Fans are forever trying to dissect the words of national sports announcers in general – and Joe Buck in particular – for signs of bias or, in some cases, disloyalty.
So the timing was a tad awkward last October when the Chicago Tribune printed comments Buck had made earlier in the season in which he said that calling Cubs games in the World Series would be “the highlight of my career.”
This was just before the Cubs faced Buck’s hometown Cardinals in an NLDS, and some St. Louisans were displeased.
The Cubs ended up winning that series, but not reaching the World Series – thanks to the Mets – but here they are again in midseason 2016, one of the best teams in baseball and a favorite to make it to the big show at last.
So does Buck still feel now the way he did late last summer?
“I do,” he said Thursday during a series of interviews to support the American Academy of Dermatology’s spotme.org site, which promotes skin cancer screening. “I get accused of rooting against everybody’s team, so now I am going to be accused of rooting for somebody’s team.
“It’s not that. I think baseball would get a big lift. I really believe that, like it was with the Red Sox in ’04. If they were to get to their first World Series since right at the end of World War II, it would be front-page news across the country, and baseball needs that.
“Baseball is really strong with the individual markets, but where they’ve struggled is the umbrella fan, like even if my team’s not in it, I’m watching. I think that’s what the Cubs provide. It’s what the Yankees always provided. I think it’s what the Red Sox provide.
“The Cubs would be such a unique story, even the non-fans would want to see if they can win their first since the early 20th century.”
Beyond that, of course, there is the personal attraction of being the first television play-by-play man EVER to call Cubs World Series games.
They last won a pennant in 1945, before commercial television became widespread, and last won it all in 1908, before the era of commercial radio.
“Nobody has ever done it on television; it just hasn’t happened,” Buck said. “So, that’s cool. It would be good for Fox, too, but I think more importantly it would be good for the sport.”
Last season it was the Mets who stood in the way, with a sweep of the NLCS. Saturday, Buck will be on the call on Fox when the Mets and Cubs meet at Citi Field.
“I’m certainly not counting the Mets out, and there’s not one general manager in baseball that is counting the Mets out with the trading deadline being at the end of [next] month and with the kind of pitching they have,” he said.
“Now, that comes with a huge asterisk – or a huge bone spur – attached to it. But if [Noah] Syndergaard can get over his, which is being reported as mild, and if [Steven] Matz can pitch through it and they get [Zack] Wheeler back and [Matt] Harvey builds and [Jacob] deGrom is better than he was, they’re still a major threat, and nobody is going to line up and want to play them.”
After a handful of games alongside John Smoltz, Fox’s new lead analyst, Buck said the transition has been easy and fun.
He recalled a journalist asking before the season how long it would take to develop chemistry with Smoltz.
“I said, ‘God, an inning?’ And it was half an inning,” Buck said. “He works at it. He’s really prepared and yet he’s a guy who has stood on the mound in Game 7 of a World Series. So it’s the perfect combination.”
Buck called Smoltz “a natural. I think he was preparing for this when he was playing. TBS used to have him on all the time from the dugout . . . He’s a real thinker and a guy who played for Bobby Cox forever and ended up in Boston and St. Louis and he’s been with some really good managers and learned from guys who are well-respected.
“When he shows up with notepads filled with information – a lot of it having to do with pitchers and counts and who’s good in what situation – it’s comforting to know he’s doing the work and it comes through on the air.”
Buck reiterated that no matter how much fans clamor for it – and how much he and his Fox bosses would like to see it – soon-to-retire Dodgers announcer Vin Scully will not accept an invitation to join the All-Star Game booth in San Diego.
“I got a question about that in Atlanta two days ago,” Buck said. “The question was posed: Will you let Vin Scully broadcast the All-Star Game?’ Well, there are so many things wrong with that question.
“First of all, I’m not doing the hiring. Secondly, I’ve already said that I would send a bus to go get him. And thirdly, he doesn’t want to do it. And I get it. Why would he?
“There’s nothing to gain. It’s not his style and he’s never worked with Smoltz and he doesn’t know who’s talking in his ear and it’s just completely foreign. Believe me, being my dad’s son I would love to see it, but it’s not going to happen.”
With Fox expected to hire former ESPN personality Skip Bayless, who has a contentious history with Buck’s NFL partner, analyst Troy Aikman, how does he expect that to go over?
“Whatever issues they had are a long time ago,” Buck said. “I think Troy Aikman stands in a class by himself, and I really mean that, and whether it’s Skip or anybody else, I don’t really know anybody that can chip legitimately at what he has put together in his career, in his life, the way he’s carried himself. I would think to Troy it’s insignificant.”
Buck said promoting skin cancer awareness was a “natural fit” because his mother, Carole, was diagnosed with melanoma several years ago.
“Luckily they detected it early, but when that happens in your family it raises the red flag and it changes the way you go about preparing for your day,” he said. “Sunscreen is a part of my day now.”
He noted that he often covers outdoor events, now including golf.
“Look, I’ve been lazy,” he said. “I play a lot of golf. I’m outside a lot and I’m guilty, of, ah, ‘I don’t need to put on sunscreen,’ or, ‘I’ll put it on later,’ and then you don’t.
“I do notice that the golfers when they’re at the driving range are lathering themselves in that stuff. You get baked out there. I guess the main thing I would tell you is the website you can visit is spotme.org, and all that information is there, including a free screening.”