June 27, 2017

Tradition Loses Again

Like many kids, I idolized baseball. I cheered the Yankees and remember the year Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing record of home runs in a single season. When we lived in Farmville, Virginia, I would deliver papers and then pedal my bicycle to the top of a hill east of town to listen to the Yankee games on a transistor radio. We considered the Yankees our team because the Richmond AAA club at the time belonged to the Nw York farm system.

I couldn’t find a Yankees game on radio when we moved back to Floyd County but I could pick up the 50,000-watt clear channel signal of KMOX radio in St. Louis and listen to broadcasts of Cardinal baseball games. Harry Carey and Jack Buck announced the games back then. But my interest in baseball faded, replaced by rapidly escalating teenage hormones, girls and cars.

In 1969, however, my fledgling journalism career took me to Alton, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, home of the Cardinals and all that major league baseball tradition.

Busch Stadium, along with The Gateway Arch, graced a revitalized downtown area of St. Louis. A statue of Stan Musial stood in the plaza of the stadium. Harry Carey was gone, fired in a personal tiff with Cards owner Augie Busch but Jack Buck stepped into the lead announcer job and became the voice of the team.

Over the next 11 years, I would attend, and cover as a photographer, both baseball and football games in Bush Stadium, watching Ozzie Smith perform his magic at shortstop and the Cardiac Cardinals under Don Coryell stun many more heavily favored teams in the NFL.

The baseball Cardinals went to the World Series in 1968, the year before I arrived in the area, and didn’t return to the series until 1982, the year after Amy and I left for Washington. We watched, on television, as the Cards won the series in ’82. Jim Hart, the football Cards quarterback, finished out his NFL career as a backup with the Redskins under Joe Gibbs, an assistant to Coryell in St. Louis, so we had a connection with the football Cardinals through the Skins.

A couple of years ago, while back in the St. Louis area to wrap up Amy’s mother’s estate, we bought tickets to a Cardinal baseball game. Jack Buck had just died and we wanted to see the team play in Busch Stadium one more time. But circumstances prevented us from making it that day. That’s all right, we said. We promised to make another game at Busch on a future visit to the city.

But we will never see the Cardinals play at Busch stadium again.. When the team lost game six of the League Championship in St. Louis Wednesday night, Busch Stadium hosted its last event. In the coming weeks, a demolition crew will set off the charges to bring Busch Stadium crashing down. The new stadium will also be called Busch but it won’t be the same.

The end of Busch Stadium isn’t the only tradition ending in St. Louis this year. That final playoff game marked the end of baseball broadcasts on KMOX radio, the home of the Cardinals for the past 52 years.

Both Busch Stadium and KMOX fell victim to the economics of modern-day professional sports. A new stadium will have more seats and skyboxes for big-time commercial sponsors and the Cards will own half of the new radio station home for the team – a station with a lower-power broadcast signal so the team can sell more broadcast licenses to other stations that want to carry Cardinal games.

It’s not the first time money outscored tradition in sports. Sadly, it won’t be the last.

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