BY DENNIS RICHARDSON
14 May 2021
ORLANDO, FL – One of my favorite baseball memories, as a youth in St. Louis, is spending warm summer nights lying on the living room floor next to my family’s big radio/Hi-Fi Stereo combination, listening to the caustic Harry Caray and the cerebral Jack Buck call Cardinals’ games on “KMOX Radio, the Home of St. Louis Cardinals Baseball.”
Back then no home games and only a select number of road games were televised. There was no ESPN; no “media platforms” for streaming games. Radio was the fans’ lifeline to Major League Baseball, the announcers’ words and rich voices making the action come alive.
I can still hear the disgust in the voice of Caray, who for some reason had a strong dislike of Cardinals’ all-star third baseman Ken Boyer, on a call. “Bottom of the ninth, Cardinals trail by a run. Boyer at the plate, runners on second and third, two outs. Here’s the three-two pitch to Boyer (brief silence). Oh, geez, he popped him up! Final score: Mets 3, Cardinals 2. Back after a word from our sponsors.”
St. Louis has a long and rich baseball broadcasting history. KMOX radio station started carrying Cardinals’ games in 1926. For many years (before the Dodgers and Giants migrated from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, in the late 1950s), St. Louis was Major League Baseball’s only team west of the Mississippi, and the league’s southernmost club. Thanks to KMOX, Cardinals’ games were the ones that fans in those regions followed.
The Cardinals’ reach was far and wide. Their games could be heard in more than 40 states. KMOX’s 50,000-watt signal was so strong that fans from North Dakota down to Louisiana could tune in to games, thus creating legions of loyal Redbirds’ fans.
‘Soundtrack of Summer’
As Joe Buck told the New York Times in a 2013 article, “The power of that station meant so much to countless people across this country. People riding on tractors or sitting on the porch, it was part of the soundtrack to their summer.”
As it was mine, listening to the huge radio in my family’s living room, or to a tiny transistor radio that I sneaked under my pillow when the game went past my bedtime.
Stories abound of people back then driving to the highest elevation near their homes just to listen to games on car radios. Former President Bill Clinton once recalled how, as a boy, after being sent to bed for the night, he listened to Cardinal games on a transistor radio hidden beneath his pillow (I knew there was a reason I liked Clinton). Novelist John Grisham painted a picture of Redbirds’ radio casts in his 2001 novel, A Painted House, which revolves around an impoverished family living on a cotton farm in rural Arkansas in 1952, very heavily Cardinals’ territory.
KMOX’s talent matched its signal strength. The station’s historical roster of baseball announcers reads like a who’s who in radio broadcasting, with a number enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Among the most notables: Dizzy Dean, Gabby Street (what a great name for an announcer), Milo Hamilton, Joe Garagiola, Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Joe Buck, Dan McLaughlin, Bob Carpenter, Joel Meyers, Mike Shannon, and Tim McCarver. It’s hard to imagine any local station matching that pedigree.
Sadly, St. Louis, the Cardinals (and Major League Baseball, for that matter) will lose a part of its rich radio broadcast history after this season, when Shannon retires after 50 years of announcing Cardinals’ games. He is scheduled to call 50 home games in his final season behind the microphone, becoming only the sixth broadcaster to call games for 50 years for one team, and just one of 14 MLB announcers to call games for a half century.
St. Louis is the only organization Shannon’s been connected to over his long professional baseball career. The St. Louis native turned down numerous college football scholarship offers in favor of baseball, playing nine seasons for his hometown Cardinals, 1962-70, and appearing in three World Series.
After the 1970 season he retired as a player, his career cut short by a life-threatening kidney ailment, and joined KMOX as a radio broadcaster in 1972. Lacking any formal broadcast training, Shannon struggled early on to find his voice, so to speak. The results were sometimes brutal, but he tackled it with the same determination he used in switching from right field to third base in 1968 so the Cardinals could acquire outfielder Roger Maris, which helped the team win the NL pennant. Eventually, criticism gave way to acceptance, and then to popularity.
Generations of St. Louis fans have grown up listening to him. When they hear, “Here’s a long one to left field. Get up, baby. Get up. Get up. Oh, yeah,” they know it’s Shannon behind the microphone calling a Cardinal home run.
The 81-year-old Shannon is Cardinals’ baseball, a local legend, a member of the team’s hall of fame, and as much a part of the organization as the “Birds on the Bat,” the Clydesdales, and greats like Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Albert Pujols. He lands at or near the top of any poll of favorite announcers by Cardinal fans, his name the one most frequently associated with radio or TV coverage of the team.
They Called Him ‘Moonman’
During his playing career, Shannon earned the nickname “Moonman.” Some say it was for the long home runs he hit. But, there are other versions. An article written by Kevin McCann on www.sabr.org says Shannon got the nickname while playing in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 1961, for the way he dodged pitches that sailed behind his back. “It looked like I was floating in mid-air,” Shannon recalled; while a teammate thought he “looks like a moon man.”
Hall of Famer and Cardinals’ teammate Gibson offered another version, in McCann’s article. “He’ll talk 15 minutes and when he’s through you’ll go away scratching your head and wondering what he said. He may start a conversation about baseball and end up with insurance after going through 45 other topics. You still don’t know what he said.”
Cardinals’ fans have come to know that feeling.
Shannon is not eloquent in the manner of the great, classic baseball announcers, like Red Barber, Vin Scully, Jack Buck, Mel Allen, Bob Costas, Bob Prince, Ernie Harwell, or Jon Miller. His style is more a fan-on-the-street type, like Dean, Ralph Kiner, Marty Brennaman, or Caray.
He is unique. How many announcers today would describe this play, as Shannon did: “That foul tip bounced up and caught him right in the groins...and that'll really clear your eyes out.” Not exactly eloquent, but listeners certainly understood what happened.
While Shannon may lack the regal, velvety smoothness of an Al Michaels, Scully, or Gary Thorne, he does not possess the annoying, bombastic overbearance of a Phil Rizzuto, Jerry Remy, or Chris Berman, either. Shannon’s work is often underrated -- he has won an Emmy for his broadcasting of Cardinal games.
Scully once described his own approach to calling games simply as imagining having a pleasant conversation with a friend. Shannon’s style is more of a hanging-out-with-a-buddy-and-enjoying-a-brew-while-watching-a-game.
Shannon’s calls of a game are colorful and enthusiastic. Yes, there are some convolutions of language that leave you saying, “Wait. What’d he just say?” But, his knowledge and love of baseball make the broadcast enjoyable and easy to listen to; isn’t that what a good announcer should do?
All too often, announcers today come across as self-important, intent more on demonstrating their knowledge of the game than helping fans understand the action; Shannon does not. As Jack Buck once said of Shannon: some players-turned-broadcasters try to shove that knowledge down listeners’ throats. “Shannon knows where to draw the line.”
Those Lovable Shannon-isms
Shannon is much beloved around Cardinals Nation, so much that his on-air gaffes have their own affectionate moniker. Just as New York has its Yogi-isms from Yogi Berra (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”) and Pittsburgh has its Kiner-isms from Ralph Kiner (“Solo homers usually come with no one on base”), St. Louis has its Shannon-isms.
It seems as if every Cardinal fan has a favorite Shannon on-air observation. Here are some of the more, uh, memorable comments from Shannon’s (hopefully) Hall of Fame radio broadcasting career:
“The outfield is deep and playing straightaway, and the infield is the same except first, second, third and short are playing him to pull.”
“He was trying to hit a three-run homer with the bases empty. To my knowledge, no one in the history of the game has ever done that. But, it could happen. You never know in this world of baseball.”
“And that youngster will leave the stadium with a souvenir today. Not a ball, but a nice looking bruise.”
“He hails from the island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is an island, isn’t it? Well, just try to swim off of it and I guess you’ll find out.”
Joe Buck: "Mike, the Cardinals would like to welcome a group of 19 French foreign exchange students in Section 382." Mike: "Where're they from, Joe?" Joe: "Uhh, France, I think."
"There's a long drive! And the second basemen catches it right behind the bag."
"The crowd's on their feet for the Canadian Star Bangled Banner."
“The big right-hander’s throwing up in the bullpen.” (instead of “up, throwing”)
"It's Mother's Day today, so to all the Mothers out there...Happy Birthday."
“We've got a day game tomorrow night!"
"Our next home stand follows this road trip.”
When talking about Dodgers’ Japanese pitching sensation Hideki Nomo: “He's is the biggest thing to hit Japan since they dropped that bomb on Nagashima!"
While broadcasting a game the day before Easter: "I just want to tell everyone Happy Easter and Happy Hanukkah."
When discussing a road game in Montreal: "This game is moving along pretty quick, it must have something to do with the exchange rate."
It Should be Entertaining
OK, so Shannon’s not always politically correct in our all-too-serious, walk-on-egg-shells, afraid-to-say-the-wrong-thing world. But, baseball could use some of Shannon’s everyman approach to calling a game. It is, after all, supposed to be entertainment.
For instance, former umpire Tim McClelland was known for his deliberate (read very slow) calls on balls and strikes, which over the years infuriated more than a few players, managers, announcers, and fans, and earned him the nickname “Rain Delay.” This is what Shannon reportedly said during one game that McClelland was working behind home plate: “Just so you know, this guy won’t ever call a pitch. He takes four, five seconds every single time; so tell you what, we’re just going to call ’em and then we’ll let you know if he disagrees with us or if he gets ’em right.”
The St. Louis Cardinals and KMOX both will lose a part of their rich histories this fall when Shannon steps out of the radio booth for the last time. Here’s hoping he gets to make another call later -- in Cooperstown, behind a mic, at his Hall of Fame induction speech.
Mike Shannon deserves it, and there’s nothing mangled about that call.
Dennis Richardson is a writer/editor with Words Matter. He has an extensive background as a reporter, copy editor, sportswriter, sports copy editor, and Senior Special Sections Writer with newspapers in Missouri and Florida. He lives outside of Orlando, FL.