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Mike Shannon, hometown star athlete who became voice of the Cardinals, dies

Mike Shannon smiles, wearing a red shit  and a black vest.
Bill Greenblatt
Longtime St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon greets fans during Day 2 of the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm Up in St. Louis on January 20, 2019.

Mike Shannon, a CBC star in three sports, heralded Missouri Tigers quarterback prospect, member of Cardinals World Series winners and team radio broadcaster for a half-century, has died. He was 83.

“My dad’s life was encapsulated by his devotion to his family, his friends, the Cardinals organization and the St. Louis community,” Shannon’s son, Tim, said in a statement Sunday. “My dad lived his life to the fullest, and he squeezed every drop from it.”

Shannon was known for entertaining listeners with his baseball insight and confounding them with his singular remarks.

He developed distinctive calls. “Ole Abner has done it again” credited Abner Doubleday, often said as a team’s best hitters came up to bat with the game on the line.

When a runner was on base and a ball was hit between outfielders, Shannon pronounced it “a peck of trouble.” His signature home run call, spoken as a fly ball sailed toward the outfield fence, was “Get up, baby! Get up!”

When there were no words, there was the chuckle. “He can save any situation with that little cackle that he had,” the “heh heh heh,” Joe Buck wrote. “When he does it, it just makes you smile.”

Remarks that went off track became known as Shannonisms, and there were articles and websites devoted to them. They included:

  • “It’s Mother’s Day today, so to all the mothers out there, happy birthday.”
  • “It's raining so hard I thought it was going to stop.”
  • “The outfield is deep and playing him straight away and the infield is the same except first, second, third and short are playing him to pull.”

Bob Costas wrote, “The bloopers and the malaprops were as endearing as they were legendary.”

With his talent and longevity, Shannon crossed eras. He was recruited by, played for or worked with coaches and managers including Frank Broyles, Dan Devine, Johnny Keane, Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog and Tony LaRussa. He played alongside Stan Musial’s son in high school, then the Man himself in the major leagues. Once there, his teammates included Bob Gibson, Roger Maris and Lou Brock.

As a broadcaster, he described the play of Cardinals stars Ted Simmons and Keith Hernandez through Albert Pujols and Paul Goldschmidt. After Shannon made the Cardinals roster, Musial, who played into his 40s, famously said, “When your teammates are your kids’ playmates, it’s time to retire.”

The KMOX broadcast booth was where Shannon made his biggest imprint, partnered with Hall of Famer Jack Buck. Shannon was not an immediate success there. A kidney ailment had forced his retirement as a player, and he lacked experience as a broadcaster.

"It was rough," Shannon told the St. Louis Beacon in 2010. “I hadn't prepared for it. But I had Jack Buck next to me, so all I had to do was sit there and watch. I learned a lot by that.”

Fellow broadcasters noticed. “Over the years, from a pure broadcasting standpoint, Mike didn’t just get better; he became really good,” Costas wrote. “On his own terms.”

Shannon worked with a series of critically acclaimed broadcasters but “never tried to be, or pretended to be, what they were,” Costas, also a Hall of Fame broadcaster, said in the foreword of Shannon’s 2022 book, “Get Up, Baby.”

Mike Shannon wears a red sport coat and speaks at a podium that says "Cardinals Hall of Fame."
Mike Shannon was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014. Shannon was an outfielder and third basement for the team before making a second career calling the games from a broadcast booth.

Others could find him difficult. Former Cardinals coach Joe Schultz, playing golf with him soon after Shannon’s recovery from the ailment that ended his playing career, became so frustrated that he sputtered, “I’m going to take back that novena I said for you.”

As a freshman quarterback at Mizzou, he changed the play Dan Devine had called. Bob Uecker, another player who became a broadcaster, joked that if you wanted to irk someone, “you could put him in the booth with Mike for a whole game.”

“Mike wasn’t shy about anything,” Uecker wrote for Shannon’s book. “He was a different individual.”

Those qualities, and Shannon’s lifetime of one-of-a-kind experiences, shaped his career.

“He was one of those unique guys who comes along every once in a while, hangs around, becomes a friend of everybody, and they believe what he says,” Uecker said. “It even goes back to high school in St. Louis where he was a big star. It goes back that far with him. It warrants credibility.”

Football first

Thomas Michael Shannon grew up in south St. Louis, the son of Thomas, a police officer who was working on a law degree, and Elizabeth Shannon. He went to Epiphany of Our Lord parish school, according to the Society for American Baseball Research, before enrolling in Christian Brothers College High School. At CBC, he starred in baseball, football and basketball.

Even as a high school quarterback, Shannon would change the plays called by his coach. Dick Musial, a halfback, said he’d ask Shannon what he was doing and was told: “Don’t worry about it. Just go to the right, and I’ll get it to you.” And he did.

At CBC, Shannon had little interest in schoolwork and just tried to pass. He raised his grades from C’s to B’s as a senior when teachers told him he needed to, but he wrote in his book, “The only reason I went to school was so I could play ball.”

He won honors as an athlete. Shannon said he was the only Missouri athlete to be named the top high school football player and top high school basketball player in the same year. Shannon preferred football, which came easier to him. “Yet I went into pro baseball,” he wrote.

But first, Shannon accepted a football scholarship to the University of Missouri.

In choosing between baseball and football, Shannon had the help of Stan Musial, his CBC teammate’s father. “He recognized Mike’s ability,” Dick Musial said.

The Cardinals star told him a baseball draft rule was about to change that would make it likely Shannon would sign for big money and help his development by letting him start in the minor leagues. So Shannon spent a year at Mizzou, then signed with the Cardinals, receiving a bonus of nearly $50,000, shortly before marrying his wife, Judy, and starting a family that eventually included three sons and three daughters.

Mizzou fans still lament the loss. Frank Broyles, a Hall of Famer who was the quarterback’s first coach at Missouri, said Shannon might’ve won the Heisman Trophy if he’d stayed.

Mike Shannon
Wikimedia Commons
Mike Shannon in 1983.

Path to the Cardinals

In June 1958, Shannon’s professional baseball career began with the Class D team in Albany, Georgia. The outfielder hit from the start and bypassed Class C ball the next year, starting a climb that took him to places including Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Memphis, where Tim McCarver first became his teammate; Tulsa, Portland, Seattle and Atlanta. There are other versions – some told by Shannon – but he said Portland was where he was given the nickname “Moon Man,” St. Louis Magazine reports, because of the trajectory of his home runs.

He’d decided that if he didn’t make the big leagues by 1962, he’d find another way to make a living. The day before his deadline, which he hadn’t told anyone, the Cardinals summoned him.

Shannon was called up to the Cardinals at the end of the 1962 season and went back and forth to the minors for a couple of years. His job in the early days often was to give Musial a day off, which didn’t always make him popular. At Wrigley Field one day, with few fans in attendance – making it easy to hear hecklers – one of them greeted Shannon with: “You mean I drove 750 miles from Kansas to see Stan Musial play his last game in Chicago and I have to watch you play left field?”

During the 1964 season, the first after Musial retired, Shannon joined the Cardinals for good. From his callup in July through the end of the season, he hit nine home runs, per BaseballReference.com. As the regular right fielder, he was a major part of the Cardinals’ historic comeback that season; the team was 11 games out in late August but won the National League pennant on the last day.

In the first game of the World Series against the New York Yankees, Shannon hit a two-run homer off future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. The Cardinals won their first championship since 1946. Shannon was pleased.

“I played in the World Series in my hometown and I hit a home run off of Ford,” he wrote. “I’m a dreamer, but even I can’t dream that good.”

They won two more pennants in the 1960s, but first, Shannon had to learn a new position. The team had not successfully replaced All-Star third baseman Ken Boyer, who was traded in 1965, and Roger Maris had been acquired to play right field in 1967. So management decided to teach Shannon to play third. Coaches hit endless ground balls to him in Forest Park during the offseason, and Shannon questioned other players about the position.

“I always thought I had the best arm in right field,” Shannon said. Now his arm, which Uecker described as a cannon, could help compensate for any fielding problems he might have.

“If it had not been for Mike Shannon going over to third base from the outfield, that whole thing in 1967-68 wouldn't have worked,” McCarver said, adding that “it was a tremendous, tremendous thing for Mike to be able to do that for us.”

The Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox in the 1967 World Series, then lost to the Detroit Tigers the next year after being up three games to one – a loss “I’m still ticked off about,” Shannon wrote in 2022.

Before the 1960s ended, Shannon had played on three pennant winners and two World Series champions, as a regular at two positions. He was the last player to homer in old Busch Stadium and the first Cardinal to do so in Busch Memorial Stadium.

Mike Shannon works from a broadcast booth at Busch Stadium.
Bill Greenblatt
St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon broadcasts the Chicago Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals baseball game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Friday, October 1, 2021.

Illness leads to a new field

In 1970, Shannon’s playing career was ended by an ailment that affects the kidneys’ ability to filter.

He worked in sales for the Cardinals for a year, trying to adjust to a 9-5 schedule. Then another job opened up. The team’s longtime lead radio announcer, Harry Carey, had left St. Louis after the 1969 season. Jack Buck stepped up, and Jim Woods was hired from Pittsburgh. When Woods quit in 1971, the Cardinals took a chance “on a rookie announcer,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline said.

Pleased to have a job, Shannon wrote, “I didn’t realize what a tremendous opportunity it was at the time.”

Shannon found broadcasting difficult but still easier than playing baseball. He partnered with Buck for 30 years, growing into the job and winning over listeners. But it took time. In the booth, he lacked knowledge of the jargon and technical aspects of the job. “I have a poor radio voice,” Shannon said then, adding, “I’ll probably be moving out of this business into raising cattle eventually.”

He and Buck practiced postgame shows, and Shannon worked on his pacing and enunciation. John Rooney, Shannon’s partner beginning in 2006, wrote: “Jack Buck, Bob Starr, Jay Randolph, Dan Kelly – he had some pretty good people to learn from.”

As a player and a St. Louisan, Shannon understood both groups. “I don’t think he’d be as successful a broadcaster in a lot other cities,” former manager Whitey Herzog told St. Louis Magazine in 2016, “but he’s a fit here in St. Louis. He speaks the language of the people in this area.”

Away from the stadium, Shannon regularly raised money for charities and went into the restaurant business. For years, he hosted the story-filled “Live at Shannon’s” show on KMOX after games at his downtown restaurant. The guests, Joe Buck wrote, were a “who’s who of whoever was coming through town.” Buck called appearing on the show the most fun he’s had in broadcasting.

St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon waves to the crowd from the broadcast booth.
Bill Greenblatt
St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon waves to the crowd as he is introduced between innings of the Chicago Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals baseball game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Friday, October 1, 2021.

Another change

After the 2021 season, his 50th as a team broadcaster, Shannon retired as the radio voice of the St. Louis Cardinals. He’d endured a touch-and-go battle with COVID-19 over the offseason, and the illness had taken a lot out of him.

“I’m what they call a long hauler,” he wrote later, and his recovery was frustratingly gradual. He lost much of his vibrancy, he said, his enthusiasm. But Shannon wasn’t giving up. He had plans, including hunting and fishing. He might open another restaurant, he wrote, or revive “Live at Shannon’s.”

“To me, Mike is St. Louis baseball,” one fan told KSDKon the day of Shannon’s last game. “I’m going to miss just hearing his voice for every home game.”

In his book, Shannon wrote, “I don’t consider myself that good or that important.” But he learned from the audience what the job means to fans. “I’ve become important because of them.”

He was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. He won a local Emmy award and twice was named Missouri sportscaster of the year, according to the Missouri Broadcasters Association. The KMOX broadcast booth at Busch Stadium and CBC’s baseball stadium are named for him.

“I had a good time,” Shannon told KSDK as he was retiring. “I made sure of that.”

Shannon’s first wife, Judy, died in 2007. He is survived by his wife, Lori, and six children.

Reporter Will Bauer contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the position that Joe Schultz played. He was a major league catcher before becoming a coach for the Cardinals.

Bob Cronin is a copy editor and obituary writer for St. Louis Public Radio.

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