An epic chapter in baseball broadcasting history is ending.
Joe Buck’s much-ballyhooed move from Fox Sports, where he had been for almost 28 years, to ESPN to call “Monday Night Football” has a profound ripple effect. Because of that, barring unforeseen developments, a member of St. Louis’ first family of sportscasting won’t be broadcasting Major League Baseball this season for the first time sine 1960 — more than six decades.
Buck’s father, legendary Cardinals announcer Jack Buck, was on the job from 1961-2001. Joe joined the crew in 1991, then started calling baseball for Fox when it began televising MLB games in 1996. He eventually transitioned full time to that network and had been on the job since. Until now, that is.
Buck, who was Fox’s lead MLB broadcaster for his entire tenure there and its top NFL voice for two decades, has duties other than “MNF” in his deal with ESPN — which was announced Wednesday. But those responsibilities, which include production, do not include any baseball for the network that has the national Sunday night package. And he’s fine with that.
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“It will seem more weird than anything,” he told the Post-Dispatch of leaving the family business. “I’m very proud of what I have done.”
Ballparks have been a major part of his work life for nearly two-thirds of his 52 years on the planet. Counting his time broadcasting minor-league baseball in Louisville, Kentucky, Buck has been calling the sport every year since he was 19 and at the highest level for decades. He has done 24 World Series and the past 22 in a row, records for a television play-by-play announcer.
“I feel like I’ve done all I can do,” he said, pointing out that he called huge drought-busting World Series championships for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs. And for good measure, he broadcast a couple by his hometown Cardinals.
“There’s no unfinished business here. I only wanted to do one more year of baseball, anyway,” Buck said.
He said he can envision his dad saying, “Enough is enough, Buck.”
But his baseball days might just be on hiatus. He’ll be 57, a relatively young man in sportscasting terms, when his ESPN contact ends.
“This doesn’t mean I’m completely done with it,” he said.
A new challenge
Buck will be the new voice of “Monday Night Football,” which long ago was a traveling circus that was the king of all sports television. But in recent years, it has fallen into a revolving cast in the booth while receiving a second-tier schedule of matchups.
It will be a massive opportunity for Buck and longtime NFL broadcast partner Troy Aikman, who agreed to make the move from Fox before Buck did, to help return the show to the top. Buck not only knows the illustrious history of “Monday Night Football,” which has been around since 1970, but has witnessed it firsthand.
His father, along with Hank Stram, had the radio broadcasts of the series for all but two years from the late ’70s through the early ’90s. Young Buck often would make the trip with his dad to observe the spectacle, which in its heyday had Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith in the booth and later Al Michaels and Dan Dierdorf with Gifford.
“It really gives me (a charge) hearing that music, knowing I’ll put my voice to it,” Buck said of the show’s theme song. In fact, it was playing on a social media post he recorded to celebrate his move.
It was important for him to keep continuity with Aikman, whose jump to ESPN was a huge contributing factor in Buck’s decision to move.
“This business is a lot less forgiving (in regards to) letting people find their way now,” Buck said of social media scrutiny for a new broadcast team. “Knowing the person to my right has been there the last 20 years is important.”
But an even bigger factor might be that his wife, Michelle Beisner-Buck, is a feature reporter for the “MNF” pregame show, and they’ll be able to spend more time together, even traveling in unison. During the football season, their schedules had clashed, so this gives more cohesion — which is welcomed because they have 4-year old twin boys.
“It’s really exciting to work on the same nights with her,” he said. “We were like two ships passing in the night.”
Beisner-Buck didn’t hide her excitement on an Instagram post:
“… Cannot believe that Joe and I get to share the same night of work together. ‘Take your spouse to work’ kinda magical Monday Nights!!!!! A new chapter for all of us. This is going to be life changing for our family.”
The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported that Buck’s five-year ESPN contract is worth about $15 million annually. That’s a raise from the approximate $10 million he would have made this year at Fox under a deal that was to run through the Super Bowl next February and more than the $12 million annually he was offered to extend the partnership.
But Fox is letting him out of the deal, something it didn’t have to do. And Buck is grateful, especially to Eric Shanks, CEO of the sports division, and Lachlan Murdoch, who runs the entire Fox Corp.
“The biggest piece in all of this was Fox,” Buck said. “Through 27 years, I never really said ‘no’ to anything they asked me to do,” including broadcasting fishing and daredevil stunts. “Shanks understood I was ready for a change.”
Shanks issued a statement about the departures:
“Troy Aikman and Joe Buck have been a part of some of the greatest football moments in Fox Sports history. Buck’s voice, as an original member of the network, has also been the soundtrack for a generation of baseball fans. … The pair will forever be a part of the network’s DNA, and as they embark on their next chapter, we wish them and our friends at ESPN all the best.”
Buck said Shanks told him, “I love you. We part on the best possible terms. We can turn this into a positive for everybody.”
Industry speculation has Kevin Burkhardt being elevated to replace Buck on football and Joe Davis to do so on baseball.
“I get out of the way and open a spot for people I know and trust,” Buck said of whomever follows him in those roles. “It’s all good, I talk to the Fox guys all the time. … This feels really good.”
Still, it is hard in some ways to leave.
“Sure it is,” Buck said. “I’ve been at Fox for more than half my life.”
The fast track
Last fall, when Buck was in his dizzying October run of being on the air just about every night while juggling postseason baseball games with Thursday night and some Sunday afternoon NFL broadcasts, he talked about having a more leisurely 2022 in which he could take time to plot his career course.
But a wild series of events at the top level of NFL broadcast booths led to a whirlwind of activity that began when Aikman chose ESPN over an overture from Amazon, which takes over the Thursday package from Fox to exclusively stream. Had Aikman taken the latter, he still could have done a significant amount of Fox Sunday games.
There have been multiple other moving personnel pieces at the top of the NFL announcer chain, including Al Michaels being courted by Amazon now that his NBC contract has expired, and Mike Tirico is taking over on Sunday nights. All this forced Buck, whose first feeler from ESPN came through Aikman, into a quick decision after Fox signed off on his departure.
“It’s not a stretch to say a month ago I didn’t think this was even on the board as a possibility,” he said.
Buck’s Fox exit isn’t coming in a stadium. He has dabbled in entertainment programming over the years and to that end on Wednesday night was unmasked as a losing contestant on Fox’s “Masked Singer” show — dressed as a ram, departing by singing Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” on an episode that was taped in early February.
“Twenty-seven years at Fox, 27 years, my goodbye on air, on the network, is me singing dressed as a Ram … a larger-than-life Roman solider guy,” Buck said on the latest edition of his “Daddy Issues” podcast he does with Oliver Hudson. ”It only proves how fast the deal with ESPN came. … I had no idea that would be my last moment at Fox.”
Actually, he’s still not done, albeit via recorded programs. He serves as the “play-by-play” announcer on Fox’s “Domino Masters” game show, which airs Wednesdays.
The last domino of the season likely will fall in mid-May. By then, Buck’s ESPN contract already will have kicked in — it’s effective May 1 — and he is eager for a fresh start.
“It’s going to be exciting to walk into a room and build new relationships,” he said. “I really can’t wait.”
ESPN announced that will bring Joe Buck and Troy Aikman over from Fox to call “Monday Night Football,” and handle other assignments.