, McCovey hit what Shannon told his listeners was the longest home run he’d witnessed.

Leading off the third inning against Cardinals starter Al Jackson, McCovey hit a ball that landed in the upper deck above the scoreboard in right-center field at Busch Stadium II. (The ballpark opened four months earlier, in May 1966.)

Shannon was playing right field for the Cardinals that day and “had a good look” at McCovey’s home run. Shannon said he later asked McCovey (who had 521 career home runs in the major leagues) whether it was the longest ball he’d hit. “I don’t know if it was the longest,” Shannon said McCovey replied, “but it was the hardest.” Boxscore

The book “Baseball’s Ultimate Power: Ranking the All-Time Greatest Distance Home Run” (2010, Globe Pequot Press) had this description of McCovey’s St. Louis home run: “The ball was struck on a line drive trajectory that resulted in a 515-foot journey.”

Mike Eisenbath, author of “The Cardinals Encyclopedia” (1999, Temple University Press), estimated McCovey’s home run at 450 feet.

The Cardinals’ 2005 Busch Stadium commemorative yearbook had this item on McCovey’s 1966 home run:

By the casual method of the time, an unofficial estimate of more than 450 feet is pronounced.

Years later, more sophisticated methods _ such as estimated baseball trajectories, charts and computers _ will gauge several home runs at greater distances.

Still, many who witness McCovey’s blast will continue to regard it as the longest home run in Busch Stadium (II) history. “That may be the farthest hit anywhere,” remembers Mike Shannon. “I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”

(On Sept. 16, 1966, 12 days after his titanic blast in St. Louis, McCovey smacked a 505-foot home run off Mets starter Jack Fisher at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. It’s the longest homer hit at that stadium, according to the San Francisco Examiner. Boxscore)

Until McGwire arrived, Pirates first baseman Willie Stargell came closest to challenging McCovey’s home run for longest hit at Busch Stadium II. On July 4, 1979, Stargell ripped a slider from reliever Darold Knowles 510 feet into right-center field, above and to the right of the scoreboard at Busch Stadium II. Boxscore

“That’s the longest home run I’ve ever seen hit in this ballpark by a left-hander,” Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez said to the Associated Press.

Said Stargell: “When I saw it go out, I saw (Knowles) flinging something like his cap. He was disgusted. It was a ball that Darold, I’m sure, got in an area he didn’t want. It was a nice, easy swing. I had no idea it was going that far.”

Nineteen years after Stargell’s shot, McGwire hit what officially is called the longest home run at Busch Stadium II. (The Cardinals have been measuring home runs since 1988, according to the Associated Press.) The 545-foot home run on May 16, 1998, off the Marlins’ Livan Hernandez hit the Post-Dispatch sign in center field. For the remainder of the season, a giant Band-Aid marked the spot where the ball dented the sign. Boxscore

“It’s the best ball I’ve ever hit,” McGwire said to the Associated Press. “I don’t think I can hit one better than that.”

Previously: No one hit more triples, as many home runs as Stan Musial

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(Updated Dec. 10, 2013)

When Tim McCarver received the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball broadcasting, it capped a remarkable career that began more than 50 years ago with the Cardinals.

McCarver was honored on July 21, 2012, at Cooperstown, N.Y. He became the third former Cardinals catcher, joining Joe Garagiola and Bob Uecker, to receive the Frick Award.

In December 2013, it was reported that McCarver, 72, would return to the Cardinals as a member of their 2014 broadcast team.

As a youth in his hometown of Memphis, McCarver was influenced early by Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray (who also is a Frick Award winner). In his book, “Oh, Baby, I Love It” (1987, Villard), McCarver wrote:

I got an early start on my announcing career while playing cork ball, imitating Harry Caray on the play-by-play. Harry was something of a hero in our house.

At Christian Brothers High School, McCarver was a standout athlete. He received football scholarship offers from schools such as Notre Dame, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. But professional baseball offered an immediate opportunity to earn an income.

“Money was the deciding factor, plain and simple,” McCarver wrote.

The best baseball offers came from the Yankees, Giants and Cardinals. The scout trying to sign McCarver for the Yankees was Bill Dickey, a Hall of Fame catcher. But St. Louis’ offer of a $75,000 signing bonus and a guaranteed annual salary of $6,000 per year for five years convinced McCarver and his parents he should join the Cardinals.

McCarver signed in June 1959 and was sent to the Cardinals’ Class D minor-league affiliate at Keokuk (Iowa) of the Midwest League. Unfazed by professional pitching, McCarver hit .360 in 65 games. He committed 14 errors.

When Rochester (N.Y.) catcher Dick Rand dislocated a right index finger, McCarver was promoted to the Class AAA International League club to replace him. He hit .357 for Rochester in 17 games and made no errors.

In September, three months after he had graduated from high school, McCarver, 17, was promoted to the Cardinals and joined the team in Milwaukee. Wrote McCarver:

When I arrived at the Cards’ team bus for the first time, I was nervous enough. I didn’t know these guys and I wanted to impress them.

On Sept. 10, his first day in a big-league uniform, McCarver marveled from the dugout at Milwaukee’s County Stadium at being in the presence of two of his boyhood heroes, Stan Musial of the Cardinals and Hank Aaron of the Braves. Wrote McCarver:

So when Hank came to bat for the first time that day, I leaped from my perch in the Cardinals’ dugout and did what I always did when I listened to the Braves play the Cardinals. “Come on, Henry,” I yelled. “Come on, Henry.” The action seemed natural to me, but some of my teammates weren’t amused.

In the ninth inning, with two out, Bill White on second base and the Cardinals trailing by three, manager Solly Hemus sent McCarver to make his major-league debut as a pinch-hitter for pitcher Marshall Bridges. Wrote McCarver:

So there I was, younger than Musial’s own son, picking up a bat and advancing to the plate. As I stepped in to face Don McMahon, a veteran right-handed relief pitcher with a commanding fastball, my knees literally shook with fear.

Quickly, McMahon got two strikes on McCarver. Then the teen swung at a curveball and lifted it to right field, where the game-ending catch was made by none other than Hank Aaron. Boxscore

The next day, Sept. 11, 1959, at Chicago against the Cubs, McCarver got his first big-league start at catcher. Batting in the No. 2 spot, he went 0-for-4 against Bob Anderson. The Cardinals’ starting pitcher was Bob Miller, 20. According to The Sporting News, Miller and McCarver formed the youngest battery in big-league history. Boxscore

To put that into comparative perspective, the combined ages of McCarver and Miller (37) were younger than the individual ages of two of their teammates, Musial (38) and George Crowe (38).

On Sept. 13, McCarver, batting lead-off, opened the game with his first big-league hit, a single against the Cubs’ Glen Hobbie. Boxscore

McCarver played in eight games for the 1959 Cardinals, hitting .167 (4-for-24).

Described by The Sporting News as “one of the finest catching prospects the Cardinals have brought up in many years,” McCarver had stints with St. Louis in 1960 and ’61, then spent all of 1962 in the minor leagues before earning the Cardinals’ starting catcher job in 1963.

After a 21-year big-league playing career, he went into broadcasting and did national work for ABC, CBS and Fox before deciding to return to the Cardinals.

Previously: Tim McCarver: third Cards catcher to be named broadcasting’s best

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Fittingly and officially, Jack Buck and Darryl Kile both made their regular-season Cardinals debuts against St. Louis’ biggest rival, the Cubs. Forty-six years apart, Buck witnessed a loss and Kile earned a win.

Members of the United Cardinal Bloggers this week are honoring Buck and Kile with tributes on the 10-year anniversary of their deaths.

Buck, the Cardinals’ popular broadcaster, died June 18, 2002, at 77. Kile, a Cardinals starting pitcher who earned the win in St. Louis’ 7-2 victory over the Angels the night Buck died (Boxscore), passed away four days later, June 22, at 33.

In February 1954, Buck was hired to join Harry Caray on the Cardinals’ broadcast team. Caray was entering his 10th season as play-by-play voice of the Cardinals. In its Feb. 17, 1954, edition, The Sporting News reported:

John F. (Jack) Buck, who broadcast Rochester (International) games last season, will be teamed with Harry Caray in airing Cardinal games this year. Buck replaces Gus Mancuso, former major league catcher, as Caray’s partner. Mancuso now is a Cardinal scout.

Buck had been given a tryout in 1953, broadcasting a Cardinals-Giants regular-season game from New York. In his book, “That’s a Winner” (1997, Sagamore), Buck wrote, “What stood out to me that day was how helpful some people were, like the Giants’ announcer, Russ Hodges. He gave me all the information I needed and offered a lot of encouragement.”

In April 1954, two months after Buck got the offer to join Caray on the broadcast team, Milo Hamilton, who had done television work in the St. Louis area for WTVI of Belleville, Ill., was hired “to handle commercials and color on road broadcasts,” meaning Buck’s work in the booth initially was limited to home games.

Wrote Buck: “(Hamilton) and I split time on the air. Milo went on the road with Caray for the first half of the season. I did the scoring updates and commercials from the studio. We switched at the all-star break, and I went on the road, but didn’t have a lot to do because the broadcasts definitely were Harry’s. I did a couple of innings a game, and that was it.”

Caray didn’t get along with Buck and Hamilton. “It didn’t take me long to realize that Harry and I not only had different styles of announcing, we had different personalities and lifestyles,” Buck wrote. “Our relationship got off badly because he didn’t want me to get the job in the first place. He wanted the Cardinals to hire Chick Hearn, who at the time was a broadcaster in Peoria, Illinois (and eventually would become the voice of the NBA Lakers.)

“Harry didn’t get along with Milo any better than he got along with me at the time,” Buck wrote, “and we knew he wanted to get somebody else on the broadcast with whom he was more friendly. The man he wanted _ and got _ was Joe Garagiola.” (Hamilton was fired after the ’54 season and replaced by Garagiola.)

All three members of the Cardinals’ 1954 broadcast team would receive the Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame for their career achievements. (Buck won the award in 1987; Caray in 1989; and Hamilton, 1992.)

Buck’s first regular-season Cardinals broadcast as an official member of the team was the 1954 season opener on April 13 at St. Louis. The Cubs beat the Cardinals, 13-4, behind the hitting of catcher Clyde McCullough (4-for-5, two RBI, two runs, two doubles and a home run) and third baseman Randy Jackson (three RBI). Paul Minner earned a complete-game win for Chicago. Among the Cardinals’ few highlights were solo home runs by center fielder Wally Moon and left fielder Stan Musial. Boxscore

“The most memorable event of my first season in St. Louis came on a Sunday afternoon, May 2, 1954, in a rain-delayed doubleheader against the Giants,” wrote Buck. “Stan Musial hit five home runs, three in the first game, two in the second, and might have had another with the longest ball he hit all day, but it was to straightaway center and was caught by Willie Mays. Caray was on the air for all five homers, and it was just as well. It used to bother him when he wasn’t on the air when something really big happened.” Game 1 and Game 2

Buck still was calling the games when Kile made his regular-season Cardinals debut on April 3, 2000, against the Cubs at St. Louis.

Kile and pitchers Luther Hackman and Dave Veres had been acquired from the Rockies on Nov. 16, 1999, in a trade for pitchers Manny Aybar, Rich Croushore and Jose Jimenez and infielder Brent Butler.

Described by the Associated Press as “a big-bucks bust,” Kile had a 21-30 record and 5.84 ERA in two seasons with the Rockies. His ERA in games at Denver in 1999 was 7.44.

Some said the Rocky Mountain altitude flattened Kile’s curveball, but Kile didn’t make excuses. “You make good pitches, you get outs. You make bad pitches, you don’t, and that holds true no matter where you pitch,” Kile said to the Associated Press.

Before making the trade, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty consulted with others, including former Rockies manager Jim Leyland, who recommended Kile. “His whole approach will change once he gets out of there,” Jocketty said of Kile.

A right-hander, Kile sparkled in his St. Louis debut, holding Chicago to two singles and a run over six innings and earning the win in the Cardinals’ 7-1 victory. A three-run first-inning home run by first baseman Craig Paquette against Kevin Tapani was the key blow for St. Louis. Boxscore

“I was in my own little world out there,” Kile said to St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz.

Comfortable in his new environment, Kile posted a 20-9 record in his first Cardinals season and was integral in helping St. Louis win the National League Central title. In three years with St. Louis, Kile was 41-24 with a 3.54 ERA.

Previously: Deal for Woody Williams sparked 2001 Cardinals

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Pitchers Bob Forsch and Rick Horton were Cardinals teammates for four seasons (1984-87). During that time, the Cardinals won two National League pennants.

Horton turned 25 in 1984, the year he made his major-league debut with the Cardinals. Forsch was 34 that season.

In 15 years with the Cardinals, 1974-88, Forsch pitched two no-hitters and helped St. Louis win the 1982 World Series title. Here is how Forsch ranks among all-time Cardinals pitchers:

_ Third in wins (163), behind only Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines.

_ Third in innings pitched (2,658.2).

_ Third in strikeouts (1,079), behind only Hall of Fame pitchers Bob Gibson and Dizzy Dean, and six ahead of Chris Carpenter.

_ Second in games started (401).

Forsch died Nov. 3, 2011, at age 61. In retirement, he had been a fixture at the yearly Cardinals Legends Camp at Jupiter, Fla. When I interviewed Horton (now a Cardinals broadcaster) at that camp Jan. 27, 2012, it was evident Forsch’s presence was missed. So, in honor of his teammate, I asked Horton to share his favorite Bob Forsch story.

Here is how Rick Horton responded:

After a game in Chicago, he and I got on the L train to get back to our hotel after a Cardinal win. We had a bunch of Cardinals fans, who had had a few too many Budweiser products, on the train with us and they were loving Bob, saying, “Bob you’re my favorite player” and they were just going bananas over the fact that they were on the L train with Bob Forsch.

At one point, a guy says to Bob, “We always wondered if your son played baseball.” And Bob said, “I have two daughters. I don’t have a son.” And the guy pointed at me and said, “Isn’t he your son?”

I’ll never forget that. I laughed so hard. Bob laughed so hard.

You couldn’t write a better script, because the next day, honest, was Father’s Day. So I went to the hotel gift shop and bought him a Father’s Day card and had it up in his locker the next day. And I did that for a number of years to follow, treating Bob as my Dad.

In some ways, more aptly, Bob was like an older brother for me, in terms of showing me the way, showing me the right things, keeping me away from the wrong things, encouraging what professionalism is all about. Anybody who played with him knew Bob as a professional.

As well-known as he is, I’d still say he’s the most underrated Cardinals pitcher in the last 75 years. When you look at the Cardinals record books, his name is all over that. He spanned two decades.

The two no-hitters almost condenses him too much, almost makes him to be that guy instead of a guy who was so much more than that. He won a World Series game, pitched in three World Series for the Cardinals and really was the heart and soul of the pitching staff, at least when I was there.

When we lost Bob as a teammate, we lost an awful lot of leadership. And when we lost him this past year, we lost a lot more than that.

Previously: Rick Horton: Adam Wainwright could win 20 this season

Previously: How Bob Forsch converted to pitching

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