After spending the better part of three decades at Fox, Joe Buck flipped the sports world on its head with his seismic decision to join ESPN last spring, reuniting with longtime broadcast partner Troy Aikman in the Monday Night Football booth. Though no less surprising to the general public, the move made sense for Buck, whose wife, Michelle, has been a reporter for ESPN since 2014. While ESPN’s offer of a $15-million salary no doubt played a role in his departure, Buck felt deep down it was time for a change, a sentiment apparently shared by his employers at Fox.
“I just think, on some level, this is kind of what they wanted,” said Buck in his recent sit-down with Jimmy Traina, host of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast. “I think there was a crack in [our] relationship.”
When he was brought aboard in 1994, Buck was hired by executives Ed Goren and David Hill, both of whom have since moved on to other media endeavors. While Buck wasn’t necessarily looking to leave Fox, when the opportunity at ESPN presented itself, he couldn’t pass it up.
“I understand it. I think that’s human nature. It was kind of like, ‘You want to go, go. We’ll live. We’ll do this the way we want to do it now. You’re the Hill-Goren guys,’” said Buck. “I think Fox was excited to start over and mold something different that didn’t involve me, and I’m good with that.”
As holdovers from the previous Goren/Hill regime, Buck got the sense Fox higher-ups were actually relieved to see him go, allowing the network to move in a new, more youthful direction. “You’ve got new people in charge there,” said Buck. “They wanted a broadcast that reflected them a little bit and a fresh start.”
Buck’s obligations at ESPN prevented himself from calling this year’s World Series, the first time he’s been absent from baseball’s biggest stage in over a quarter-century. While he’s not immune to fleeting moments of nostalgia, Buck insists he’s left that part of his career in the rearview mirror, suggesting it will be a while before he broadcasts another baseball game.
“[ESPN] kind of gingerly asked me to do a game during the season. I think Karl Ravech missed a game and they said, ‘Would you want to do it?’ It might have been St. Louis, I don’t even know. I said, ‘Let’s just give it some time,’” said Buck. “I’ve done baseball broadcasting since I was 19 professionally. I feel like I’ve done all I can do there. If someday I want to go back and call a few games, maybe. But I do not have that itch. I love the sport. I love watching it. I’m so glad I did it. I’m proud of how and what I did. But I just don’t have that desire at the moment to keep doing the same thing over and over.”
While Buck considered his split from Fox to be amicable, the 53-year-old says it’s been refreshing to get positive feedback and encouragement from his bosses at ESPN, a phenomenon he rarely, if ever, experienced at Fox. “The feedback has been just awesome, so you feel appreciated,” said Buck, who will be on the call for Monday night’s game in Mexico City between NFC West rivals San Francisco and Arizona. “It’s nice to get a pat on the back and hear, ‘Hey, we’re glad you’re here.’”
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