St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri on July 11, 1976 · Page 105
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St. Louis Post-Dispatch from St. Louis, Missouri · Page 105

St. Louis, Missouri
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 11, 1976
Page 105
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eveiydky Bob Starr's office is the broadcast booth at Busch Memorial Stadium, from where he and Mike Shannon (right) have a perfect view of the action below. The Shining Starr Is Hiding His Light By Joe Pollack Of th- IWDispatch Staff Bob Starr wanted to be a football coach. Hearing this ambition, many people would immediately doubt his sanity. Instead, he became a sportscaster, which would not cause too many of them to change their minds, especially if they consider his travel schedule. An absurd peak was reached last September, when he was involved in Cardinal baseball, Cardinal football and University of Missouri football, all at the same time. He worked a baseball game between the Cards and the Mets in New York on Friday night, flew to Minneapolis for a Big Red-Minnesota Vikings game on Saturday night, returned to New York for the Cards and the Mets again on Sunday afternoon, then showed up in Birmingham, Ala., on Monday to do the Mizzou-Alabama game. "And it went off without a hitch," he said with a smile. "Really," he continued, "I don't mind that sort of schedule at all. It's sometimes irritating, or frustrating, when connections are tight and the weather is bad, but I'm sure there will be weekends this fall when I'll miss it." Starr joined the rather exclusive ranks of major league play-by-play baseball announcers this year when he was hired to succeed Jack Buck as the voice of the baseball Cardinals, and he will remain on duty with the Big Red after the conclusion of the baseball season, but he will abandon his four-year relationship with the Mizzou football team. "That means I'll be traveling with the football team to its road games," he noted, "instead of taking those middle-of-the-night flights the way I used to." One of those trips caused the 43-year-old announcer his closest call, and on the surface it was a relatively easy weekend, broadcasting the Missouri-Iowa State game on Saturday in Ames and the Cardinals-Eagles battle on Sunday in Philadelphia. All it entailed was driving from Ames to Des Moines, flying to Chicago, making a connection and arriving in Philadelphia shortly after midnight. "It looked like a breeze," he said. "I left Ames comfortably after the game, made the first flight, arrived in Chicago in lots of time, had a drink and got on the plane. The problem began when we arrived over Philadelphia to learn that the airport was closed, so we were diverted to Baltimore. "We got to Baltimore just in time because they were about to close down that airport, too. The fog was just terrible. "A passenger agent said he'd provide a limousine for those of us who had to get to Philly. The 'limousine' turned out to be a 10-passenger van and nine of us Keeping one eye on his stopwatch, Starr interviews Cardinal Coach Preston Gomez for his pre-game broadcast. Sv p iv.iiMr T wniw iw mill w imiiiimm"1'"1"'1'" .amm.,,,. ju ii.Mku.. ...Mont . '""'mi'nlii' IriiiiMNi'ii miT'i"'"'""''!' crowded into it for the ride, which seemed to take forever. I'm not even sure how we made it, because I could barely see the road and I think my eyes were as good as the driver's. "We finally made it about 6:15 Sunday morning." One of Starr's strong suits, in a world filled with trips like that, is that he doesn't sleep very much. He doesn't like to go to bed, and he'll sit and swap stories with players, coaches, team officials or media types as long as someone will sit and talk with him. "And I don't sleep well on airplanes, either," he added. Starr, who is roundish of face and figure and a touch jowly, is a warm human being who is a consummate professional with an incredibly small ego in a business that is filled with people whose egos are as large as their professionalism is small. "People are interested in the ball team and in the game that I'm reporting," he said "I don't think they want to know about me " Listening to Starr brings this out. He He is the voice of the Cardinals, not of Bob Starr. identifies himself at the beginning of the broadcast sometimes. His partner in the booth, Mike Shannon, will call him by name, and Starr goes through the remainder of the game, even to sign-off, without another personal mention. He is the voice of the Cardinals, not of Bob Starr. Starr's lack of egotism reaches to the point where he did not apply for the Cardinal job in the first wave that followed Buck's announcement that he was giving up the post. ' "We never heard from him," said Bill Fisher, who is vice president in charge of programming for Gardner Advertising Company and the executive producer of the Cardinal broadcasts. Several hundred applicants came out of small stations, large stations, closets and woodwork to bid for the play-byplay position while Starr, who had done about 60 games as a swing man during the 1974 and 1975 seasons, kept on doing football broadcasts. "I hate to apply for jobs," he said. But when he was asked, informally, if he were interested, Starr, also informally, allowed as how he was mighty interested. When Starr first became involved with the Redbirds, in that swing capacity during televised games over two seasons, he had broadcast the grand total of two major league baseball games in a sportscasting career that dated back to I tklfr num. JgtS- - .cs ... (SSte, S- tf I :." ? -m 3 1957, and he didn't even have an audition tape to submit. Still, he got the job. "We knew Bob, however," Fisher said. He stood in the rear of the Cardinal broadcast booth in Busch Stadium while Starr and Shannon described the baseball game going on in front of them. Starr, nervous during games, smokes heavily and is a busy pencil-tapper, softly bouncing the eraser against the ledge in front of him. When he isn't bouncing the eraser, he uses the other end of the pencil to keep his score card up to date. "He was the kind of man we wanted," Fisher went on. "He knew the area, and the area knew him. He was a Midwest-erner and he was a low-key announcer who knew his business and his baseball. "And we've been totally satisfied with the decision. Bob works very hard at what he does, rarely complains, is a real asset to the broadcasts and has become very popular on the network. "Of course, there was some resistance to the change. There is always resistance to change. There was some when Jack Buck replaced Harry Caray, and also when Starr replaced Buck. But we think that everyone is very pleased with Bob, and I know that we at the agency are very happy." In his position as Cardinal broadcaster, Starr is under contract to Anheuser-Busch, Inc., and his contract, like that of the team's field manager, Red Schoen-dienst, is for one year. Shannon, on the other hand, is employed by Gardner. Starr works for KMOX in his football broadcasting capacities, and the KMOX function, in terms of the baseball broadcasts, is strictly as the originating station for the Cardinal network and as the seller of some .commercial time. Around the batting cage and in the clubhouse, the players call Starr "Oklahoma Crude," a reference to the announcer's Oklahoma upbringing and a recent movie about the state and the oil industry. As athletes are wont to do, the nickname is often shortened to "O.C." or sometimes just to "Crude," but Starr doesn't seem to mind. His response, when the athletes get on him, is usually to grin and say, a bit wryly, "Oh, you're just picking on the fat kid from the end of the block." Shannon took over the play-by-play duties for an inning, and Starr sat back to reflect a bit. "I've always had good relations with athletes," he said, "no matter where I've been or what the sport was. Maybe it's because of my own athletic background. "But I also feel a little different in terms of journalistic responsibility when I'm up here, behind the microphone. I report what is going on. If a baseball player drops a fly ball, or a football player fumbles, I say so. But in a game rKt-I)i.spah'h Photos By Dave Regier Starr in action, pencils and scorecard in front of him, flanked by Shannon (foreground) and pro- ducer Tom Barton. f situation there is no time to dwell on it, or to make comparisons, or to check statistics. "I hope the Cardinals win all their games, and I don't think my feelings are hidden, nor should they be. "A newspaper reporter has a different function. He is in a position to analyze at some length, especially since he doesn't start to write until the game is over. He can look at the game as a whole. "I have to look at each individual situation and describe it." Starr was born in Kansas City, then was adopted by an Oklahoma couple and moved there when he was an infant. When asked where in Oklahoma he grew up, Starr's standard response is "all over," because his father was a pipeline worker. But the family settled down long enough for him to go to high school in Sapulpa, where he was a football and baseball player, and he then went to Coffeyville Junior College, Coffeyville, Kan., where he was a catcher and third baseman in baseball, a guard and fullback in football. Starr was a good enough athlete to earn a scholarship to the University of Kansas as a football player in 1953, and that season also soured his ambitions toward coaching. The Kansas coach was J. V. Sikes, in his sixth year. He'd never had a losing season, though he was unable to beat Oklahoma and had more than his share of problems with Missouri. Sikes was dismissed at the end of a 2-8 campaign, his only sub-. 500 season, and the experiences of the year soured Starr. He was forced to watch the abuse of a man he liked, respected and admired, and it turned him off. Army service followed, and Starr played baseball at Fort Gordon, Ga., where his military experience included two home runs off pitcher Billy O'Dell, a long-time major leaguer. "I could hit the curve ball," Starr said happily, "and that's what he threw me. For some reason, I could always hit a curve ball, even better than a fast ball." Starr gave his baseball abilities a test in the Pittsburgh organization in the spring of 1956, assigned to the Pirate farm club in Brunswick, Ga. He lasted three weeks, was injured and went home. Home by this time was St. Elmo, 111., and Starr found an opening in radio, auditioning in Effingham and being sent to Fort Madison, la., for the summer. He returned to college at Western Illinois University, in Macomb, hoping to play more football, but a shoulder injury ended his career. Like many another athlete, he moved from the field to the booth, and then began the regular sportscaster's trek from town to town Macomb, Blooming- V l iff H, r ton and then Peoria, where he did Bradley University basketball for four years. The veteran announcer got his first experience on the problems of back-to-back college and pro football in his next post, in Boston, where he worked the rather hapless Boston Patriots and the Boston College Eagles. During his Boston stay, Starr had his first flirtation with the Big Red. The Cardinals, who had had more announcers than coaches, were interested in Starr, and Starr was more than merely interested in a chance to return to the Midwest, but his Boston station would not let him out of his contract. "That didn't really help my relationship with the station," he noted, "but I was busy up there, doing both radio and television, plus the play-by-play. The next time the Big Red were looking for an announcer, the club again turned to Starr, but he was on his way to San Francisco, supposedly as an announcer for the San Francisco Giants. A station battle ensued, however, and Starr was caught in the switches. He did . . . it was going to he either baseball or rad io . straight sports reports, and those two baseball games, until 1972 came along and the football Cardinals, again looking for an announcer, found that they and Starr finally were on the same wave length. As a football announcer, Starr is somewhat of a rarity. He does not use complicated spotting boards, nor does he use spotters. He works from numerical rosters of the two teams, pasted to the work space in front of him, and relies on a statistician and his analyst for further information. "I've always worked that way," he explained. "I don't understand people who use those involved boards. Nor can I understand why I need someone to tell me who's carrying the ball or making the tackle. Heck, I'm watching the game, too, and I have enough knowledge of football to see what's going on. I can usually spot open receivers and, since I know the favorite offensive patterns of the teams, I can pick things up from there. I expect the analyst to pick up key blocks and things, and of course I need a statistician." In the booth, Starr earns nothing but praise from those who have worked with him. He is not tyrannical, nor does he run over the lines of those who sit alongside. He is easy to talk with, to joke with, and when the other announcer has relatively little experience, Starr is an expert teacher. Starr and Ron Fairly visit before the game in the Cardinal clubhouse. The player has just autographed the ball for the announcer and not vice-versa. ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH SUNDAY, JULY 1 1, 1976 SECTION 1-12G "There really hasn't been that much transition," said Shannon, who spent four years in the baseball booth with Buck before Starr arrived. "They're both highly professional." Shannon thought a moment, then grinned. " "Oh," he said, "I know one difference. Buck smoked Marlboros and Starr smokes Tareytons. I could always mooch from Buck, but it's different now." Starr also did Missouri basketball games the last few years, and that's another thing he'll be giving up. "Basketball," he said reflectively, "is really the easiest sport to do. The action is going on constantly, and all you have to do is describe it. "Football is a little harder, but again, the action is there in front of you. "I guess baseball is the most difficult, since there is a lot of time to fill, and more talking is necessary. "It's also a sport where the broadcasters are more like the players. For example, football players are difficult to talk with on Sundays because they're all keyed up for the game. The announcer gets a little more keyed up, too, since there's only a game once a week. "In baseball, things are a little calmer. Baseball players could not hype themselves like football players because the season covers 162 games, with a game almost every day, and you just can't live under that daily pressure. I think the same thing is true for an announcer, and baseball announcers tend to be a little softer, a little lower of key. "But among the sports, I really don't have a preference. I love doing all of them." Starr is the father of two sons, 15-year-old Mark, who will be a sophomore and a football player at Parkway Central High School in the fall, and 10-year-old Jim, a student at Green Trails School. "Where they're concerned," he said with a sigh, "I have the same complaint as the athletes do. I just don't have enough time to spend with them." Up and down the Cardinal network, the fans are growing to like Bob Starr. He has an easygoing approach, a soft-spoken manner that is easy to live with and very long-lasting. The shriek of excitement may be necessary from time to time, but the quiet intelligence will be comfortable for a listener over a period of years. And as the stadium lights blinked out, and he came through the front door to be met by a handful of autograph seeking youngsters, who recognized him and called him by name, sending a wide smile to the round face, it became easy to paraphrase an old aphorism and say, "It doesn't take a heap of ego to make a Starr a star."

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