ST. LOUIS -- New ballpark. New flagship radio station. Now, a new play-by-play man on radio. It will be a new era indeed when the Cardinals kick off their 2006 season. The Cardinals introduced John Rooney as the new broadcast partner of Mike Shannon at a Friday press conference, agreeing with Rooney on a five-year contract.
Rooney, considered one of the top broadcasters in baseball, had been a favorite of Cardinals management for quite some time, and likewise was thrilled at the chance to call games in St. Louis.
"It is a homecoming, and it is a very exciting moment," Rooney said. "My heart is really beating at the opportunity to join the St. Louis Cardinals and to be a teammate of Mike Shannon's."
His predecessor, Wayne Hagin, was let go with a year remaining on his contract. The club will pay Hagin in full for the remainder of his deal. Rooney spent the last 17 years calling White Sox games, but parted ways with the team when he could not reach agreement on a new contract at the end of the 2005 season. Chicago moved to a new radio affiliate this season.
That made the veteran voice available to the Cardinals, who pounced. Rooney will join Shannon on KTRS, which replaces KMOX in 2006 as the anchor station in the Cardinals Radio Network.
"With absolutely no disrespect to last year's broadcast team, we concluded that a team of John Rooney and Mike Shannon would be better than what we gave our fans this year," said team president Mark Lamping. "It simply came down to that.
"I think we have an obligation, particularly this year with the change from KMOX over to KTRS. We felt that if we were going to make a change, now was the time to do it. We weren't sure if John would be available a year from now."
The club picked up a 2006 contract option on Hagin in May. At the press conference announcing the switch to KTRS, it was stated that Hagin would be back for 2006. Hagin was notified on Thursday morning that his services would not be required in '06.
For Rooney, the opportunity to step into the seat once filled by Jack Buck and Harry Caray practically came with gift wrap. A native of western Missouri, he has radio roots in the area. He worked at KMOX and called games for the Cardinals' Triple-A Louisville affiliate in the 1980s.
"I've worked with a lot of television, and the crews I've worked with are wonderful, but in radio, if you want to talk about what's going on in the dugout, you talk about it," Rooney said. "You set the scene. And it has been my honor for 18 years in Chicago, 17 of those on radio, to be the eyes of the White Sox fans, and I hope to do the same type of job here in St. Louis. It is going to be a lot of fun coming back to St. Louis."
Rooney and partner Ed Farmer were named this summer by USA Today as the American League's top radio team. In the same survey, the paper ranked Hagin and Shannon ninth out of 16 NL crews.
That may have resulted partly from a lack of chemistry between Hagin, who started in St. Louis in 2003, and Shannon, who has been calling Cardinals games since the early 1970s. The two rarely clicked together, and at times one would be out of the booth while the other called an inning.
"Mike was obviously consulted with this, and I think chemistry between announcers is extremely important," Lamping said. "Chemistry amongst all people is important, but if you're going to be living together virtually for six months, if you have a good relationship, I think that improves the broadcast and I think people can sense it.
"I really believe that there's going to be a tremendous relationship not only built but expanded in our broadcast booth, and I think our fans will notice that, and I think it will be a higher quality broadcast."
Shannon, addressing the news conference by phone, hailed the move.
"I think the folks, when they tune us in next year, are going to just be delighted," Shannon said. "We have a new team and I think the future is even brighter now for St. Louis Cardinals baseball, KTRS and Cardinal Nation. It's going to be a joy to work with John. I've worked with John in the past, and we'll have a phenomenal team. I'm very excited about it, just cannot wait until next year."
Rooney, 50, is a native of Richmond, Mo. In addition to his tenure with the White Sox, he was also a member of the Minnesota Twins broadcasting team in 1987 when the Twins triumphed in seven games over the Cardinals. Rooney left after 1987, his only season with the Twins, to call White Sox games on TV. A year later he moved to the White Sox radio booth.
Beyond baseball, Rooney has called 19 men's basketball Final Fours, including 10 national championship games, Monday Night Football, baseball Games of the Week and Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN. His television résumé includes Big East basketball on ESPN Regional and baseball's Game of the Week on FOX.
Rooney attended the University of Missouri and in the early 1980s called Mizzou sports for the Missouri Sports Network. He was inducted in 2004 into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Rooney and his wife, Susan, have two daughters, Colleen and Rachel.