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Ricky Horton would turn Cardinals microphone over to John Rooney for Pujols No. 700 call

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Horton Rooney McLaughlin combo mug

Cardinals broadcasters Ricky Horton, left, John Rooney, center, and Dan McLaughlin.

It's a milestone reached by only three players in big-league history, 700 career home runs. If the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols splashes his name on the list, calling the feat could be a career-highlight moment for the Cards announcers who are on the air at the time.

If it occurs on a game Bally Sports Midwest televises, and that's most of them the rest of the season, Dan McLaughlin will have the call. He’s the sole play-by-play voice of the team's TV rightsholder.

But it's not so cut-and-dried on radio. John Rooney and Ricky Horton split the play-by-play duties, each doing several innings per game, with Mike Claiborne filling in when one is absent — as was the case last weekend when Horton was at an out-of-town wedding.

Rooney and Horton now are set to be on hand the rest of the season, but there will be no luck of the draw as to which one will get the call if it happens. Horton graciously has decided to turn the microphone over to Rooney if it's Horton's turn to be on when Pujols would come to bat while at 699 homers.

“Not that I'm not comfortable doing it, but this should be John's call,” Horton said Tuesday. “He's the (radio) voice of the Cardinals and should do it.”

Rooney is in his first year in the Cards' lead radio role, following Mike Shannon's retirement at the end of last season, and has been in the Redbirds' booth since 2006. Horton has worked on TV and radio for the club in a variety of capacities for a quarter century, and is in his second season exclusively on radio. Much of his background is in analysis, though he does a considerable amount of play-by-play. But Rooney has been doing play-by-play at a high level for decades, for multiple MLB teams and national networks, and had many Pujols calls before he left after the 2011 season and now in his return year.

“John is the (radio) voice of the Cardinals just like Dan is on TV,” Horton said. “It needs to be his call. I feel l like I'm better at setting up the scene, talking about it afterward in this case.”

McLaughlin, who sometimes joins the radio crew when BSM telecasts are bumped in favor of national productions, said he also would defer to Rooney if No. 700 is possible.

"I’ll stay silent and let John Rooney knock it out of the park," McLaughlin said. "That’s his call and he deserves it. Period. He’s the best in the business.”

Rooney was taken aback by these actions.

"It means I have great teammates who must think a lot of me," he said. "I'm very humbled, very honored. I'm kind of speechless."

Rooney has been a proponent of whoever's turn it is should get big calls, with no favoritism to roles, something he said in an interview Monday before he knew of the plans.

"If Ricky gets it, that's fine," he said then.

In fact, Horton said Rooney was a bit resistant to the arrangement when Horton told him about it Tuesday.

"But I insisted," Horton said. "It was a good moment for us."

It is reminiscent of Blues radio announcer Chris Kerber allowing team TV play-by-play broadcaster John Kelly to call a period of the Stanley Cup Final games in 2019, when Kelly otherwise would have been shut out because there are network-only telecasts at that stage of the NHL playoffs.

'Be ready for history'

Pujolsmania has been in place all season and is peaking now as his final season winds down, with him just two homers away from 700 heading into Thursday's game and the team charging toward the playoffs.

“His at bats are must-see TV," said McLaughlin, who is in his 25th season announcing games on the Cardinals' local television carrier. "He’s the greatest showman I have ever seen in baseball. So, to call his home runs, milestones, and everything else that has happened has been amazing. Truly, you don’t know what he or others might do next. So, be ready for history.”

The announcers are gearing up for a possible memorable call.

"I'm excited whenever he steps to the plate," Rooney said. "Whether it's a three-homer day against the Reds or a three-homer game in the World Series against Texas, they all are special."

Rooney and McLaughlin have not choreographed how they would call the historic blast provided it happens.

"No, I don't I like to plan anything," Rooney said. "I want to be in the moment, just describe what happens."

McLaughlin concurred, saying that whatever comes out of his mouth would be a reaction to the moment.

“I’ve never scripted a call and I won’t start now," he said. "Look at his last four or five home runs, how could you script that? ... Let’s have some fun. Hopefully, I don’t screw it up!"

The broadcasters are eager to see Pujols.

“Am I pumped when he comes to plate?" McLaughlin asked. "Absolutely, it’s the potential of history. I have the chance to call a lot of ground balls to second. So, I am pumped up and want to see a memorable moment just as much as any fan. If not more.”

While 700 is a storied number for home runs in baseball lore, in reality it has no impact on where Pujols will finish on the career list. He is cemented at No. 4, with no chance to catch those above him (Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth) provided he retires at season's end as he insists he will do. Nonetheless, 700 carries a lot of significance for many people — including the Cards' announcers.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, the longest TV broadcaster in Cardinals history," McLaughlin said. "So, it’s meaningful. My favorite call ever was Matt Holliday’s last Cardinals home run. I called Albert’s, Yadi (Molina)’s, first at-bat and hits, and (Adam Wainwright's) first start. Amazing. However, a friend said to me the other day, 'You know there are only four people that have called 700 home runs.' Obviously, there were more on the call but it puts it in perspective. I love it."

Personal touch

Rooney and McLaughlin were Cardinals fans before getting into the team's broadcast lineup, so a significant milestone by one of the team's players has personal significance to them.

Rooney talked about calling Pujols homers in the 2006 World Series, and how that "meant a lot to me," because he thought of his dad who was a big Cards fan.

Added McLaughlin: "It is very meaningful to me. A kid that grew up in south St. Louis rooting for the Cardinals and is now calling history.

“I am truly happy for the fans. I’ve reflected multiple times on where we all were in (he pandemic of) 2020. The fans deserve this. We’ve gone from cardboard cutouts to record-setting crowds. That’s been the best part of this for me. I truly believe we will never see this again. It’s great to have Albert back home. Where he belongs.”

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