This past week, the Cardinals suffered two terrible losses, incalculable in their impact. Long time radio announcer Jack Buck passed away after a long bout with Parkinson's disease, cancer and pneumonia, and staff ace Darryl Kile died suddenly from a blockage of his coronary arteries.
Buck was the best broadcaster ever. No one combined his technical strength of precisely describing the action, with his emotional strength of being caught up in a moment but without being maudlin or overzealous in praise. There was no hype when Buck called a game. His reactions, like his personality, were genuine, honest, often humorous but never mean-spirited. His call of Game 1 of the 1988 World Series is still thrilling, despite having been replayed at least ten thousand times over the last decade or so.
Many people have said that St. Louis is the best baseball town in America. And while several cities have enjoyed successful teams for a long time as St. Louis has, none of them had Jack Buck. People all over the midwest became Cardinal fans, even if they lived in other major league cities, listening to Jack Buck on the radio. Even people who actively rooted for other teams, even if they were division rivals, usually had the Cardinals as their number two team.
Stories of his generosity with his time, money and energies are legion. Yet despite his appeal and acclaim, there was never even a hint of ego with Buck. He was the Tom Hanks of broadcasting - brilliant with his craft, humble with his accomplishments and accessible to everyone along the way.
While his passing, tragic as it was, was not entirely unexpected given his health the last two months, Darryl Kile's was.
Kile was 33, the apparent picture of health. He had pitched in the big leagues for 12 years and never missed a start due to a health problem. Last year, he pitched through a shoulder injury that required surgery in the offseason. He didn't miss a start last year from the injury nor did he miss a start this year due to the recovery. And he did so quietly, almost embarrassed that he had ever had ever been injured in the first place. He was that way in Colorado, too, when he was struggling with his ERA and the fans' impatience; he always took the ball when it was his turn.
Kile wasn't just determined, he was good. His career ERA without the 2 seasons in Colorado would have been 3.70, an excellent mark in an ERA of 4.50 ERAs. Without those two years of low gravity, he would have averaged 7.19 Ks per 9 innings for his career, which would have been good for 25th all-time, ahead of Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver and Jim Bunning. As it is, his 6.93 per 9 mark is 29th best.
I can not speak of his presence with his team mates because I never met him. But the reflection from the people who did know him - players, coaches, GMs, broadcasters - has been unanimous: that he was an upbeat and noble spirit with a uncommon devotion to his family and team, who took pride in leading by example, but was never too proud to help another.
Kile's father had passed away at a young age (44) due a stroke caused by the same condition, coronary atherosclerosis. But that disease doesn't usually pose a health threat until a person reaches their 40s or 50s. That a young man in the prime of his life and peak of fitness can be struck down without warning abruptly reminds us of our delicate mortality. That someone with such shining character and integrity should be taken away so suddenly and prematurely from a world desperately needing more makes us question Heaven's wisdom.
My sincerest hope is that the families and friends of these two men will one day soon find some comfort in the knowledge that they were much, much greater than their professional accomplishments. While their passing is devastating to so many, the way they lived their lives continues to be a brilliant light for us all.