ST. LOUIS — Nobody made fun of Chris Duncan more than Chris himself. That to me tells you all that one needs to know about the man and what his soul was made of. It wasn't pure self-deprecation; just a guy who didn't mind designing the punch line as well as executing it.
In fact, no one had more fun in life than Duncan. If you ask me what the goal of a life should be, it's to have as much fun as possible before your time is up.
Duncan passed away on Friday night at the tender-far-too-young age of 38, succumbing to brain cancer. He fought the deadly disease for seven years, beating it once, taking it the distance in many other rounds before the end.
When I think back on Duncan's legacy, I think about a guy who never wasted a second to laugh, make someone else laugh, and also someone who chased big dreams and caught most of them.
It was just 14 years ago that Duncan took his first at-bat as a Major Leaguer, pinch-hitting in a game against the New York Mets. He spent five seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, a career that spanned 389 games. While his run ended prematurely due to a painful back injury, Duncan managed to smash 55 home runs (or "boomskis" as Duncan nicknamed it) and slashed .257/.358/.458 during his time in the Majors.
He helped the Cardinals win a World Series in 2006, becoming the everyman that Tony La Russa needed. While some will look back and remember his misplays in the outfield, others will fondly recall his timely home run against the New York Mets during that playoff run. If anyone ever truly let the big dog eat at the plate, it was Duncan. You could feel his swing all the way out in Chesterfield. He took his last swing in the Majors just over ten years ago, grounding into a double play against Jose Velverde in a 3-2 loss in Houston.
Playing the game turned out not to be Duncan's true calling; that came behind the microphone as a radio analyst. I was sitting in a Walgreens parking lot off Manchester and McCausland when Duncan first came on 101.1 ESPN, guest-calling on an afternoon show to discuss the Cardinals. I heard the voice, thought it sounded familiar, and locked onto it. Duncan was precise, personal, and made the game simple to understand. After all, he had fought tooth and nail to make his way to the Majors.
Soon after, he was paired with Anthony Stalter for The Turn on WXOS. The two had instant chemistry, getting into debates and battles that listeners tune in for, but always ending the show like two brothers who had fun talking ball for two hours a day. You can tell when radio voices are friends or not friends off the air, it's just there in the interplay. Duncan and Stalter were amigos all the way, and their respect for the game and each other made the show a true delight.
When cancer struck Duncan back in 2012, he didn't bat an eye, because he knew this beast well. Glioblastoma took his mom, Jeanine, at the age of 64. Duncan had surgery to remove the tumor shortly after the diagnosis and became a beacon of strength for many. He returned to the radio show and stayed there until March 2017 when the cancer returned. This past January, the absence became permanent as Duncan settled in for the fight of his life.
As I type the next words out, my hands tremble. Duncan lost that fight, and it's just not fair. Life never is, but that doesn't mean I can't call it out on occasion for its cruelty. The news of his death hit me out of nowhere on Friday. I saw a tweet from KSDK's Rene Knott wishing Dan McLaughlin well, but that was only due to the fact the Fox Sports Midwest play-by-play voice informed Cardinal Nation of the sad news during the fourth inning of Friday's game. When I scrolled a bit more on Twitter, I saw what had happened. It hits you like a ton of bricks; the realization that a good soul was taken too soon.
Maybe it's due to the fact that I am 37 years old and have a family. Maybe it's due to the fact that my late friend, Troy Siade, died at the age of 38 to cancer.
I didn't know Duncan, nor did I have the pleasure of meeting him, but he made you feel like a longtime friend when you listened to his radio show. He let you in every time, seemingly doing what every radio host should aspire to pull off, and that's forge a connection with an individual listener. Duncan did that and then some.
He leaves behind a legacy of chasing down dreams and fulfilling each and every one of them. Duncan set out to make the Major Leagues, and did so, playing under his dad, Dave Duncan in St. Louis. He became a World Series Champion. He helped guide his younger brother, Shelley, into the Majors. Duncan retired and became a highly successful radio host. He beat cancer once, fighting it off and living another seven years.
If we can pack as much life into our world as Duncan did into his and so many others, the world will run better. He was a noble light in an often dim world.
I'll honor Duncan by treating every day as if it were my last. None of us are making it out of here alive, so do it all. As the late great Stuart Scott, who also succumbed to cancer, said during his acceptance speech at The ESPY's years ago, "when you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner with which you live."
Chris Duncan beat cancer by living a full life. He took shots at himself before you could, always making light of a career that had its fair share of ups and downs while never forgetting to appreciate the ride. While he's gone too soon, the former Cardinal will never be forgotten. The good ones never are.