DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. Most of us have jobs where we have to behave ourselves. In Joe Buck's job, he gets to yell.
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JOE BUCK: Bases loaded, two out. Hard hit into right, back at the wall - tied game.
DAVIES: Buck is one of the leading play-by-play broadcasters in sports. At the age of 47, he's done 19 World Series and four Super Bowls. He'll do his fifth in Houston next month. It's fair to say he grew up in the business. His father, Jack Buck, was a Hall of Fame announcer who also did World Series games. Joe Buck has won seven Emmy Awards, but he somehow gets more guff from fans on the internet than just about any broadcaster in sports. He's written a new memoir about his experiences in sports and life, including his addiction to hair plug transplants, one of which went south and nearly ruined his career. The book's called, "Lucky Bastard." The luck refers to the good fortune in Buck's professional career. The other part is from a twist in his personal story you'll soon hear about. I spoke to Joe Buck yesterday.
Well, Joe Buck, welcome to FRESH AIR. I want to begin by talking about the craft, what you do, broadcasting live sports. You write in this book that - you know, you do radio and television. And you write that television is an act. Radio is about being yourself. What do you mean?
BUCK: Well, I think when you do radio, like what we're doing right now, there's a certain amount of freedom that when you walk in and sit down and turn the mic on, it's you. It's all you. If I sit down in the broadcast booth and I'm doing radio, I can talk about the weather. I can talk about the popcorn vendor. I can talk about the uniforms that the two teams are wearing. I can talk about the size of the crowd, talk about who's up in the bullpen.
When I'm doing TV, it's more of a choreographed dance, in a way. So I've got to follow the pictures, or the pictures have to follow me. So there's a little bit more of a freedom when you're doing radio play-by-play as opposed to television. I prefer the television side of it. I started in radio. I enjoy the mental gymnastics that go along with matching voice to picture and vice versa and trying to accent the action as opposed to provide all of the action through my words. And that's really what play-by-play is.
DAVIES: So you can take a minute to think. In television, you don't want to repeat what everyone's saying, but you want to enhance their understanding, their enjoyment of it.
BUCK: Yeah, I think by its very nature, it's redundant, you know, being the play-by-play guy on television. The camera is really the play-by-play person. If you're the play-by-play announcer, I think it's your job to be better than just saying what's on people's TV screen. So if there's a ground ball to the right of the shortstop, name the shortstop - Derek Jeter or, in today's game, Francisco Lindor.
You can make an editorial comment about the play while it's going on. You don't have to be bogged down by the details because the camera is showing the groundball to short. So in the midst of that, you can say Lindor to - all you have to say is Lindor to his right, going to be a tough play, got him at first. As opposed to radio, I don't have time for that.
I have to say Lindor takes three steps to his right, backhands the ball, comes over the top, long throw. He got him. There's a subtle difference in there. But I think kind of being on the upbeat or, in a musical sense, kind of being off rhythm a little bit is preferable to me as opposed to having to go blow by blow, which is what radio requires.
DAVIES: All right, now I want to play a call of yours, which is exactly about this - accentuating what the audience sees, not repeating it. This is from 2008, the National League Championship Series, Phillies vs. Dodgers. This - our program is broadcast from Philadelphia, so I'm a Phillies fan. I remember watching this game.
And it's a homerun call. And I'm going to just say two things about what the audience sees because they're not going to hear this in your call. But what the audience sees is a homerun. The batter is Matt Stairs. He's a beefy guy with a compact swing, powerful swing. It's a tense moment. The Phillies are making a comeback in an important game.
So we see this compact swing drive the ball out. And then the other thing is this game is in Dodger Stadium, Chavez Ravine, where the bleachers are relatively small. And you can see the desert in the dark outside. And as the ball flies over the right field fence, you see the ball move from light into shadow. That's what the audience sees. Let's listen to your call.
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BUCK: Stairs rips one into the night, deep into right, way out of here. And Philadelphia gets a pinch-hit two-run shot. And the Phillies lead 7-5 in the eighth.
DAVIES: Now, I've remembered that call for eight years because it's just a lovely piece of baseball poetry. Stairs rips one into the night as you see the ball disappear into the shadows. You know, writers have time to craft phrases like that. You've got to do it in the moment. Is there a technique? Are there muscles that you develop for coming up with that quick, evocative turn of phrase?
BUCK: Well, I think the first thing is you have to be prepared. And if you're prepared, you can be relaxed. And I'm not giving you a canned answer. I've never thought about it in these terms, really. But I think if you are ready for a moment like that - and by ready, I mean you've got all the stats of Stairs at your fingertips if you want to go there. You know who's on the mound. You're aware of the game's situation. And now you can just sit back and watch.
It's when you're ill-prepared and you're on the edge of your seat and you're gripping and you're going, oh my God, where's Stairs' stats and yeah, he is a beefy, left-handed hitter and who's the guy on the mound and, you know, I'm lost in this game that you don't see that. I remember making that call. I remember that vividly. And it was one of those - it was like a thump. Those moments and that swing and that connection and that ball flying off his bat kind of hits you in the chest. And it takes a little bit of your breath away because it's a stunning moment in a really intense game. And so you better be ready for that to happen.
DAVIES: I have to ask about your voice. It's pretty distinctive. I mean, it cuts through that crowd noise in a way. Did you work on that? Did people talk about your voice when you were growing up?
BUCK: Well, I think most people associate me with my dad. And my dad was a Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster and NFL Hall of Fame broadcaster, had a gravelly voice. (Imitating Jack Buck) He'd talk like this. Hey, how are you?
DAVIES: Yeah. No, it's different. It's a different voice from yours. I remember your dad, yeah.
BUCK: Yeah. And so when - you know, when I started with the Cardinals my first year, I was 20 about to turn 21. And I was getting all the nepotism complaints from the local media outlets, from a radio-TV critic in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, from the Letters to the Editor - can't believe we're subjected to Jack Buck's kid broadcasting these games. And every time you see kid and hear kid, you think, man, I have to not sound like a kid.
And so I went from talking up here - good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the ballpark. It's a great day for a game - to trying to consciously get my voice down here and say, good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to - and I started to change my voice. And I went from, you know, sounding like I was going through puberty on the air to really sounding like a man.
DAVIES: You, in the book, name some other sports broadcasters that you admire - Mike Tirico, Al Michaels. You choose not to name people you don't think are so good. But I'm curious, what bothers you in an announcer that you feel isn't measuring up?
BUCK: Overtalking, doing too much, trying to prove to the audience that they did their reading, trying to make the call about themselves. The way I've always done it - right, wrong, good, bad, whatever anybody's opinion may be - is - let's take the Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years this past October. I could choose to make that call all about me, screaming and yelling and, you know, groundball to Kris Bryant, going to be a tough play, out at first. And for the first time in 108 years, the Chicago Cubs have finally won it all. They gather on the mound. Players jumping over - I don't want to say all that stuff.
I just want to state what happened. I want to do it an exciting way. I haven't always accomplished that, by the way. And I want to get out of the viewer's head. It's not about me. Nobody's tuning in - let's check the TV Guide listings and see what game Joe Buck is calling. Nobody cares. They want to see the Cubs. They want to see the Packers. They want to see the Cowboys. They don't care who's calling the game.
And so I've joked that if I get hit by a bus going into a game, they're still going to play. And the guys that bother me, without naming names, are the guys who sound like if they got hit by that bus, the game would be canceled.
BUCK: And that's annoying.
DAVIES: Joe Buck broadcasts play-by-play of baseball, football and other sports for Fox Sports. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, we're speaking with Joe Buck. He is a play-by-play broadcaster for Fox Sports, and he has a new memoir.
You grew up in broadcasting. Your dad was Jack Buck, Hall of Fame broadcaster. And he was the play-by-play guy for the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis is a huge baseball town. And anybody who follows the game knows that the play-by-play guy for a baseball team is a major celebrity in a city. You're probably better known and loved than the mayor.
You had quite a bit of exposure to this life as a kid, didn't you? What was it like? Did you have the run of the stadium?
BUCK: Oh, I did. Yeah, the stadium was my playground. And I was down there with my dad night after night, not just in the summer, but even school nights. And sometimes school nights led to late mornings led to late arrival at school. Baseball in Busch Stadium, I guess for lack of a better term, it was my little romper room.
And so by that I mean I was in the broadcast booth during the game. If I got bored up there, when I was a little kid, I'd run down underneath by the dugouts on the inside part of the ballpark. And other players' kids would be throwing a tennis ball around, and we'd be throwing it at each other. And I - yeah, I had run of the place.
That was my spot. Every day after school or during the summer, I'd ride down with my dad at 3 o'clock. And then as I got a little bit older, I'd broadcast - at least do games into a tape recorder. He and I would listen to the tape on the way home. It was - it was just a great way to grow up. And I guess without knowing it, I was aiming myself for a life in sports and in baseball in particular.
DAVIES: What kind of advice did your dad give you when you were doing that? Do you remember any feedback?
BUCK: I do. It was - it was more basics. It was about my diction. It was about not every time describing a ground ball to shortstop as a chopper to short or whatever I might have been leaning on at the time. It was, you know, vary it up. It's a ground ball to short. It's a screamer to short. It's a laser to short. It's a looper (ph) to short. Whatever it is, change it up, but be grammatically correct, have proper diction.
And beyond that, he let me kind of find my own way. And thankfully, he did. You know, had he been on me - especially when we were broadcast partners later - but had he been on me like, here's how you have to do it, here's how I would've done it, try it this way, do this - I probably would have been like, time out. I can't handle all this. I'm not - I'm not comfortable. Or, you know, I would have been resentful.
But he didn't. You know, he found his own way. And he was hands off enough with me to let me know that he cared and let me know that he was in my corner, but he let me find it myself.
DAVIES: Anybody who's gone to ball games will from time to time look at dugouts between innings or whatever, and you'll see the bat boy, this young kid who has a uniform without a number, who, you know, picks up bats and picks up the pine tar rag. You had that job for the Cardinals?
BUCK: I did when I wanted it.
DAVIES: That's huge. What was it like being a bat boy?
BUCK: Oh my God, it was so fun. And, you know, I was this little chubby kid, which I talk about in the book. And the sad thing was the typical bat boy uniform didn't fit. They're made for, like, slender, normal-sized kids. And I would try it on in the Cardinal Clubhouse, and the Cardinals' equipment manager would be like, yeah, we're going to have to get you another size pants.
BUCK: And he'd actually walk down by the players - I was wearing different players' pants while I was the bat boy. But man, what a great education. I mean, I would run around in the outfield during batting practice and catch fly balls. I'd play catch with players before the game started.
And then, when the game started, it was up to me to run out there to home plate, in the middle of 45, 50,000 people, grab the bat. I'd have to bring new baseballs to the umpire when there were enough foul balls and the umpire needed a new supply of baseballs.
And I'd be around the - not just the sights and sounds, but the conversations that were going on in the dugout. And watching these guys react to success and failure, it really, you know, became part of my DNA without me even knowing it.
DAVIES: And were you invisible to the players, or did you have a relationship with them?
BUCK: No, I was definitely not invisible. No fat batboy is invisible.
BUCK: Let me let you in on that secret. When you're a fat batboy in the '70s, you are ripe for the picking for - from different players. So you kind of became one of the guys. I mean, I wasn't - I'm not insane. I didn't think because I was there from time to time or, you know, in certain years, night after night that I was part of the group. But I was at least on the inside enough to have guys feel comfortable to, you know, say some snide comment or grab me in the dugout and start pounding on me or whatever it might be. So I at least kind of felt like I was part of the group and I wasn't an outsider. That was pretty cool.
DAVIES: You write in the book that once a month, your dad would drive over to a house - he would bring you with him, drive over to a house and deliver a check to another family. Explain what was going on here.
BUCK: Well, he was divorced. I didn't know it at the time. I didn't understand all that. You know, it's why my book is titled what it is, which is probably not politically correct or maybe...
DAVIES: Well, we can say the name here. It's "Lucky Bastard," right?
BUCK: Yeah. I mean, it's because I guess in a way I - that's exactly what I am. First of all, I'm the luckiest guy in the world to be my parents' son and to be Jack Buck's son but Carol Buck's son, as well. And then I came onto the earth as a result of my dad meeting my mom while my dad was married with six kids. And he and my mom ended up getting married a month before I was born. So he had this other family.
And when I was old enough to move around - 5, 6, 7, 8 years old, there were times where I would go with him to deliver a check to this woman and this house filled with six other kids. I knew I wasn't wanted there. And as time went on, I knew that I represented something really painful in their lives by being, I guess, the direct result of why their dad left their mom. And so, you know, as I write in the book, to this day, I'm not sure why I went on those trips over to his other house, so to speak...
DAVIES: Why he brought you, you mean, yeah.
BUCK: Yeah, I don't know why he brought me. Maybe because he knew it wouldn't get out of hand or real nasty if the kid was there because it was tense. And I think without knowing it, I was learning a lot about relationships and about heartbreak and about, you know, in this case, kids who were looking up to a man who, I guess in a very simple sense, let them down.
DAVIES: You tell a story in the book of going to a swimming party at your half siblings' house. Do you want to share a bit of that with us?
BUCK: Well, I went there. And I kind of was cut loose in that house a little bit. But it - I really - I didn't feel comfortable. But I remember my half-brother Danny grabbing me and saying, hey, let's go out and jump in the pool. OK. Well, first of all, as I said already, I was this little chubbster (ph) kid. And I wasn't all that fired up about taking my shirt off in front of the other kids - or anybody, for that matter. I was probably, I don't know, 8, somewhere in there, at that age. And he put me on his shoulders and he said, here, we'll dive in. Well, he put me on his shoulders. He must've been herculean to get me up there. And he dives in, and I just smack against the top of the water in the swimming pool. And, I mean, it hurt. And I fought every urge to cry because something told me that that wasn't the place to do it or I was going to get no sympathy. That was kind of the intent. So I didn't.
And I remember going inside afterward. And my dad's ex-wife was cooking hot dogs. And she said, do you want a hot dog? And I said, yeah. And she said, well, what do you like on it? And I said, I like everything but mustard. And I got a hot dog that had mustard on it. And I joked in the book, at the end of one chapter, I ate every bite of that hot dog. Just like I didn't cry when I got smacked into the water in the pool, I just said, all right, I'm going to eat the hot dog. And, you know, ironically enough, I love mustard now. I can't get enough. So I'd like to thank her for that.
DAVIES: You know, with the benefit of time, looking back on it, do you think that any chance you were reading some of their resentment into this, that maybe they'd - maybe she just forgot and gave you mustard?
BUCK: Yeah, I don't think it's a fair story. It happened. And let me tell you, as we sit here today, the book's been out for, you know, a month and a half, couple months. My half brothers and half sisters are not happy and specifically about that story. And I understand why. Now, it did happen. And I can remember it clear as day, like it was yesterday. I don't know that that represents, you know, the overall feelings.
I mean, I don't - I think while there was resentment for me specifically because I'm an easy target in that situation, common sense tells you it's not my fault. But my relationship with them, my sister's relationship with them is not such that we've ever really hashed all this stuff out. So now it comes out in a book. And it's a small part of the book. But I can tell you that if that were said about my mom, I'd be upset because you don't see the other side of the story. So I get their resentment toward me sharing this. There was tension there. And I represented something that was not good for them.
DAVIES: Joe Buck is a play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports. After a break, he'll tell us what can go wrong in a hair plug transplant - his own. And I'll ask him why some fans seem to love to hate him. I'm Dave Davies. And this is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. We're speaking with Fox Sports play-by-play broadcaster Joe Buck, who does World Series and Super Bowls and has won seven Emmy Awards. He grew up learning baseball and broadcasting from his dad, Hall of Fame sportscaster Joe Buck. He has a new memoir called "Lucky Bastard."
You got into broadcasting at a high level, at an early age. You did St. Louis Cardinals broadcasts with your dad for - what? - part of 11 seasons, right?
BUCK: It's hard to even remember that and - on one hand. And then on the other, I look back on that as the, in some ways, highlight of my career because my dad, who literally was kind of my buddy more than my father and really my best friend, more than the guy who would come home having to discipline us or the 9 to 5 guy. He was gone for different stretches of time and was on a road trip with the Cardinals. And then when that would bleed into football, he was into that. And then he was doing a radio show in St. Louis.
There was a lot of time that I gave up with my dad. So consequently, when he and I were together, I didn't want to waste that time with him having to discipline me. And so I acted the right way as a little kid. And we had the best possible, I think, father-son relationship that we could have.
And then when we were paired together and I was on all those buses and I was on all those road trips with him and I was getting on the team charter and I was, you know, riding home from the airport at 2 o'clock in the morning after a road trip to Houston, I got a lot of that time back. And so whether it's my half brothers and sisters or my full sister Julie, I saw him in a different way.
DAVIES: You did a lot of baseball, including some minor league broadcasts in Louisville. Did you ever - were you ever in a situation where you used sound effects to recreate the crack of the bat...
DAVIES: ...Or anything like that?
BUCK: No, no, I was not doing, like, the Ronald Reagan, you know, crack of the bat in the background or recreating or any of that. It probably would have enhanced the broadcast because you're doing games at times for, let's say, intimate gatherings at the old ballpark. And there's not a whole lot of natural sound.
I saw my dad recreate games during the baseball strike in the early '80s. And it was fascinating because they were taking old games - they knew the box score and they were just making up the play-by-play. And he gave me the two bats. And he would kind of point to me like, here's a two-two pitch. And he'd point to me, and I'd hit these two bats together and be like (imitating crack)...
BUCK: ...And then, he would go on and, you know, there's a ground ball to short. And Groat picks it up and throws over to first. He got him, two away. And...
DAVIES: So this was in a strike in the '80s? They would - just so that baseball players wouldn't go into withdrawal - baseball fans wouldn't go into withdrawal...
DAVIES: They would recreate an old game?
BUCK: Is that crazy?
BUCK: They went back - yeah, it's kind of genius. The local station in St. Louis went back and they said, how great would it be to hear Jack Buck and Mike Shannon recreate old World Series games from the '60s? And so they did that. And they had the box score. They went off that. They knew what happened each inning. They were making up the pitch-by-pitch. But they sat in a studio like I'm sitting in now. And I sat in the corner. And he'd point to me, and I'd make the bat crack. So I guess I've had some at-bats in the big leagues that...
BUCK: ...That really don't go down in the record books.
DAVIES: A big change in your career came when the Fox television network went into sports. And a lot of people saw - thought, like, what? One of the interesting things you write about Fox is that they were trying new stuff, including sending you to cover a bass fishing tournament. Tell us about that.
BUCK: Yeah, I think I've repressed it somewhere in my memory. It was a live bass fishing tournament. And the head of Fox Sports, David Hill - who eventually went on to run the network as well for a while, just kind of a trusted lieutenant for Rupert Murdoch - called me and said, how would you like to - he's Australian. I won't bother you with the accent.
DAVIES: Oh, go ahead.
BUCK: How would you like to do bass fishing? And I'm like, what? Bass fish - I don't fish. I'm not an outdoorsman. I'd rather go see a movie. I don't want to hunt anything. But you're going to broadcast bass fishing. It's going to be the next NASCAR.
BUCK: Well, it wasn't the next NASCAR. And it was a live bass fishing show on TV. Those are words that should never be in the same sentence...
BUCK: ...Because somebody forgot to tell the bass between 4:30 and 6:00 on that particular night to bite because we were going on all these different boats and talking to these different anglers, fishermen, and none of them are catching anything. And the big payoff at the end of this event is a weigh-in with the fish. And we messed that all up. It was just a nightmare.
DAVIES: As you had this growing TV career, you had a friend and mentor at the network, a guy named Steve Horn, who pulled you aside and gave you a couple of pieces of advice. What were they?
BUCK: One, he said - well, he started it with you may want to punch me in the face after I tell you what I'm going to tell you. He took me to lunch, which is ironic considering what he was about to tell me. He said one, you need to lose 25 pounds. I was - as I've told you, I was a fat kid. I became a fat adult. And I - you know, I have a big head anyway. And I looked like my head weighed about 84 pounds...
BUCK: ...When I showed up on your television. And he said, you need to lose 25 pounds. I said, all right, yeah. You're not the first person to tell me that. I've certainly thought about it many times, like, every morning. But thanks for the advice. And he said two, you need to think about getting hair plugs. You need to think about hair transplant surgeries. And I said, well, funny you should say that. I've had two.
DAVIES: It's interesting. I don't think I quite knew what a hair plug was until I read your book. This is actually - you pull hair out of the back part of your head and transplant...
BUCK: Well, you cut. Let's call it what it is. They cut a tract of hair. When a man - really anybody, but I know a man - whatever it is about the male genome, but the bishop's crown is usually healthy hair for the rest of your life. You may lose everything on top, but you're going to have the Gavin MacLeod, Merrill Stubing hair around your ears and around the back of your head. So they take a tract of hair out of the back. They cut it out.
And then a nurse goes over or an assistant goes over and starts cutting out actual living bulbs of hair. And they then put slits in the top of your head, crafted by a genius plastic surgeon, to make a realistic hairline. And that hair just goes from growing in the back of your head to actively growing in the front of your head. And that gives you growing hair for the rest of your life. And instead of it, you know, being back there, it's up front.
DAVIES: And it's not the most pleasant thing to undertake, is it?
BUCK: It is literal torture. There is nothing - I've done eight of them. And I'm sure we'll get to what the eighth presented me with. But the first six I did under local anesthetic, which when people say, well, they're going to give you anesthesia - well, how do they give you anaesthesia? Through a syringe.
And what noise a syringe makes when it goes into your scalp, on the inside of your head, is otherworldly. And then they give you enough shots to numb that area up in the back of your head that they dig that tract of hair out. And then they start on the front of your head - the top your head. And you're feeling all these needle pricks going in, and it's - I mean, it's enough to make you cry.
DAVIES: OK. And...
BUCK: Hopefully nobody's eating while they're listening to this.
DAVIES: You confessed to this as an addiction to hair plugs, but the fact is you want to look your best for television. One of these - the last of these hair plug transplant operations lead to a real problem for you. Tell us about that.
BUCK: Well, yeah. It went from let's do it under local anesthetic to - I mean, the surgeon knew how much I hated this. And whatever addiction there was, it's painful. It's awful. It would be - you'd be a masochist. It was like once you start - that's kind of the big trick of the thing. Once you start, you have to kind of keep going and keep up with the natural hair loss to try and stay ahead of the curve. So there's the addiction.
You know, we've all seen people that you know have had transplant surgeries where they're like, I'm done. That was awful. I'm going to do one. And then they've got one little tuft of hair coming out of nowhere. And that's a telltale sign. So the doctor said, you should do it under general anaesthetic. I was, like, wow. I didn't even know I could do that. And the last one I did, I went under and I came out and I was unable to talk. I sounded like this. And unless I was doing "Godfather V," it was really not beneficial for my career.
I thought I was done. And what happened was when they put me under - they put a tube, a breathing tube, down your throat for any procedure. I didn't have to fess up that that's what this was. But I figured if I'm going to write a book, I'm going to write a book. I'm going to bare it all.
But for any surgery, they put a tube down your throat so you breathe while you're under. And then the cuff that they put in to hold that tube in place got overinflated and it sat on the nerve - the laryngeal nerve, which fires my left vocal cord - and it bruised it or damaged it or insulted it, whatever you want to say. And the nerve went dead. And my vocal cord went dead.
So I came out of that with one-half of a normal voice. Where the vocal cords normally meet in the middle to make your sound, one was going to the middle and the other was laying on the side. And I thought I was finished.
DAVIES: And this lasted months, right? And you managed to work through it?
BUCK: It lasted - yeah, I would say it happened in March. And I never missed a game. I sounded terrible. I did the Jimmy Fallon show, tried to sing on that, just messing around. And I came out of there thinking, oh, it sounded OK. But this situation with my voice and that laying-there vocal cord lasted until the end of October, early November.
And I went to the best vocal restoration surgeon in the world. He's a genius. His name's Steve Zeitels in Boston. And when I first saw him, he said, how long has it been since you've been able to talk normally? And at that point it was, I don't know, a month. And he said, well, let me just tell you, my experience is that if you don't have your voice back in three months, you're not going to get it back.
And that started a time clock in my head. And I went past three months - four months, five months, six months - and eventually it came back. But he - I would - he would go in and he would shoot restylane into my laying-there vocal chord, my dead vocal chord. And it would puff it up enough to where the vocal chords would meet just enough to where I could make a little bit better sound.
DAVIES: Joe Buck is a play-by-play broadcaster for Fox Sports, and he has a new memoir. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, we're speaking with Fox sportscaster Joe Buck about his life and career. He has a new memoir.
Last summer, I played golf - I know you like to play golf - and I got teamed up with a father and son. And the son, who was in his 20s, works at Fox Sports. And we were having a beverage afterward and I mentioned that I might be talking to you about the book. And he said, yeah, a lot of people can't stand Joe Buck. And I said, well, why? Is he a jerk? And he said, no, no. He's a good guy. But just a lot of people don't like him.
And when I looked at the internet, I discovered there is this bunch of people that don't like you. There's an I Hate Joe Buck fan club on Facebook. One guy writes, I wonder how many times Joe Buck looks at himself in the mirror and winks. Somebody says, an arrogant ass who thinks he's a celebrity, always rooting for San Francisco in the World Series. What's this about?
BUCK: That particular one is unbelievable. If you go - you should walk the streets with me in San Francisco and see the looks I get. And this answers the question. If it wasn't me doing what I do and it was somebody else, the same thing would be said.
And I say that because - OK, take the he thinks he's a celebrity or he's arrogant out of it. I don't think I'm a celebrity. I certainly don't believe that I'm arrogant. My wife thought the same thing until she met me. She saw me on a National Car Rental commercial and thought, oh, he looks like an arrogant ass. And then, I don't know, within months I was married to her. So I converted her. I can convert you.
But when you do the World Series, and you show up at the most important time of the year, and you've got baseball fans on either side who have listened to their announcers all season long who do the game from their perspective, who have the same rooting interest as the fans they talk to - and now when it matters most here comes the national guy who doesn't represent them, he doesn't represent the other side. And so consequently, each side thinks I'm for the other because they don't hear games done that way all year.
Oh sure, they'll hear somebody scream and yell for a Pablo Sandoval homerun for the San Francisco Giants back in the day. And they're used to that, but they're not used to then me turning around and yelling and screaming for a homerun by Miguel Cabrera. So it sounds - hits their ear funny. That's not what they hear all year long. They want to hear their guys do their games.
And I represent somebody who has a rooting interest for neither side. And it's kind of like being trapped in the middle there. And so that's where that comes from. I don't take it personally. And I know that whenever I'm finished, whoever steps into that seat - it may not happen right away, but after a while people are going to go, well, this guy sucks, too. Where's that other guy?
BUCK: He doesn't like my team either. What's going on? It's just that the fans care so much that if you're not in their camp you're, in their mind, against them. And it's a tough way to be if you let that stuff bother you.
DAVIES: I think it bears mentioning here that we live in an age when everybody has access to Twitter and there are a million blogs. And if you have 10 million people listening to you and 1 percent don't like you, that's 100,000 people. And some of them will make some noise. It's partly a function of the media age we live in.
BUCK: And my dad got it. You know, my dad got it. Vin Scully used to laugh about it. Vin Scully was the voice of the Dodgers. And he' doing the World Series between the Dodgers and the A's and he called the Kirk Gibson homerun for, in essence, his team on national TV. And then he talked to my dad when my dad did it for two years. You know, that didn't go well for my dad for two years. And he made a comment one time about Bobby Vinton, who was singing the national anthem in Pittsburgh. And he was trying to be cute about Bobby Vinton messing up the "Star-Spangled Banner." And when he got back to his hotel room, he and my mom walked in and there was a footprint in the middle of his pillow on his bed.
And so that stuff has always existed. But he - you know, his complaint box were actual handwritten letters. Mine is in 140 characters or less. And so if I want to go to Twitter and absolutely end my career by realizing how many people are on there knocking me around for the size of my head, or he's growing a beard, or he's arrogant, or he hates my team, you know, then bring a snorkel. And good luck because you're never going to get out of there alive.
DAVIES: I can't let you get out of here without noting that there are three or four NPR jokes in the first 20 pages of your book. I think you refer to...
BUCK: Right, sorry.
DAVIES: ...An NPR host who's on Ambien. You don't listen to public radio? It doesn't appeal to you?
BUCK: Well, ironically enough, I started my career in essence when I was in high school doing my internship at the NPR station in St. Louis. So NPR is actually - now that I've grown to be a man, it's fantastic radio. But I made the joke in my book because that's what the surgeon was listening to when he would do the procedures on my head. So I was awake. I have somebody jabbing needles in my head, somebody cutting a tract of hair out of the back of my head. And I'm listening to, like, the most calm voice on the radio talking about disarming a nuclear weapon. And I'm thinking, my god, I'm going through the most pain a human being can tolerate without passing out, and I have this very soothing voice going on behind me. And as he's listening to this while he's carving up my head - it was just a bad association.
DAVIES: Well, Joe Buck, it's been fun. Thanks so much for spending some time with us.
BUCK: Oh man, what a joy. Thanks for having me on.
DAVIES: Joe Buck is a play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports. He'll be doing the Packers-Cowboy game this Sunday and the Super Bowl on February 5. His new memoir is called "Lucky Bastard."
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews the debut country album from Natalie Hemby. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Natalie Hemby has written or co-written No. 1 country hits for such acts as Miranda Lambert, Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town. Her songs have been recorded by some of country's biggest stars, and she's written songs for the TV series "Nashville." Now she has her own album called "Puxico." Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRAND RESTORATION")
NATALIE HEMBY: (Singing) Breaking ground, nails to board, demolition of redemption - glory-bound, through the doors, build my heart without condition. I hear it now, oh the sound of...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: One of the striking things about Natalie Hemby's debut album, "Puxico," is it's self-effacement, it's stylistic modesty. You'd think someone who is basically introducing herself to you in song would, you know, sing about herself, couch a good portion of her compositions in the first person.
Instead, Hemby spends much of her time on this album describing geography, physical and emotional. The song that began this review, "Grand Restoration," is in part about appreciating the care that went into building old things, such as houses and towns.
On a song called "Cairo, IL," Hemby describes the landscape of that town and how it can serve as a metaphor for the health or weaknesses of its inhabitants.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CAIRO, IL")
HEMBY: (Singing) All the fields are flooded up to Highway 51, and the Lord is coming across the bridge where the old Ohio runs. Don't look away. It will be gone. Kentucky and Missouri - a trinity of states. Nothing's in a hurry except the water in between the rising lakes. Oh, nothing moves but nothing stays. Well, the longing for the leaving and the welcome home receiving joy - still, I'll keep driving past the ghost of Cairo, Illinois.
TUCKER: When Hemby does write in the first person, she comes at herself from an oblique angle. Take, for example, "I'll Remember How You Loved Me." She deploys a clever strategy - listing all the things about her past that she's going to forget while always remembering how much she was loved by a certain guy. Yet of course, that list of things forgotten is a rich, vivid one - in other words, not forgotten at all but brought to life in the present as she sings it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL REMEMBER HOW YOU LOVED ME")
HEMBY: (Singing) I probably won't recall graduation day or the neighbors up the street in the town where I was raised. The Fox and Jacob houses all dressed up like young cadets, I will forget. It'll slip my memory who was president that year. Like bells on a drug store door, some things just disappear. When I'm sure that I knew exactly how the story went, I will forget.
TUCKER: The title "Puxico" is also the name of a town in Missouri where Hemby's grandfather grew up. The album is country in its rhythms and its sentiments, but most of the time, it sounds like a folk music album filled with acoustic guitar and spare arrangements that frame Hemby's straightforward, no-frills phrasing of her lyrics.
If you know any of Hemby's biggest successes writing for other artists such as Little Big Town's "Pontoon" or Miranda Lambert's "White Liar" - both big, booming power-pop country hits - the relative quiet of "Puxico" might surprise you.
HEMBY: (Singing) The path between a sinner and a church hangs from an honest day's work, hard from a world of hurt, worn. Parks on a wooden floor, steps to an open door, the fabric we fight for - worn. So thin you almost see straight through it, so precious even when it's torn. I find the finer things worth keeping are worn.
TUCKER: This smaller musical scale fits Hemby's contemplative vocals and serves what emerges over the course of the album to be her purpose - to make a connection to her listeners by inviting them to share in her memories. Like the best of this kind of singer-songwriter music, she makes you think for the duration of each song that her warm, colorful memories are your own.
DAVIES: On tomorrow's show, we'll explore the dilemmas presented by some advances in genetic science worthy of science fiction. We'll speak with New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter about the revolutionary gene editing technique called CRISPR, which holds the promise of wiping out diseases like malaria or dengue and raises concerns about its misuse. He says there's never been a more powerful biological tool or one with more potential to both improve the world and endanger it. Hope you can join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer and technical director is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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