One could argue that, at its purest form, the essence of sports is creating memories. Although it’s fun to discuss and debate sports from an analytical perspective (which we’ll being doing a lot of on this fine website), when we sit down with friends and loved ones to talk about sports, the conversation so often steers back to individual moments that have made a lasting impact on us. It is these moments- of joy, of disappointment, of shock, and of pure spectacle- that stay with us forever, and that we love to think and talk about years after they happen.
When thinking back to these moments, we of course think about the imagery. The sight of the ball leaving David Freese’s bat, the subsequent shot of the ball going over Nelson Cruz’s head and off the wall, and the site of an elated Freese sliding into third as the Busch Stadium faithful go berserk. What else we think of, though, is the broadcast call. A proper call in a big moment can take a merely great moment and make it a classic, or can take a merely classic moment and make it iconic. Sometimes, a call is so perfect that it becomes inseparable from the memory of the moment itself. The role of a broadcaster is certainly to explain the action of the game and provide necessary information, but a great broadcaster can elevate the big moments when they happen.
In my college days, my brother and I were the voices of Illinois College sports. Unquestionably, Division III sports did not come with the same stakes as, well, any Major League Baseball game. That being said, during that time of my life, I learned a lot about the challenges that go into developing a broadcasting style and calling a game in a way that the audience will connect to. In my experience, the most difficult element was making a fittingly great call in a great moment. Thus, I have a great deal of admiration for those broadcasters who can make the memorably great call when the great moment arrives.
As a lifelong Cardinals fan, I have had the fortune of witnessing some truly amazing moments watching and listening to my team. For my first article on this wonderful new site, I had the daunting but pleasurable task of compiling the best of these broadcast calls in Cardinals history (in an oh-so-readable Top List Format!). The original idea was for a Top 10, but after conducting my research I felt that limiting to 10 would leave out too many classic moments I wanted to talk about. Thus, the list expanded to 15, plus a bonus honorable mention at the end! Since this became a rather lengthy endeavor, it has been cut into three parts for your reading enjoyment. Without further blabbering, here are entries 15-11 of the 15 best broadcast calls in Cardinals history:
15. Rick Ankiel Return Home Run
- Date: August 9, 2007
- Location: St. Louis
- Broadcaster: Dan McLaughlin
- Transcript: “Ankiel out to deep right field, has a chance to leave the ballpark, it’s gone! A 3-run shot for Rick Ankiel, back in the major leagues. Remarkable. 5-0, St. Louis….Re-markable.”
- The situation: The story of Rick Ankiel is one all Cardinals fans understand as one of the most bittersweet of this era. A former left-handed pitching phenom, he suffered a bizarre collapse in the 2000 NLDS against Atlanta in which he not only could not locate his pitches, but could hardly put the ball anywhere over the plate. Ankiel would never fully recover from his legendary case of the yips. In 2005, he decided to move on from pitching and attempt to make a go at it as a full-time outfielder. After a few years in the Cardinals system developing his new craft, Ankiel finally made his return to the majors, this time as an outfielder, on August 9, 2007 against the Padres. In the bottom of the 7th, the Cardinals led 2-0 and had runners on 2nd and 3rd, and Ankiel took Doug Brocail deep to right to give the Cardinals a 5-0 lead in an emotional moment.
- What made it so great: Part of the reason why I expanded this list to 15 is because otherwise, Danny Mac would have been left out entirely, and that is certainly not fair to the long-time play-by-play man for Fox Sports Midwest. Danny Mac has been consistently solid, both in terms of actually calling the game and making fitting calls in big moments. His problem for this list is that he calls only regular season games while this list is littered with playoff moments. Playoff moments obviously create more drama and are thus more conducive to classic calls. When Danny Mac is faced with a big moment, though, he usually gets it right and is very skilled at adjusting his tone for what the moment calls for.
There is a lot to be said for tone when it comes to broadcasting. Adjusting a tone from stoic to excited fundamentally changes the audience’s reaction in those moments. In big moments, broadcasters often take one of two approaches: 1) an excited reaction that puts the broadcaster on the same level as the listener, or 2) a poignant statement then a yield to the sound of the audience. Sometimes, though, for a certain type of moment, usually an emotional and triumphant one, a more reserved tone is appropriate. Here, we hear Danny Mac take that approach. For a man in Ankiel who had all the promise in the world, lost it all, then made a return against the odds that few expected, hitting a home run in his first plate appearance was the ultimate triumph. Everyone watching at home felt that sense of triumph along with him, and were left with the sense that hope and strength does sometimes pay off. For such an emotionally rich moment, Danny Mac’s composed, reserved statement of “remarkable…re-markable” was fitting in its simplicity, and kept all the emphasis on Ankiel as he rounded the bases. Although he is often not paired with the greatest talent, Danny Mac is incredibly skilled as a play-by-play man, and this moment was one of his finest works.
14. Stan Musial’s 3000th Hit
- Date: May 13, 1958
- Location: Chicago
- Broadcaster: Harry Caray
- Transcript: “Here’s the pitch…Line dr- THERE IT IS! Into left field! Number 3,000! A run scores! Musial around first! On his way to second with a double! Holy cow, he came through!”
- The situation: In the 17th season of a legendary career, Stan Musial became the eighth player in Major League history to record 3,000 career hits. Although he had wanted to reach this mark in St. Louis, he instead recorded the milestone hit during a pinch-hit appearance against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The fans in St. Louis were not at all disappointed, and Stan the Man was greeted by a congratulatory mob of fans at Union Station that night upon the team’s return. The rest of Stan’s 1958 season would be a step down from his usual level of success, but it should be noted that a “step down” for Stan constituted a 140 wRC+, good for 11th in the majors among qualified hitters.
- What made it so great: Another part of the reason why I expanded the list was that I wanted to include at least one call that pre-dated the Jack Buck era. This was undoubtedly the fair approach, but took some work on my approach. I was born long after Jack Buck took over the reigns so I did not personally have a bank of memories of these moments to work off of, and many broadcast calls of old are not easily accessible. Furthermore, although there have always been titans of the field, sports broadcasting really has come a long way, and the art of making a classic call in big moments is more of a modern invention.
This was not the case, though, for Harry Caray. Caray has become so synonymous with the history of the Cubs, many forget he was a legend as the voice of the Cardinals before he made the switch over to their heated rival. In so many ways, Caray was ahead of his time. While most broadcasting styles of the time were rather stiff and emphasized description over all, Caray reached the levels of genuine excitement that is more typical of modern play-by-play men. Here, simply put, Caray nails it. Busting into an excited “THERE IT IS” before he could even get into the call was fitting for a memorable piece of baseball history from one of the game’s all-time great icons- and on top of that, the extra base hit scored a runner, making it a critical moment in that game.
13. 1985 NLCS Game 6- Jack Clark HR
- Date: October 16, 1985
- Location: Los Angeles
- Broadcaster: Vin Scully
- Transcript: “The tying and possible winning runs are in scoring position with two out and Jack Clark coming up. Meanwhile, in reading Lasorda, talk about ‘walk him, and pitch to that blank blank Van Slyke.’ That’s what he just muttered in the dugout. ‘Do I walk him and pitch to that so-and-so?’ He’s not gonna walk him. It’s Jack Clark and Tom Niedenfuer going head to head, and the ball game on the line, and the crowd on its feet. One way or another, what a way to end…And he hits one to deep left field, and that one is gone!…And Lasorda got the answer to his rhetorical question. Something about ‘should I walk this guy and pitch to that so-and-so.’ Well, he didn’t walk him.”
- The situation: In an all-time classic series remembered more for what transpired two nights before (more on that later), the Cardinals entered Game Six at Dodger Stadium with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to clinch a World Series berth. Los Angeles led 5-4 in the top of the 9th, but the Cardinals were threatening. With one out and Willie McGee on 2nd, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda made the, let’s say, questionable decision to intentionally walk the usually light-hitting Ozzie Smith because Ozzie had been successful this series against reliever Tom Niedenfuer (again, more on this later). A Tommy Herr ground-out moved the runners over, leaving 1st open with two outs and Jack Clark at the plate. Lasorda could have chosen an intentional walk to the the slugging Clark and had Niedenfuer pitch instead to Andy Van Slyke, who had struggled all series. Instead, Lasorda decided to take his chances. His again questionable decision immediately provided consequences, as Clark took the first pitch deep to left, giving the Cardinals a 7-5 lead. The Cardinals would close out the Dodgers in the bottom of the 9th to advance to the World Series. Side note, I think Jack Clark may still be trotting around the bases.
- What makes it so great: Including a Vin Scully call feels like cheating a bit, but if national broadcast calls can be included, why not? Vin called baseball for nearly seven decades, and there is good reason why he lasted so long. While he may not be a favorite among those who prioritize analytical skills from their broadcasters, the fact remains that when it comes to the classic skill of setting the scene, nobody does it like Vin did. This ability is on full display in this classic call. This moment was really all about managerial strategy, and Vin sets the scene in the charming way only he could, describing Lasorda’s conversation with gems such as “pitch to that ‘blank blank’ Van Slyke” (likely an accurate representation of how Lasorda said it, I should add). “One way or another, what a way to end” is a perfect line to lead in to the first pitch of the at-bat, for a wild moment in what had been a wild series. Furthermore, credit to Vin for pulling off the very difficult task of making a good call for an opponent’s success. While many legends of broadcasting won’t be acknowledged on this list, this call was an easy addition.
12. Jhonny’s Bomb at Wrigley
- Date: July 8, 2015
- Location: Chicago
- Broadcaster: Dan McLaughlin
- Transcript: “Peralta jumps on this pitch, deep left field…GONE! It’s gone! Down to their final strike! Peralta, two run bomb, and that sends a jolt through Wrigley!“
- The situation: In what was a pivotal game in a heated NL Central race that featured both the established power Cardinals and the rising Cubs, the Cardinals had been trailing and, frankly, not playing well until late in the game. In the top of the 9th and up 5-4, Joe Maddon called on Pedro Strop (not his only mention on this list) to seal the deal. With a runner on 1st and two outs, Jhonny Peralta stepped to the plate. Strop got him to a 1-2 count, leaving the Cardinals down to their last strike, but Peralta jumped on the next pitch and snuck it just over the hideous plant-covered left field wall to give St. Louis the lead. The Cardinals would go on to win. The comeback was huge for the 2015 season and for staving off the inevitable rise of the Cubs. Among fans, there was a feeling of hopelessness during much of the game, that this was the night where the Cubs were finally passing us. Peralta crushing the spirits of the Wrigley fans was arguably the last shining moment of the early 2010s era of Cardinals dominance over the Cubs before they would go on to break their curse the next year.
- What makes it so great: Although this was not a playoff moment, a historic milestone, or a triumphant return, this was a critical and tense game in a heated rivalry. Danny Mac’s call here was one of genuine elation and put himself on the same level as the fans watching back home as we all leaped out of our chairs. The explosion of “GONE! IT’S GONE!” fit the emotional swing in momentum like a glove. Beyond that, what a broadcaster does during a home run trot can be pivotal. If it’s a home-team long ball and the fans are going wild, it is often best to stop talking yield to the roar of the crowd. In a situation like this, though, the crowd just had all the air sucked out of it, so talking or yelling through the trot is not such a bad thing. Danny Mac’s call of “a two-run BOMB” over the dead-silent Wrigley crowd as Peralta made his way around the bases highlighted a contrast that told the story of how the game had flipped on its head. I should note, John Rooney also had a fantastic radio call of this play, but I wasn’t able to hunt it down.
11. Big Mac’s 70th
- Date: September 27, 1998
- Location: St. Louis
- Broadcaster: Joe Buck
- Transcript: “It is a distinct possibility that this is his last at-bat of 1998. Take a good long look, this is gonna have to last you until next March in Florida. First and third, two out. Into left field! Number 70! How much more can you give us, Big Mac? Number 70!”
- The situation: Ah, the complicated legacy of Mark McGwire and the 1998 season. After the 1994 strike, MLB had a tough time re-gaining its popularity. This all changed with the 1998 season, in which the home run numbers went crazy and two separate players were pursuing the single-season home run record. Although both Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa wound up surpassing Roger Maris’s long-time record, McGwire did so first and finished with more than Sosa. Despite this, the Cardinals were out of the playoff hunt on the last day of the season. Thus, the attention turned to whether Big Mac could top off his legendary season by being the first person to hit 70 home runs in one season. In his final plate appearance of 1998, McGwire hit a line drive shot to left field on the first pitch. Although the legacy of McGwire and 1998 are cloudy now for reasons that we are all aware of, at the time, this was a fitting cap to a season of incredible performances.
- What makes it so great: To say that Joe Buck is a polarizing broadcaster would be an understatement. Fans either love him or hate him, and everyone thinks he hates their favorite team specifically. Whatever your opinion of the man is, Buck is one of the premier play-by-play men in all of American sports. Among Cardinals fans, there is no doubt that being the son of Jack Buck, one of the greatest broadcasters of all time and beloved St. Louisan, creates a lot of expectations. A criticism that the younger Buck receives which is more fair is that he can be aloof and not show the proper excitement in big moments. Sometimes I agree with this criticism, but not always, since not every play-by-play man can be a Gus Johnson who can lose his mind constantly and still keep credibility. What else is true, though, is that 1990s Joe Buck was different stylistically than the Joe Buck who gets this criticism now. In the 90s, it was much more common for Buck to get excited in the booth. This call was a prime example of Buck’s old style (there will be another in Part 2- kudos to anyone who can guess what it will be). He sets the stage perfectly by emphasizing that this is assuredly the final moment of this historic run, as the fans, also recognizing this, rose to their feet. Then, as McGwire hits a rocket on the first pitch, Buck loses it. As weird as it sounds, a voice crack in certain moments can actually be effective, which we’ve seen famously from ESPN’s Sean McDonough in recent years. If the moment is so exciting that it makes the broadcaster “break,” then it emphasizes the excitement even further. This has been more rare from Buck than someone like McDonough, but here, the voice crack during “into left field” adds to the excitement of the call. “How much more can you give us, Big Mac?” was the perfect punctuation to the legend of 1998. No matter how you feel about the 1998 home run race or Mark McGwire now, there is no question that at the time, this was as fun as baseball has ever been.
That’s the end of Part 1! Stay tuned for the next installment, in which we cover entries 10-6. Included will be two calls from an all-time Cardinals broadcast legend, a baseball feat that may never be accomplished again, a World Series championship winner, and an incredible single-game performance that gets forgotten in Cardinals lore.
Until then, please read the rest of the fine content on this wonderful new site. If you want to see more of my thoughts on Cardinals baseball and other sometimes-interesting stuff, follow me on twitter at @turpin4prez. Finally, if you want to learn some good old-fashioned Midwestern cooking and read some stories about my crazy but awesome family, check out my mom’s blog thekitchenwench.com, in which I occasionally pop up and try not to ruin things. Until next time, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter, we’d love to hear from you!