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Joe Buck grew up in St. Louis, where he still lives. He has two daughters, Natalie and Trudy, and is married to fellow sportscaster Michelle Beisner.
If you’re a sports fan, even a casual one, you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time with Joe Buck. He’s been the lead FOX broadcaster on every World Series game for nearly twenty years, and been ensconced in more NFL games than Cleatus the Robot. He’s also called five Super Bowls, which is the biggest television spectacular in America, and one of the only things that unites us as a country. Well, that and hating on Joe Buck, of course.
To say that Joe Buck is at the center of our nation’s collective fan wrath is to say that Tom Brady can pass. The thing is though, none of us outside of his friends and family know much about Joe Buck. In his new memoir, Lucky Bastard, Buck takes the actual man out of the broadcast booth for all the world to see. His book isn’t a jock-y tell-all, or a breakdown of famous ball games, it’s the story of his fantastic, yet messy, life. Lucky Bastard has more charm than smarm, with amusing tales of doubling down on pot brownies to ill-effect, serious ones such as letting his father, beloved St. Louis Cardinals announcer Jack Buck, shuffle off the mortal coil as he saw fit, falling out-and-back-in love, and the ongoing horror he subjects himself to for a few precious hair follicles.
If you’re not convinced Joe Buck has a soul, start with his sit-down interview show “Undeniable”, and then give Lucky Bastard a chance. It might change your mind, or at least you’ll have a bit more empathy for the man whose his scalp bleeds for us.
PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE:In the first chapter in Lucky Bastard you lay it all out there: hair plugs, your first marriage unraveling, peeing in a broadcast booth garbage can, your Albert Brooks in Broadcast News debut…Did you want to set a tone of “Joe Buck unleashed,” stuff people may never have even thought to ask?
JOE BUCK: Definitely. This is not right to say, but I am not the kind of guy to run out and say ‘what are the latest and greatest sports books out there?’ I didn’t want to write the type of book that I wouldn’t read. By that I mean, if you want to know what happened in the 2007 World Series, that’s in chapter seven. It’s not a blow-by-blow of different events I’ve covered. This is a look at my life. Intentionally or unintentionally, I wanted people who leaf through the first few pages to know it’s probably not what you expect. It’s as open, honest, and raw a look at my life after 47 years that I can offer. Warts and all. While still maintaining relationships I have, or hope to have, going forward.
I also wanted to share my dad as a real person, and not the bronze statue that sits outside Busch Stadium. There’s a human being there, which is what gets lost with me. There’s a person in the suit calling the big game on national television.
PRH:You started young, but you’re still only at mid-career; what was the impetus to write the book now?
JB: It’s funny, somebody asked me to do one when I switched agencies about ten years ago and I laughed at them. Are you kidding me? I’m not doing the life-and-time of Joe Buck at 37. I think it was the episode of losing my voice and getting it back, what it was like going through not knowing if I could work again. It felt like maybe I could be an example to someone who may be battling something else. I’m not saying I wrote to be an inspiration, but to share my life thus far. It’s why I’m doing this series interviewing athletes on DirectTV; it’s not about: what were you thinking when you hit the 2-1 pitch for a home run? It’s: what was your household like growing up? When were you most vulnerable? We’re all trying to get through life and people can take something from everybody’s story. This year will be nineteen World Series and five Super Bowls, and who knows how long I will keep doing games. If Lucky Bastard is going to reach the biggest audience, now seemed like the time. It feels right. I’m hyper-critical of everything I do, but I’m proud to hold my book up.
PRH:There are some stories about your dad that may be familiar, but dealing with his death—something we will all face—of letting him go on his own terms, is that the tribute nobody got before?
JB: It is. You don’t have to have a famous parent, obviously. I’ve had friends who were under similar circumstances and it finally made sense to me what it meant when they said “Well, they’re in a better place.” I used to think, “Yeah, yeah, but dead is dead. Gone is gone. They don’t come back.” It wasn’t until seeing my dad go through seven months of hell that I understood what they meant. He begged and pleaded with me to let him die. I was the only person he asked. It’s unnerving to have a parent say that to your face one-on-one in a hospital room, when you’re doing everything you can to keep them alive. For selfish reasons, I wanted him to lay there. He’d had enough.
PRH:One thing that is entirely commonplace—as many of us know firsthand—but you don’t read about often, are the machinations of divorce, especially when it isn’t based on some ugly events, but rather a couple whose marriage runs its course. Was it hard to write about, or cathartic in some way?
JB: It was hard because of my daughters. I didn’t want the book to have anything that was unfair to my ex-wife, their mom. I had to write carefully. I feel like I got everything I wanted to get out of writing about our divorce. We started out as young kids, got married at 23, and at 40, it wasn’t working. I’m proud there was nobody else, no affairs, but I’m not proud that the marriage fell apart. I’m to blame as much as she is. What’s left are the kids and it becomes: how do we do what’s best for them? Writing about it, the same rules apply. How do I do what’s best for my daughters? They both read the book and loved it. They’re older, 20 and 17, so maybe they’re in a place to better understand things, especially since they’ve had relationships of their own. I couldn’t leave the most important part of my life out of the book. I feel like I accomplished it in a respectful way.
PRH:From a technical standpoint, did you discuss it with your ex-wife and daughters prior to writing about the break-up, or do you give them a completed draft afterward?
JB: I discussed it with my ex-wive; I gave it to my daughters. I let them determine if they’d share the text with their mom. I don’t know if they did; it’s not my business. They have to navigate that and they’re good at the back-and-forth. My daughters read Lucky Bastard and as long as they’re okay with it, so am I.
There is also stuff in there about my former broadcast partner Tim McCarver, stuff about my dad, my mom, how they met and had an affair…We all lead complicated lives.
PRH:As someone who has been doing this for awhile, serious passages get attention, because it’s important, but not a lot of writers go into how ridiculous and embarrassing they can be. You were obviously smitten with your second wife, in a schoolboy way, did you ever think while writing, I sound like a clown, a borderline stalker—
JB: (Laughs) I guess you’re straight-up telling me I’m a clown.
PRH:But in a good way.
JB: Right, a fun party clown, not the walking-out-of-the-woods kind. Once I wrote about the hair plugs, I decided to just fling the doors open and go. That was the approach. I never thought I would get remarried, I love golf too much. I wanted the freedom to play whenever I’m not broadcasting. Then I met a woman I couldn’t live without. I knew it would have been the biggest regret if I didn’t go after her. I don’t mind being vulnerable that way.
I think all the stories in Lucky Bastard are a way of humanizing the person calling the World Series. I just got done with the Cubs and Indians, and in both towns I got “Eff you!” “You suck!” “Why are you in love with Kyle Schwarber?” “Why are you rooting against the Cubs?”
Guess what? You’re not unique; I’ve heard it all before. The driving force behind the book was here’s the person calling the game, not this thing walking into the stadium. Sometimes I get the Flat Stanley treatment, like I’m not a person. It chips away at you. I’m aware, understand, and can justify fans reactions to me, but still. Here’s the person.
PRH:I recently interviewed Ernie Johnson—
JB: Who does not have hair plugs.
PRH:Ernie owns it, for sure. He is generally loved—is it strictly because he’s a studio guy and you call games?
JB: And I do play-by-play. It’s different for the play-by-play guy. And it’s different for baseball. There are no local broadcasters calling the NFL, but every baseball game has local guys for the team all year. We show up and fans want to hear their guys: I know who they’re rooting for. I get it as a hockey fan. I love the St. Louis Blues, it’s the only team I openly root for. When they made it conference finals, we had different announcers. I love Kenny Albert, as a person and a broadcaster, and there’s nobody better than Doc Emrick, but dammit I wanted to hear John Kelly and Darren Pang do the games. Kelly pulls a groin when the Blues score a goal and gets dejected when they give one up. It’s the way I feel.
It’s simple to understand. For our booth, John Smoltz is analyzing, so I’m the one who is supposed to get loud. So when I get excited the Indians hit a home run, Cub fans are like ‘what the hell is wrong with his guy?’ And vice-versa. I’ve also taken heat in the past for not making the moment big enough. It’s the walk-through life of the national baseball play-by-play announcer.
PRH:In the book you say, obviously long before it happened, the Cubs winning the World Series would be the greatest story in sports. Was it?
JB: It was, but only as it played out. You never know what kind of a World Series you’re going to get. Had the Cubs swept, I don’t think it would have been quite the same for a broader audience. Those series don’t get a lot of traction. People would’ve tuned in because it’s the Cubs, but with no drama, they’d flip to The Voice. When it goes seven games, it’s a gift. And then ten innings in Game Seven? Where every moment is hyper-sensitive? With 176 years of combined frustration between the Cubs and Indians hanging on every pitch? It did not disappoint. I honestly don’t know how it could get any better.
PRH:You mentioned John Smoltz, and it pains me to say this as a Mets fan, but he’s really good, isn’t he?
JB: Smoltz is great because he’s an easy listen and a hard worker. I didn’t know that about him. I liked him when he came aboard, but I had no idea how much time he would put in. Before the World Series, he complained that he was having trouble catching up with all the hitters. He watches video as if he’s going to pitch. He watched every at-bat of the championship series, so he knows how each team will try to get the other teams batters out. Same with Troy Aikman in football. I get why he won three Super Bowls. Smoltz is a gamer. He knows scores, betting lines, not that he’s gambling I should add, but he likes mentally putting together how a game might go. It’s fun to watch.
PRH:Undeniable reminds me of a live podcast along the lines of Marc Maron’s WTF, the stories behind the famous faces told in full, but it isn’t an easy show to find necessarily. Did you want to do the show because you get to have in-depth discussions in a way you haven’t before?
JB: Absolutely. And the athletes feel the same way. They’re more excited about it when they get up after three-and-a-half hours, which is what the average conversation has been, than I am. They’re like Man, I never got to talk about my grandma, or what kind of player I was in Pee-Wee hockey. Even more than that, I think the reason the show has caught people’s attention—and the numbers are twice what DirectTV hoped for—is people are identifying with the personal struggles of the world-famous. Vince Vaughn is one of the executive producers and he told me to look at it as a self-help series. Sure it’s Derek Jeter or Wayne Gretzky, but they’ve been through a lot. You think they’re perfect, but both Kelly Slater and Michael Phelps talked about their thoughts of suicide. My God, a guy with 20+ gold medals feels the same as I do, and had to get help? They struggle, I struggle, and it’s OK.
I didn’t buy into what Vince was saying about the show, in fact he was driving me nuts, but he was right. There’s something to human frailty, and it’s been a thrill to give people the full picture of these famous lives.
PRH:Since you brought it up earlier, let’s talk about the hair plugs. The revelation has made the rounds because its funny, but I think it struck a nerve because so many men do it, never talk about it, and you tapped into the rarely-spoken-of topic, baldness and male vanity…
JB: Patrick, I have not seen you, but if you struggle with hair loss (Ed note: I don’t.), it’s such a big deal. Paul Rudd and I worked on a screenplay that dealt with it in a funny way. I know what baldness can do to a man. When you see guys with a toupee that should come with a chinstrap, or somebody whose been through hair replacement surgery and tapped out early because it’s too painful, you realize guys will do anything to maintain their sense of virility. They don’t want to give up looking young. It’s a big deal, trust me. If you deal in hair loss, you constantly check the hairline of anyone who walks up to you. It’s the first thing I look at.
I knew it would strike a chord. Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated pulled out one passage, which has a lot more context if you read around it, saying I became “addicted” to hair plugs. It was meant somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the idea of being addicted is comical. I basically have to drug myself to go in because it sucks. You may be addicted to the results, but the procedure is torture. It’s not like I’m free-basing hair plugs in the corner of the room. Shame on me, but it’s a necessary evil. I have such a massive head, I’ve done the American population a favor.
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