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On the Cardinals: In praise of mighty Mike

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 18, 2009 - My wife and I had the annual pleasure of attending Mike Shannon’s Celebrity Night at the Races on Saturday evening at Fairmount Park. We once again had a fabulous time.

The event is a major fundraiser for Shannon’s alma mater CBC High School and proceeds go to scholarships for students in need of financial assistance. This year’s event had the added bonus of falling on the same day as the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Raceway outside of Baltimore.

We and friends have season tickets for the Preakness dating back to the early 1990s, even though the Reids don’t make the trip each year.; But we always place a wager or two at Fairmont if not at the race itself. This year was no different.

After actually pegging Mine That Bird at 50-1 in the Kentucky Derby and pocketing $103.60 on a $2 bet, I didn’t win a dime in the Preakness. I disagreed with Carmen who said she still liked Mine That Bird in Saturday’s race. Proof again that you should always listen to your wife.

She was right. I was wrong.

Win or lose, it’s a great time and Shannon genuinely enjoys himself as friends of his and CBC eat, drink and enjoy an evening of racing.

Shannon, a St. Louis icon dating back to his days as a Cardinals third baseman, has always liked the ponies.

He and the late Jack Buck shared that interest and I think that helped them build a relationship that will never be matched in St. Louis sports broadcasting.

He can be spotted on Derby Day in Louisville and also is no stranger to Fairmount Park. A true man of the people, Shannon doesn’t turn down any photo or autograph request during his Night at the Races - or when he is partaking of simulcast wagering on a cold winter day during the offseason.

How do I know? Let me tell you.

Like many journalists, I’ve worked on every holiday at some point in my career. What is ironic is that journalists at African-American newspapers undoubtedly work on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration on a Monday in January because there are so many events to cover.

The usual MLK Day in St. Louis begins with a breakfast prayer service, and then there is the annual gathering at the Old Courthouse, a march to Powell Symphony Hall and other events. Two years ago, following the unmerciful booing of Mayor Francis Slay at the Courthouse, my day was complete.

It was still early so I decided to skip across the river to wager on the MLK Day racing throughout America.

Before anybody says I should be ashamed, I personally think Dr. King didn’t mind. While he probably didn’t like gambling, he knows my heart is in the right place.

So, I’m minding my own business reading a Racing Form when I feel a light tap on my shoulder.

While people recognize me from my appearances on “Donnybrook,” I do not consider myself a celebrity by any stretch of the imagination.

I figured it was someone who wanted to say hi and that they liked the show.

I looked up and it was Mike Shannon.

“I just wanted to say I really enjoy you on that program on Channel 9,” he said. My jaw dropped. Shannon had come out of his way to acknowledge me. I shook his hand and began to stand up when he said “no don’t get up.”

We chatted on some horse in some race and he was off to his seat in a reserved area with friends.

That’s the kind of person Shannon is, and that’s why so many of us count ourselves Shannon fans.

We laugh at the way he laughs and we giggle at his use – or misuse – of the English language.

But he makes us feel good about ourselves and about St. Louis. Few people of stature in this region can do this and those that can don’t do it with such ease.

A day will come when Shannon is no longer in the both for Cardinals’ games. And that day will be as sad as any I can remember when it comes to Cardinals baseball.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy his baseball knowledge, his wit and humor. And I’ll never miss his Night at the Races.

Alvin A. Reid is a weekend host on the new ESPN 101.1 FM. His weekly Major League Baseball - St. Louis Cardinals column, which is now published on The Beacon website, was honored by the Missouri Press Association as Best Sports Column in 2004 and 1999. He is co-author of the book, "Whitey's Boys: A Celebration of the 1982 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals" and was a member of the inaugural staff of USA TODAY Baseball Weekly. 

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