For the first time in five years, Joe Buck is having a somewhat leisurely October. Well, as leisurely as it can be for a guy tending to 4-year-old twin boys while his wife is out of town.
Buck, the longtime lead play-by-play broadcaster for Fox Sports’ NFL and Major League Baseball coverage, was pulling double duty from 2018 through 2022.
He’d call NFL games on Thursday nights and some Sunday afternoons, broadcast postseason baseball contests on the other nights all while bouncing from city to city and sport to sport. His October apex came in 2020, the year the coronavirus pandemic was at its height. In one span, he called 16 games in 18 days, changing cities six times and switching sports five times. At one point, he was on the air 14 days in a row. It was a dizzy, grueling schedule.
”I’m the kind of person who is focused on what’s immediately in front of me, so I don’t get overwhelmed by the volume,” Buck said this week.
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Sure, he wasn’t performing exhausting physical labor. But it was a massive challenge mentally because he was on a huge stage and his words were being heard by millions of people. Not only was he doing the only NFL game on a Thursday night or the network’s feature Sunday afternoon contest, but he also was calling a baseball league championship series with the World Series.
But his work volume has sharply decreased this year. In March, he left Fox and moved to ESPN to join longtime colleague Troy Aikman in the “Monday Night Football” broadcast booth. He no longer is doing baseball or Thursday night NFL games (which have moved from Fox to Amazon Prime streaming).
So how is he spending all this extra free time in October? When reached by phone this week, he was about to pick up his boys from their preschool in St. Louis County. No trips to the beach, no golf excursions to exotic locations.
”I’m Mr. Dad now,” he said.
His wife, fellow sportscaster Michelle Beisner-Buck, contributes reports to ESPN’s “MNF” pregame show and was in Cleveland to work on a feature about Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. It is to air before the telecast of their game Monday at home against Cincinnati, which Buck and Aikman will call.
So Buck, 53, has gone from staying in glitzy hotels and taking private jets and hob-knobbing with luminaries from sports and entertainment on nearly a daily basis last October to now being in the handoff line outside a preschool on weekdays. He finds it fulfilling.
“It’s been amazing, eye-opening,” he said of the juxtaposition. “Just have a chance to breathe, live life now. To pick up the kids. It has been phenomenal. It’s everything it has been — and more.”
A ‘golden age’
Buck is not calling Major League Baseball games for the first time since he began broadcasting the Cardinals in 1991, before eventually transitioning full time to Fox.
The World Series, which starts Friday and again will be televised on Fox (KTVI, Channel 2 locally), will be the first Fall Classic that Buck has not broadcast in a generation. He called the past 22, and 24 overall.
“I’m proud of everything we did,” said Buck, who was able to get out of his Fox contract a year early to make the move. Had he stayed, he has said this would have been his final season on baseball anyway. He was ready to move on.
“I saw some memorable moments in baseball, that’s for sure,” he said.
He was behind the microphone when the White Sox, Red Sox and Cubs ended long title droughts. He was there in 1998 for the assault on the single-season home run record by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who both eclipsed the mark — and they since have been passed by Barry Bonds. Those exploits now are tainted by all those players’ links to performance-enhancing drugs, but the McGwire-Sosa chase gripped the nation at the time. And Buck was on the call for many of the memorable World Series moments by Yankees legend Derek Jeter.
“It was a golden age for us,” he said, saying how fortunate it was for him that Fox got into the baseball broadcasting business when it did — 1996, when he was named the network’s lead voice. “There’s nothing I feel like I’m leaving that is undone.”
He said ESPN has approached him “a couple times” about doing baseball.
“The answer was, ‘No,’” he said.
Buck’s ESPN contract runs for five years, so he still will be in his 50s when it’s up. That leaves the question open: Would he then want to get back into what has been the family business? After all, the lifelong St. Louisan had called the sport for his entire professional life before this season. And his dad, Jack Buck, broadcast Cardinals game for 47 seasons.
“Never say never,” Joe Buck said. “But never at the level it once was, doing 162 Cardinals games. But later in life I could see myself doing it. It’s in my DNA.”
Buck said his deal with The Walt Disney Co., which owns ESPN and related networks, specifically is for the “Monday Night Football” telecasts.
“Beyond that, it’s kind of what I want to do,” he said.
That means that after ESPN airs its last NFL game of the season, in January, Buck won’t disappear from the network until the next football season begins.
Last summer he did an alternate version of ESPN’s traditional coverage of the PGA Championship, a more free-flowing, breezy counterpart to the traditional broadcast. That was similar to what Peyton and Eli Manning do with some “Monday Night Football” productions.
Buck said that could return in some form next year, as well as a similar broadcast to go side-by-side with ESPN’s Masters coverage — though it probably would take some convincing to get officials of that by-the-book event to agree to something humorous and unconventional.
Buck wants to branch out from sports, too.
“I’m still trying to produce a scripted series that would be on one of the Disney outlets,” he said.
He has appeared on a variety of ESPN shows since signing with the company and said it is possible he’ll increase his presence on them once the football season concludes.
“When I got hired, people told me ‘They’ll put you through ‘the carwash,’” a term that refers to having someone appear on multiple ESPN shows in a short period of time. “I like doing those shows. I have no problem doing that stuff.
“Things are good.”