Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Ordinary Start - A Remarkable Career

Image from mlb.com

DePaul basketball has won 1,365 games. Among those wins is a non-descript 70-68 road win over Ohio State in 1949. The 1949 Blue Demons squad was full of notable DePaul names – Bato Govedarica, Bob Kampa, Clem Pavilonis, Sam Vukovich and Jack Lahey.

On that night, fresh off a season-opening victory over St. Norberts, the Blue Demons travelled to Columbus to battle the Big Ten foe. The win is a game that is mostly lost in the annals of both DePaul and Ohio State, but for one man the night opened a new chapter in a life that would enrich the lives of sports fans forever.

On the microphone that night covering the Buckeyes for WCOL was legendary baseball play-by-play Hall of Famer Jack Buck. Amazingly, the broadcast was the first of Buck’s Hall of Fame career

Buck’s auspicious beginning is chronicled in his autobiography “That’s a Winner!” on pages 57-58.

"WCOL was not broadcasting sports at that time, but the general manager decided he wanted to carry Ohio State basketball. Any station that wanted to do the games could get the rights for the university events. There were several others already airing the games, but the GM thought it could be profitable. He wanted me to do the play-by-play, and I did. I didn’t know how to do it, but when the game started, I was at the microphone, doing play-by-play for the first time.

Ohio State and DePaul; I’ll never forget the starting line-ups – Schnitker, Donham, Taylor, Burkholder, and Brown for Ohio State; Leahy, Campa, Pavalonas, Vuckovich, and Govedarica for DePaul.

Years later, I was at a Super Bowl dinner in New Orleans and was seated next to Ray Meyer, the longtime DePaul basketball coach. I said “Ray, do you know one of your teams I really liked? That 1949 team of Leahy, Campa, Pavalonas, Vuckovich and Govedarica.”

“Damn,” he said, “How do you remember those names?” I told him why I was able to remember that lineup.

I was still a student at the time, and everyone in our class knew I was doing the game that night. The assignment for everybody else in that class was to listen to me and critique my broadcast the next morning. The professor’s name was Dick Mall, who later became the head of alumni affairs at Ohio State.

Both teams used a fast-break offense, and they played about nine minutes before either team called a time out. I said, “DePaul calls time out, thank God.” The use of that phrase was one of the criticisms the next morning.

The critiques were honest and helpful, but I’ll never forget what the professor said to me: “You’d better find something else to do for a living.” I knew he was wrong. I was still chasing my dream."

Click here for link to google books link to see complete text of book

Buck would graduate from Ohio State in 1949 with BA. He would begin baseball that summer by calling games for the Columbus Redbirds, the Triple AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

In 1954, he joined Harry Caray and Milo Hamilton in the box for the Cardinals and would become one of the most recognized voices in the history of baseball. He would have a career with Cardinals that would stretch into the 2000s. In all, Buck called 11 World Series, 18 Super Bowls, and four Major League Baseball All-Star Games. He received the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. Buck passed away on June 18, 2002.

Buck’s historic career began in a one of DePaul’s 1,365 wins and with advice to which he thankfully never listened.