There’s so much I can tell you about Chris Duncan. So much. I’ll just tell you a few stories to give you what I think the essence of my friend was.
As a player, Dunc was admittedly not a media guy. But it had nothing to do with a disdain for the media. The first time I ever had a long talk with Chris was during the 2008 season when he was still battling to come back from a double hernia, and I wanted to learn about his struggles. He’d had a mesh put in to keep his core together and was hurting terribly, but he didn’t want to use that as an excuse and was playing because he was a player. At one point during our discussion I asked him, when he could have a discussion like we were having, why he didn’t talk to the media more. And he said it was because he respected the veterans in the clubhouse, guys like Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, Troy Glaus and Ryan Franklin. Chris didn’t think that, even though he was a first-round pick, a successful hitter and a World Champion, that he had earned a spot as the team’s spokesman. He respected those that had come before him, and I respected him for that.
Our first day on the air at 101 ESPN was January 1, 2009 at Pujols 5 restaurant at Westport. And among our first guests that day was Chris. His humor and self-deprecation came out. We had lots of fun, but even then, I never imagined that he’d become a radio star.
After his baseball career ended, Chris joined us as a baseball analyst at the station. And he craved knowledge. He wanted to know about how radio worked, about other sports, about his new “teammates,” everything. He devoured knowledge. Once he asked me how I was able to watch every game, and I pointed out that I couldn’t watch EVERY game…I had to get the main points from them. At that point, Chris was trying to watch every single game…spending all of his waking, non-working hours in front of a TV. Like he was as a player, his work ethic was unmatched.
Remember watching the Cardinals on TV when Dave Duncan, Chris’s dad, was the pitching coach, and the giant binders he had in front of him? That’s exactly what Chris had in radio, lugging in a backpack with tons of notebooks every day. He had copious notes, and made an effort to learn every sport. He had played linebacker in high school but didn’t know the NFL. He learned it. He had never seen hockey. He learned it. Whatever was place in front of him, he wanted to learn about it. He was one of the most curious people I’d ever met.
Early on in his radio career, I asked Dunc if he had signed up for benefits, since we were near the deadline to sign up. He had no idea what I was talking about. Keep in mind, Dunc had literally grown up in Major League clubhouses. He spent springs and summers of his childhood with his dad with the A’s and Cardinals. He was a number one draft pick in 1999 and got a $1 million bonus. So, he could be forgiven for not knowing about benefits and a typical workplace. As he said to me at the time, “the only thing I’ve ever had to know was what time the bus left. I had to write a check to the clubhouse guys and catch the bus on time.” He was so innocent. He just didn’t know about benefits and time sheets. But he learned.
I’ll never forget when he called to tell me he had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. It was September 30, 2012…a Sunday…and I was driving home from a Rams-Seahawks game. Dunc calls me, and I figured it was something about tomorrow’s show. But he said “Randy, I’m so sorry.” I asked him why and he said, “I got diagnosed with a brain tumor and I’m not going to be on the show.” He told me he was going to fly to Duke the next day, and by the end of the week had undergone brain surgery. He was a guy who had just learned that he had a brain tumor, and he was APOLOGIZING because he couldn’t be on the show. He was such an amazing, caring human being.
He fought hard to come back, and did…well. He was the same, funny guy when he returned. But one night I was driving him home after a remote and he told me that there was a 100-percent chance that the tumor would return. He just didn’t know when. I couldn’t believe that he lived with that fear every day, but he did. And he couldn’t have handled it any better. Chris was as mentally and physically tough as anyone you’d ever meet.
Dunc was so funny. We had a station t-shirt made up with words that he used, called the “Dunc-tionary.” If he didn’t invent the word man-soda, he popularized it. He was incredibly self-deprecating about his outfield defense. “You drop a couple of fly balls in the World Series and all of a sudden you’re a defensive liability.” One time he and I disagreed about a pitcher he thought the Cardinals should trade for, and I didn’t. We asked his dad about the pitcher, and Dave sided with me. For a long time, Chris complained that Dave liked me better than him. The stories he told about the childhood exploits of he and his brother Shelley were priceless.
It’s so sad that a guy like this…so vibrant, fun caring, tough, gifted…has been taken from us. Thanks for what you gave us in life, Chris Duncan, and enjoy that great field in heaven.