I was given the opportunity to speak with Joe Buck for 15 minutes about baseball, opening day, the challenges of baseball in a post-COVID outbreak world, and the future of baseball in general.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Joe Buck has a long, storied career. He has been working as an announcer since 1989. You could fit nearly my entire lifespan in his time as a nationally-recognized announcer. But as I spoke with Buck, it became easier and easier to get drawn into the conversation. His enthusiasm is contagious. I’ve been on the fence with how I feel about this season happening, but after speaking with him, I feel more ready than ever to say “play ball”.
Before we get to the thick of things, I want to extend another thank you to Joe Buck for taking time out of his schedule to speak with me, and to wish him luck for his first baseball broadcast of the year, this upcoming Saturday. Below is a transcript of our conversation. It has been cleaned up minimally for easier reading.
Jake Kostik: Hi Joe, thanks for speaking with me today. How are you feeling about the pandemic and how it relates to the baseball season?
Joe Buck: So I’m prepping this week for doing the Yankees and Nationals on Saturday, which will be nationally broadcasted on FOX. I can only tell you that of the stories I’ve read, the quotes that I’ve read, they’ve really made me happy. It seems like there’s a lot of moving parts, there’s obviously a lot of uncertainty with how this is all going to unfold, and nobody knows what’s around the corner. I think we’re all smart enough by now to know that by now. But the quotes I’m reading from players, they are all just amazed at how formal things are starting to feel. And that’s what I think we can all hope for, just a little feeling of normalcy, a little feeling of business as usual.
So if the players aren’t complaining about it, and they are excited about being back and competing, then I think good things are going to happen. So I am more excited now than I have ever been. And I don’t think I’ve ever been as anticipatory of starting work this season as I’ve been. This is number one for me. I’m smart enough to know that sports are not everybody's cup of tea, but I think that everyone in this country can at least recognize that sports are a big part of American life. When it’s gone, a pretty big chunk feels like it’s missing. Just bringing it back, in whatever form we can, is at least a mental, if not emotional tip off that life is starting to get back to a sense of normal. So that’s my hope, and what makes me most excited about doing the game on Saturday night.
JK: I understand there’s been a few changes with how things are handled in the booth this season. Can you speak to how you feel this situation is going to impact your job and your ability to call a ball game?
JB: I remember when my dad dropped me off when I was starting my broadcast career in Louisville, Kentucky. We were leaving spring training and we drove to Florida. He said, “You know Buck. Nobody cares if the announcer is hot. Nobody cares if they are listening to the game, if the announcer is cold. Nobody cares if the announcer played golf that day or whatever. They want to hear the game, and they want to watch the game and they want to enjoy it.” I don’t think those words have ever rung more true than they do right now. So on Saturday night, I’m doing the game. It’s Washington hosting the Yankees. I’m going to be sitting in a studio in Denver. John Smoltz, who I work with, will be sitting in a studio in New Jersey. And our producer, Pete Macheska, will be in a studio in L.A.
And it’s my goal for nobody to realize that anything is different than it has been for the last 24 years when we’ve called baseball on FOX. I’m not going to talk about it much or harp on it. People want to watch the game. I think if nothing else, it’s a bit of a departure from the day to day messaging we get. No matter where you sit politically or economically, sports tend to bring people together, and it’s really my objective to make it feel like business as usual.
To be honest, and answer your question, it’s going to be different, but doing a game on TV is a lot different than sitting behind home plate and watching the ball go out. Instead, I’ll be sitting in a studio and watching the ball come at me. A lot of times, you’ll be watching from home, and see a guy connect with a pitch, and be like “Oh my god that ball is gone!” and then they turn the cameras around, and it’s just a can of corn to the left fielder. So I feel I’m at a bit of a disadvantage. And we’re not really there, so we don’t have the same access to the players. We’ll still try to talk to the managers, and do what we can. I’m not going to harp on it. I’m just going to do my job and try to help people enjoy the game.
JK: Speaking more to that, do you feel like this is going to significantly hurt the prep work you put in before each game?
JB: Yeah, I definitely think that there’s a bit of a disadvantage. You like to look at people in the eyes when you are talking to them and getting information. Sometimes you can just tell by how a manager reacts to a question, not with a camera or a microphone in your hand, but just talking, to get a sense of how the manager really feels. Sometimes it’s not exactly what they say, but how they react or hem and haw at certain things. Not being there I think takes a little bit away.
But at the same time, I think being removed from it allows for you to have kind of a little bit more of a stream of consciousness. Being in a loud stadium really takes some of the conversation away between the play-by-play guy and the analyst. So in a way, being removed from that and being what feels like 20,000 feet in the air, you can really get into some of the bigger issues. You can get more into these storylines, what these players have been through the past few weeks. So we’ll have enough personal information having talked to, in this case, Dave Martinez and Aaron Boone, to help lend some credibility to what we’re saying. We feel it will take on a little different tone, but at the end of the game, it’s who won, who lost, and why did they win or lose, and that’s the most important part of the story.
JK: What do you feel like the future of baseball is going to look like? Not just in 2020, but well beyond it? Do you feel how the game is played or broadcast is going to change?
JB: I don’t know. I think this could be a real opportunity. Back when we were talking a couple months ago about potential innovations that MLB was trying to bring in whether it was different formulas for playoff seeding or a pitch clock or starting extra innings with a runner on second base, you know, they are trying to evolve. And I think 2020 should be the test case for a lot of different innovations that they want to try. I don’t know how much they are going to get to, because ultimately it takes a lot of cooperation between the players union and ownership. I think anything they can try has the potential to be added to the coverage of going forward. And I think with nobody in the stands, that allows for better camera angles and allows for more interesting coverage angle-wise. So maybe some of those new angles become part of the coverage moving forward. I don’t know what the world is going to look like in 2021. I don’t think we even know what the world is going to look like in just two weeks. So I just think this is the opportunity to change some things up and see what sticks. See what people like, what people don’t.
JK: Is there any particular change you are really itching to see?
JB: Well I think the expanded rosters are interesting. I’m interested to see how every organization, each one of which thinks they are smarter than the other twenty-nine, are going to approach building a roster, how they are going to approach putting a pitching staff together, how they plan to use their starters and their relievers, whether they do four-man rotations, five-man rotations. I’ve heard some teams going with six-man rotations. I just don’t think any two teams are going to go about 2020 the same way knowing it is a 60-game season. I think baseball is at its best when there’s some form of immediacy. Immediacy happens in a Game Six or a Game Seven or in a play in series, or the Wild Card Game, and I think that same immediacy will be present in a 60-game schedule. Nobody is going to be willing to just roll over and say “Oh well, we just had a bad week”. A bad week can end your year or season. So because it’s only 60 games I think whatever two teams are playing that night are going to do whatever it takes to win that game. That to me is fun. I’m most excited about seeing how the immediacy of a 60-game season plays out.
JK: You’ve had a long, expansive career. To this point, what’s the coolest memory you recall from your career?
JB: If we’re just talking baseball, probably the 2004 Red Sox or 2016 Cubs and seeing two fanbases finally get a chance to celebrate at the end of October instead of being frustrated. You know, I think just getting to call those two streaks ending, things like that are going to be what I remember when I’m long gone from this business. Super Bowls, big moments, you know, whatever, being the big national guy, it’s not really easy, because you aren’t really there, you’re not representing a certain fanbase, you’re representing the sport. You aren’t there just to get excited for one team, or sad for only one team.
JK: And that’s something I think is often taken for granted when we watch these national games. You really have to call it down the middle, and more how it is, without too much extra spin.
JB: Right, all season long, fans are hearing their own TV announcers jump for joy when their team hits a home run, and call a home run for the other team in a more dejected voice, and they get a ring if the team wins, those announcers. And I’ve been on that side of it, I get it. But when you are there representing the network, and the sport, in this case, Major League Baseball, you have to get excited for both sides. You have to be honest, not every team is perfect, not every player is the best player on the planet. Sometimes you say those things and fans don’t love it. If it’s not me saying it, it’ll be somebody else. So until they pat me on the shoulder, I’ll just keep on doing it.
JK One last question as far as the Sox and baseball are concerned, what’s your favorite Red Sox moment that you called?
JB: Looking back in time, and I don’t think that I knew it at the time, but for the Sox, I have to go back to the Game F of the 2004 ALCS. Coming off Game Three, which was a bludgeoning by the Yankees at Fenway Park. I’m really close with Kevin Millar, and I get it when they say “all we need is just four one game winning streaks” or however it was that they said it. You got to the ball park before Game Four, and you just felt like it was a matter of time. If it’s not tonight, it’s tomorrow. If it’s not tomorrow, it’s back in New York.
But watching the game, Billy Mueller got a huge hit, the stolen base by Dave Roberts, my aforementioned buddy Millar getting a walk, and them doing all this against Mariano Rivera. I think that had a lot to do with it. I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about that until right now, but I think them beating Rivera and tying that ball game, because Rivera had been so infallible, was just an extra dose of confidence. It wasn’t just that they won the game, it’s the way they won the game. That propelled them to win the rest of that series. It didn’t matter if they were matched up against the greatest teams in history, they were going to win that series no matter what. They were red hot. They were good. In fact they were a great team, but they were so confident that they were going to beat anybody in front of them.
JK: As I understand, you have partnered with Michelob Ultra. Want to tell us a little about what’s going on with that?
JB: Yeah, it’s good to be back with my friends at Michelob Ultra and Anheuser-Busch, being a St. Louis guy and knowing that their headquarters is right down the street. Doing play by play, and calls, to fans submitting their videos of different things they are doing, around the house, outside the house, on a lake, whatever it is. I’m going to pick a handful of these, the four best ones, and I’ll put my voice to it, put it back on the internet. It’s something I did earlier in the quarantine and pandemic, and it seemed to really strike a chord with people. Ten million plus views or so when I did it the first time around, and now we have Michelob Ultra as part of it this time around, which excites me because first of all, I’m a fan of what they do. I’m a director at Michelob Ultra. Secondly, it’s the right kind of brand to have fun with this, and bring smiles to people’s faces. And I think that’s what we need right now, more than ever.
JK: I think that I’m inclined to agree with you on that point, we could all use a little more happiness and smiling in the world right now.
JB: Oh my god, yes. We’re all so divided, wherever you are, politically, economically, whatever, but sports is the great unifier.
If you are curious about the promotion Joe Buck is speaking about at the end, I have left some information below, for your perusal.
From now until August 1, users can share their videos on social media with the hashtag #ULTRABuckCalls. Joe will choose four of his favorite fan-submitted videos and provide commentary over the video. Then, the updated videos will then be shared on Fox Sports, Michelob ULTRA and People Are Awesome social channels later this month.
I want to extend one more thank you to Joe Buck for taking time out of his schedule to speak with us here at Over The Monster, and wish him well as he calls his first broadcast of the season, this Saturday on FOX.