So long, Moon Man: Mike Shannon calls it a career after nearly 60 years with Cardinals

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Photo: Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

DAN BUFFA, Special to the Jewish Light

“Get up, baby, get up.”

A simple sequence of words transformed into a rally cry. For as long as I can remember, that’s how a home run was called. While others define it as a long drive or a goner, Mike Shannon simply asked the ball to get up, like a low-flying plane barely climbing over a mountain. It’s what every St. Louis Cardinals fan 50 years and younger has known, driving around the city listening to the player-turned-radio broadcaster call a game.

What started with Jack Buck, gathering legend faster than a train, ended with John Rooney on Sunday afternoon at a rainy Busch Stadium. That was the final call for a legend in the booth and a fine player on the field–one with notable accomplishments. Along with hitting the last home run at Sportsman Park in 1966, Shannon was the first Cardinal to hit a home run at the old Busch Memorial Stadium, the one that used to be next to the giant parking lot that now houses the new Busch. Once his playing days were over, thanks to a kidney disease, Shannon entered the booth and never left.

I can’t soon forget seeing Shannon just about every day in the press box back when I worked at the stadium, dressed from head to toe in black clothing and grabbing a hot coffee on a brutally hot summer afternoon. That classic chuckle that sometimes evolved into a cackle would come out at least four or five times before he departed the room and headed back to the booth. Everywhere he went, a story was told and maybe two if there was time. What Bobby Plager was to the Blues, Shannon is to the Cardinals and then some; a player who just stuck around.

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Few can get some of his best calls out of their head, such as Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run back in 1998 or David Freese’s extra-inning blast in the 2011 World Series. “Deuces wild” was a popular saying over the decades, coming when there were two runners on base with two outs and a 2-2 count on the hitter at the plate. While most adore the home run calls, I lived for the gritty ninth inning save situations with Shannon at the microphone. How he would describe the closer preparing to pitch while describing the scene with the crowd.

“The runners will take their lead. The crowd starts to come alive here at Busch as Izzy gets the sign. He comes set, checks the runners, and here’s the pitch! Swing and a foul, and we’ll do it again.”

Cardinal Nation must have heard that about a thousand times. Baseball has been a romantic allure for sports fans for quite some time, and a big part of that comes from trusted voices like Shannon. While some would joke that he sounded drunk during games, I knew that was just his style of delivery.

There’s a long list of Shannonisms, player names or words that he would invent a new way to pronounce. It wasn’t a hindrance to me; more like another reason to tune in. Like all the great broadcasters-both Bucks, Bob Yecker, and Vin Scully among others-Shannon made the game intimate in his own way and treated the broadcast like a one-on-one conversation with a fan instead of a bulletin reading. You could be driving up I-55 through Arkansas or back from Wrigley after Game 1 of a doubleheader, and there would be Shannon telling you all about it.

He made each game an experience to take in, and that continued as much as his health would allow this season. It’s true that there were plenty of 2021 dates where he just didn’t have it: the energy or nine-inning ability to call the game. But every few games or so, the old Shannon would come alive and really get into a moment–like an aging hitter showing some life at the plate after a cold streak.

I appreciate every single great Shannon moment this year while chalking up the rest of the slower days as a long recovery from COVID-19. Shannon contracted it last year and it nearly killed him. The fact that he made it back to the stadium to complete his 50th year in the booth is a feat for the 82-year-old.

Hearing him come on the call yesterday in the bottom of the first, greeted with a leadoff Tommy Edman home run, was extra special. It’s not determined yet if he will call a potential home game in the National League Division Series, if the Cards advance past Wednesday’s wildcard game, but I hope there’s another opportunity for him.

One more time for Shannon to plead with a long-flying line drive or fly ball drifting to the warning track like a cloud with a limp in its step. “Get up, baby, get up!”

There will never be another human being like Mike Shannon. Who else will tell a listening audience, “Man oh man, I wish you all could see this pretty moon.”

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