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MEDIA VIEWS

Media Views: John Rooney ready for Cardinals' lead radio role as Buck-Shannon epic link has ended

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St. Louis Cardinals beat the Houston Astros 4-2 in first game of spring training in Jupiter

John Rooney (foreground) and Ricky Horton (center) broadcast the Cardinals' first game of 2022 spring training, against the Houston Astros on Friday, March 18, at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Rooney takes over as the lead broadcaster on the team's radio network, now that Mike Shannon has retired. With them is engineer Jim Jackson. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

It will be a day like so many others for Cardinals radio announcer John Rooney. But it will be a day like no other for him, too.

He’ll head to Busch Stadium on Thursday, arriving about 2½ hours before game time — just as he has done more than a thousand times in his previous 16 seasons on the broadcast crew. He will spend at least the next hour and a half in the booth, meticulously assembling his lineup card — not just with the players’ names but augmenting it with statistics and personal tidbits about them. That’s even though he says “I don’t use (more than) a tenth of it.”

He’ll talk with others for a bit, then settle down behind the microphone to describe what is unfolding in front of him to listeners on KMOX (1120 AM) and the other 147 stations on the club’s biggest-in-baseball radio network.

Then when he calls the first pitch, at about 3:15 p.m., it will be oh-so familiar for him but it nonetheless historic. For the first time in 46 years, a season starts with someone not named Jack Buck or Mike Shannon having top billing on the team’s radio crew. The last newcomer arrived in 1976, when Buck briefly left for a national gig and Bob Starr took over the No. 1 slot alongside Shannon. But Buck’s venture at NBC did not pan out and he returned for a handful of games that season, then was back in the top post the next year and remained there until he died in 2002. Shannon ascended and was No. 1 until retiring after last season. So Buck or Shannon was in that post for the last 45 seasons.

And an even longer legacy is ending, as this is the first time since 1960 that neither Buck nor Shannon will be in the booth at all.

Rooney, who had been No. 2 to Shannon since joining the crew in 2006, opens the season as the radio voice of the Cardinals. It is a role he’s been moving toward more and more in recent years, as Shannon’s schedule gradually was reduced to the point he only did about 50 games last season, all at home. So Rooney was the lead man for the home games Shannon missed as well as on road broadcasts, working alongside Ricky Horton — as he will this season full time — with Mike Claiborne filling in when one is absent.

While this changing of the guard is more cosmetic than impactful, it nonetheless is a milestone in the rich history of Cardinals broadcasting — but one Rooney is taking modestly.

“I don’t get caught up with being No. 1 or No. 2,” he said. “Mike never treated me like I was secondary at all.”

Rooney, 68, has had his own high-profile career, having had the lead role in the radio booth of the Chicago White Sox for 17 years after one on TV before coming to St. Louis, where he had two previous short stints at KMOX. He has been the radio voice of 10 NCAA Tournament title games and called a bevy of MLB games nationally as well as broadcasting Mizzou football and basketball for two decades as well as having many other endeavors.

But broadcasting baseball is special for him.

“It’s always what I wanted to do,” he said, talking about spending time as a kid fine-tuning the radio to listen to legendary broadcasters from distant cities while growing up in Richmond, Mo., which is about 40 miles northeast of Kansas City.

He says that when he was in the eighth grade, his yearbook was signed by a buddy who wrote, “You’re going to be the voice of a Major League Baseball team.” Rooney now says, “I’ve told him, ‘You should have gone out looking for wallets on the street.’”

A big responsibility

The Cardinals’ radio booth has been a bastion of big-name announcers, dotted with legendary names such as France Laux, Dizzy Dean, Milo Hamilton, Joe Garagiola, Buddy Blattner, Harry Caray, Jack and Joe Buck, Shannon and Rooney.

Rooney respects the history, and is eager to work to uphold the legacy.

“It’s going to be different, it is an end of an era,” he said, adding that Horton is ready for the full-time radio role he now has after having also been on TV in recent years. “Ricky does a great job, he’s prepared, he’s one of the best people I’ve ever worked with in any sport.”

Rooney vows to continue the approach he had with Shannon.

“Mike insisted we have a good time and laugh a lot, and we plan to keep that up,” he said. “If we don’t have a good time, it’s just blah blah blah. Who wouldn’t have a good time calling the Cardinals’ games?”

But it won’t be all fun and games.

“Mike said it many times, we are caretakers for that chair, there will be a next generation sometime,” Rooney said. “You bet I take that seriously.”

Rooney has been serious about the business for decades. Bob Costas, who went on to national acclaim, worked with Rooney on Mizzou basketball broadcasts early in their careers and saw that early on.

“I realized then that he was going to be very good, a classic radio play-by-play announcer,” Costas said. “He had the right rhythm and pace.”

Tactful touch

Rooney did an exceptional job last year helping Shannon through his farewell season, as the veteran’s fastball on the air had lost some of its zip following a nasty bout with COVID-19.

Rooney tactfully filled the gaps, providing names and background when appropriate in discussing a player. Even more impressive was that when additional detail was needed to describe a play on the field, sometimes a complex circumstance, Rooney wouldn’t merely jump in and take over. Instead, he’d explain the situation in a conversational manner with Shannon, as if they were just hanging out and watching the game and talking about what was happening.

It was a masterful, respectful, approach.

“John Rooney was an incredible pro at the time we needed him,” Claiborne said. “He and Mike are the two best teammates I’ve ever worked with. John’s the consummate pro.”

Rooney said he was just being part of the team.

“Mike always preached the team concept in the booth,” he said. “(Everyone on the broadcast crew) said, ‘We’re going to do everything to help Mike, and make this memorable down the stretch” of his career. “... I hope we were able to do that. As a team we owe that to each other.”

Now Rooney moves forward, but also looks back.

“It’s a big thing to be a Cardinal broadcaster and to be in that booth,” he said. “It’s the St. Louis Cardinals, a high-profile booth. To be able to tell that story every day ...”

He then segued into an anecdote about Jack Buck having said how blessed he had been, wondering why God had been so good to him.

“I feel the same way,” Rooney said. “I really do.”

Getting going

KMOX starts its opening-day coverage at 8:30 Thursday morning, with Charlie Brennan and Amy Marxkors conducting their show from the station’s “Kegs and Eggs” festivities outside of Busch Stadium. Tom Ackerman, Dave Glover and Kevin Wheeler take over at 11 a.m. before KMOX joins the team’s network at 1:40 for reports hosted by Wheeler. That lasts until the game starts and includes the on-field ceremonies.

For those wanting to check out the Spanish version of the broadcast, WIJR (880 AM) starts its coverage at 2:15. Polo Ascencio and Bengie Molina have the call.

On TV, Bally Sports Midwest’s programming begins at 1:30 p.m. and includes the on-field pregame introductions. Alexa Datt, Horton and Brad Thompson conduct the show, from inside the stadium. Then Dan McLaughlin and Jim Edmonds broadcast the game with reporter Jim Hayes. The coverage also is carried on the Bally Sports app.

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