It was a grueling 2½-week schedule for Joe Buck, perhaps the most arduous ever undertaken by a network television sportscaster given the magnitude of the games he covered.
Buck, the lead baseball and football play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports, called 15 games in 18 days, working in six cities across all four time zones in the continental United States. Five times he bounced from one sport to the other, each time going to a different time zone without a day off to adjust. The journey began Oct. 11 with an NFL contest in East Rutherford, N.J., and ended Sunday night in Los Angeles with the final game of the World Series.
He played down the grind, saying that when he was a kid he saw his father, legendary Cardinals radio announcer Jack Buck, do something similar on a regular basis for many falls. Jack Buck would leave the ballclub do a network football broadcast on Sundays then serve as the voice of “Monday Night Football” on national radio before going right back to his Cardinals duties.
“My dad would laugh at the suggestion that this is some crazy schedule and something that is unheard of,” Buck said this week. “He did this stuff every year. ... This is along those same lines, its doable.
“I watched my dad do this, sit at the kitchen table with his hand-written boards, smoking cigarettes, eating eggs and writing all the different lineups in. That’s the work ethic I was shown as a kid, and I’m proud to kind of try to carry it forward. It was a lot of work, but fun.”
It took a lot of focus to pull off.
“You compartmentalize,” he said. “I’m pretty good at figuring out what’s right in front of me, handling that, then going on to the next assignment. But it was strange being at Dodger Stadium and on a football conference call with the Arizona Cardinals and writing my (baseball) lineups in and talking to them about how they are going to beat the Denver Broncos. Then (while in Boston) talking to the Miami defensive coordinator and he wanted to talk about the Red Sox as I’m sitting there in a freezing Fenway Park trying to talk about football.”
In the past he did not broadcast NFL games during his postseason baseball run. But Fox landed the full over-the-air rights to the Thursday night NFL package this year, a deal that had been split between CBS and NBC in previous seasons, and it placed Buck and analyst Troy Aikman on those games.
It was a key property for Fox to obtain, so to keep continuity in that broadcast booth Buck undertook the demanding schedule.
“I’m glad I did it,” he said. “I know Fox is glad I did it.”
Buck, who lives in St. Louis, was able to slip home for a couple days after the World Series before on Wednesday flying back to the West Coast, for the Raiders-49ers game Thursday night in Santa Clara, Calif. It might have been easier just to stay on out west, but he wanted to see his family.
He and his wife, Michelle Beisner-Buck, are parents of twins born in April.
“I had to get back for sanity’s sake — to see the boys, and if for no other reason to switch out my clothes,” he said. “I had a bag full of dirty clothes.”
The marathon was extended by the National League Championship Series going the full seven games, but Buck did catch a scheduling break with the World Series ending in five games, on Sunday night when the Red Sox ousted the Dodgers.
Had it continued, Buck would have flown from coast to coast, Los Angeles to Boston, for Game 6, on Tuesday, and possibly Game 7 on Wednesday. Then it would have been another cross-the-country flight, Boston to San Jose, Calif., to call Thursday’s Raiders-49ers football game.
But Buck says he wishes he would have kept going.
“I’m disappointed, with Fox also being disappointed, that it (the World Series) was only five games,” he said. “You don’t achieve what you want to achieve with the rating with a lopsided Series. Even though the games were all pretty close, it seemed pretty lopsided. I would have rather seen it go seven games. I can live with dirty clothes.”
The Series was seen in an average of 8.3 percent of the nation’s homes with a TV, Nielsen reports, down from the 10.7 rating of last year’s Houston’s victory over the Dodgers. But that lasted seven games, and viewership traditionally rises as a series progress.
LANDING A ‘SOUVENIR’
Buck is back to this “normal” schedule for this time of the year, which because of the added Thursday night duties now generally entails him doing Sunday afternoon games only on weeks when Fox has a doubleheader.
That’s the case this weekend, as he has the marquee Rams-Saints matchup, at 3:25 p.m., which goes to 96 percent of the country (including KTVI, Channel 2 locally). So he’ll make a brief pit stop in St. Louis as he makes his way from California to Louisiana.
And he picked up a “souvenir” from his broadcasting marathon — a cold that was noticeable in a phone conversation Wednesday.
“I at least was able to bring a cold home to my family,” he joked. “It’s (from) being on airplanes, in hotel rooms and just the general dirt I’ve been living in in ballparks and everywhere else over the last couple weeks. Everything has finally caught up to me. Usually I get sick around the NFC championship game, because I think my body knows it’s about to go on a little bit of a break and I push through whatever I’m dealing with then. This time, it hit me right at the end of the World Series. But it’s just a cold, I’m all right.”
The epic World Series Game 3 tested Buck’s voice, and endurance, as the contest lasted 18 innings and ran for 7 hours 20 minutes — both postseason records.
“It went from, ‘I can’t believe this game is going into the 14th inning’ to ‘Let’s see how far this can go,’” he said.
“I love that kind of stuff. At the beginning of a network broadcast, everything is so buttoned up and everybody is trying to be perfect, and by the end it felt like doing local TV. That’s the most fun, when you can do the most stuff. We’re talking about the organist, doing different stats, talking about the number of foul balls. You get loose and a little weird, and the situation kind of exonerates you from any kind of criticism.”
But the big picture is integral.
“You can’t take those games lightly, because at some point — it could be in two innings, it could two pitches — the game is going to end and one of those teams is going to win, and it either was going to be three games to none or two games to one, and the World Series was going to shift.”
There has been a big shift in how baseball games are played, with the pace of play slowing to a crawl. It was especially profound this season, when four-hour nine-inning games weren’t uncommon.
Given the extra time to fill, Buck said he hasn’t prepared any differently than in recent seasons because he has had a lot of experience with slow-paced contests.
“I was kind of weaned on Red Sox-Yankees, and even when the rest of the league wasn’t doing four-hour games, it seemed like they were,” he said. “That said, I think the game has a different feel to it because the starters aren’t going deep, managers now are looking for a reason to make a pitching change instead of being forced to make a pitching change.
“That leads to a lot of in and out, a lot of breaks. There’s no real rhythm to the game anymore. But that’s the way it’s going, when you have (manager) Dave Roberts and the Dodgers basically doing line changes. They start a righthanded lineup and by the sixth inning they’re a lefthanded lineup and their bench is empty.
“It makes you know sometime about a heck of a lot more players than you did in the past. But I’m not going to be the ‘Get off my lawn,’ yell at the world guy (who says) ‘I can’t believe what are they doing to my game.’ Things come in cycles, and you wonder if they can get it back because I don’t know if starting pitchers are conditioned to go deep anymore.”
Buck certainly was conditioned for endurance in the last few weeks, and said he’s up to the challenge again next season.
“I don’t know why I wouldn’t,” he said.
But that is with scheduling being equal to this year. Fox had the National League Championship Series this year, which did not have any Thursday games. And the World Series was off on those nights. Should Fox have baseball games next year on Thursdays, Buck said he’d do those instead of football.
“That’s the best way to do it,” he said. “We’ll see when the schedule comes out. It’s bigger than me, what’s going to be on the network.”
Joe Buck’s whirlwind of recent assignments for Fox Sports:
Oct. 11 • NFL, in East Rutherford, N.J.
Oct. 12 • NLCS, in Milwaukee
Oct. 13 • NLCS, in Milwaukee
Oct. 15 • NLCS, in Los Angeles
Oct. 16 • NLCS, in Los Angeles
Oct. 17 • NLCS, in Los Angeles
Oct. 18 • NFL, in Glendale, Ariz.
Oct. 19 • NLCS, in Milwaukee
Oct. 20 • NLCS, in Milwaukee
Oct. 23 • World Series, in Boston
Oct. 24 • World Series, in Boston
Oct. 25 • NFL, in Houston
Oct. 26 • World Series, in Los Angeles
Oct. 27 • World Series, in Los Angeles
Oct. 28 • World Series, in Los Angeles
NFL ON TV
Upcoming NFL games to be shown in St. Louis:
Noon • Chiefs at Browns, KMOV (4)
Noon • Bears at Bills, KTVI (2)
3:25 p.m.• Rams at Saints, KTVI (2)
7:20 p.m.• Packers at Patriots, KSDK (5)
7:15 p.m. • Titans at Cowboys, ESPN
THURSDAY, NOV, 8
7:20 p.m. • Panthers at Steelers, KTVI (2), NFL Network
Noon • Cardinals at Chiefs,KMOV (4)
Noon • Saints at Bengals,KTVI (2)
3:25 p.m. Seahawks at Rams,KMOV (4)
7:20 p.m. • Cowboys at Eagles, KSDK (5)
Nov. 11 afternoon schedule tentative
MONDAY, NOV. 12
7:15 p.m • Giants at 49ers, ESPN