Combining talent with a relentless commitment to learning his craft and creating his own breaks, Dan McLaughlin has earned one of the best jobs in baseball, becoming the signature voice of Cardinals telecasts.
McLaughlin, 43, a St. Louis native, began his professional career with KMOX Radio in 1997. Two years later, he was doing play-by-play of Cardinals road games on TV.
In 2017, McLaughlin is the popular voice of the Cardinals on Fox Sports Midwest telecasts. His annual charity golf tournament in St. Louis has raised $3 million for children with disabilities.
On March 23, 2017, McLaughlin consented to an interview with me in Jupiter, Fla. He was gracious with his time and with his insights.
Here is an edited transcript of that tape-recorded interview:
Q.: Of all the major-league broadcasters, you’re the best at interacting with your audience, especially through social media. What made you decide to be so accessible?
McLaughlin: “Two things. One, I felt people didn’t really know who I was. I’m kind of a smart-aleck, like to have fun, definitely don’t take myself too seriously. When I burst on the scene, a young guy, I think the perception was for a long time that I was buttoned up, no personality. That’s the furthest thing from the truth.
“No. 2, I’m involved in a lot of charities in St. Louis, including my own golf tournament, and I thought if I could promote that, maybe get a following on Twitter, maybe I could raise some more money and it would be a good thing.
“Those were the two main reasons I did it. As I got more involved, I found it to be really helpful for what I do. It was great to see the opinions _ good and bad _ of fans. It’s important to get the feel of the fan base.”
Q.: Who were the broadcasters that influenced you?
McLaughlin: “I was making $4 an hour to do producing at KMOX. I would listen to those guys on KMOX intently to see how they got in and out of commercial breaks, or how they were able to build off the anticipation of what might be a big moment.
“Those guys were, in no particular order, Jack Buck, Mike Shannon, Ken Wilson on hockey, Mike Kelly on Mizzou games. Another guy who really helped me was Randy Karraker, who was a talk-show host at KMOX. He gave me a lot of time and listened.
“All those guys, all those experiences, are what shaped what I am today.”
Q.: Can you share a story about something you learned from Jack Buck?
McLaughlin: “Jack Buck was phenomenal to me. One day in the baseball season, it was a Saturday, there was a rain delay in a game between the Cardinals and Dodgers at Busch Stadium. They knew they were going to get the game in, but it was going to be a long rain delay.
“So I get a call from KMOX and I’m told that Mike Shannon has to leave the ballpark and go to his Night at the Races show and can I fill in and work with Jack. Yeah, I’ll be there. I was doing yard work. So I shower real quick, race down to the ballpark.
“The weekend before, in Los Angeles, I had done Cardinals and Dodgers on TV. So I had all these little notes with anecdotes on all these players. I could tell you everything about every player on both sides.
“I walk into the booth and _ (McLaughlin launches into a spot-on impersonation of Buck’s comforting, gravelly growl) _ Jack says, ‘Dan, how are you?’ I said, ‘Mr. Buck, I’m excited. I’m ready to go.’ He said, ‘What are those?’ I said, ‘These are my notes. I am ready.’ He said, ‘Oh, really. Let me see those.’
“He takes them and tears them up into about a thousand pieces and slams them into the trash can. He points at the trash can and says, ‘That’s not the story.’ Then he points at the field, ‘That’s the story. Tell them what you see, kid.’
“He walked out on purpose and left me alone for a few innings to do the game. I’ll never forget it _ the story is on the field. Never forget you’re the eyes and the ears of those who can’t be there.”
Q.: You’re carrying on a Cardinals tradition of broadcaster excellence _ Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola, Jack Buck and others. Do you ever reflect on the importance of that role?
McLaughlin: “It will hit me during a game in the middle of the season. I’m sitting next to Tim McCarver, who has done 24 World Series, and I’m talking about the team I grew up cheering for, in the city I grew up in and love, and it’s like, ‘How did this happen?’
“This is a great responsibility. That’s how I look at it. This is more than a job. This is a responsibility to carry on a legacy and a tradition for these fans. I better bring my A game, at least try to, every single night because they deserve that.”
Q.: What makes Tim McCarver such an outstanding analyst?
McLaughlin: “When his playing days ended, he didn’t just say, ‘I’m a former player.’ It was the close of a chapter in a long book of his life. He wanted to be the best broadcaster he could be. He took that on just like he took on being a catcher for the Cardinals. He looked to advance the story and didn’t just settle for being a former ballplayer.
“In my mind, he’s the best baseball analyst that’s ever lived. It’s not even close.”
Q.: Mike Shannon is the Cardinals radio voice. You’re the Cardinals TV voice. Do you two interact at all?
McLaughlin: “All the time, but especially when I was younger and Mike was on the road more. We had a lot of fun together.
“He always had a place set up to go play golf. We’d play golf almost every morning on the road. Sometimes he’d have Red Schoendienst or Jose Oquendo or a player with him. They treated me like a peer, but I always looked at it like I was an invited guest. I’d just shut up and listen to what they had to say.
“Mike always has been really good to me. Still is. Very kind. He understood the role I was in as a young guy, 23, and that it wasn’t easy. He always made it easy for me.”
Q.: You’re living the dream for a lot of people. What advice do you have for someone hoping to become a major-league broadcaster?
McLaughlin: “If this is what you truly want to do, go for it. My advice, especially for high school and college kids, is write the informational letters, ask for the internship, get involved immediately and get behind a microphone.
“In this business, there are so many people who start out wanting to be behind the microphone and then wind up being behind the camera. Don’t let people say you can’t. If I can do it, anybody can.”
Q.: You’re at the top of your game now. What else would you like to try to do with your career?
McLaughlin: “I’ve had multiple opportunities to leave for different teams, networks, national stuff. This job is the ultimate to me. This is my dream. I’m where I want to be. I would hope this is the last job I’ll ever have because I really don’t have anything else I want to do.
“The Cardinals are great to me. With the platform we have in the community, you can make a difference in a lot of lives. I know that sounds corny, but I get more out of this than I would doing a national game. That doesn’t resonate with me. What resonates is doing the best job I can for this franchise. That’s clearly the most important thing in my professional life. I love it.”