ST. LOUIS -- In the words of Jack Buck, one of the men who helped make Busch Stadium what it has been for 40 seasons, "So long for just a while."
The Cardinals bid their formal farewell to old Busch on Sunday with a ceremony following the final regular-season game at the downtown ballpark. They'll be right back on the field Monday, though, for a workout -- and then Tuesday for Game 1 of the National League Division Series. As far as the Cards are concerned, the longer it takes before Busch goes dark for good, the better.
The ceremony lasted a little under two hours, as players were introduced and took the field by decade from the 1960s through the current decade. Alums headed out to their positions as they were introduced, with music from the respective decades playing and a sellout game crowd of more than 50,000 nearly all still in attendance.
And though the event was all about the players, one by one the players saluted the fans.
"I realize that I am a Cardinal, and that's all there is to it," said Keith Hernandez, who played in St. Louis from 1974-83.
"It was the best three years of my life," said Jack Clark, perhaps best known for his 10 years as a Giant. Clark won a pair of pennants in three years as a Cardinal.
Festivities got started just a few minutes after the Cardinals beat the Reds, 7-5, to close out a 100-win regular season, and ran until about 6:15 p.m. CT, capped off by a fireworks display. To the dismay of many fans, fireworks have been absent from Busch Stadium this year while new Busch is being constructed next door.
In an admirable touch, before the first player or executive was recognized, the club honored the roughly 2,000 employees who work at the stadium -- and in particular, 11 who have been at Busch since it opened in 1966. Each of the 11 employees stood by a sign commemorating one of the postseason trips the Cardinals have made since the current Busch opened, from the 1967 World Series championship through this year's division title.
The club honored late Cardinals such as Darryl Kile and Buck with a video tribute, and recognized family members of several deceased players and Buck. Among those in attendance and honored were Roger Maris Jr., Judy Flood, the wife of Curt Flood and Ken Boyer's son Dan.
Buck's wife, Carole, spoke to the assemblage, sharing a favorite story of her husband and urging the 2005 club on.
"Jack wanted this new house for you," Carole Buck said. "He campaigned for it. The owners gave it to us. And you know what would be a great housewarming present? The 2005 World Series win."
Among the highlights of the introductions were thunderous cheers for Willie McGee, Mark McGwire and Tom Herr, to name just a few. Former pitcher and current broadcaster Al Hrabosky "psyched up" for the crowd, mimicking his pre-pitching routine from when he was known as the "Mad Hungarian" in the 1970s. It was a lovefest, made even sweeter by the fact that it followed a victory.
Interspersed with the alumni introductions were a tribute to the media, the umpires, the medical and training staffs and the front offices over the years. And after the "2000s" alumni were introduced, out came the 2005 club, from coaches all the way to Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols.
Pujols' face could scarcely contain his grin as he heralded the "best fans in baseball."
Then it was time for what the whole crowd had waited for -- the Hall of Famers. Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith emerged from the dugout to huge ovations, followed by Cardinals coaching icon George Kissell and managers Whitey Herzog, Tony La Russa and Red Schoendienst. The definitive Cardinal, Stan Musial, was unable to make the event.
"Before the season started, we knew what was ahead of us -- the last season at Busch, and so many expectations," said La Russa. "I hoped we would have a good year and sure enough we did. Coming into the weekend, we wanted to have a good weekend, and we did. And now I know we want to have a real good postseason."
The Cardinals played a video tribute to their former owner, the late August A. "Gussie" Busch, calling him "the No. 1 Cardinals fan of all time," before the Budweiser Clydesdales took one last trip around the warning track of the old ballpark. A team picture was shot, the fireworks went off, and it was time to go home.
For a day.
It's just two days until the Cards get back at it on the field, trying to cap off the facility with one more title.
"The best feeling for myself and coaches and fans," La Russa told the crowd, "is that this team is going to take its best shot. And I think it's going to be a real good shot."
After all, the Cardinals want the final tagline for the stadium to be another of Jack Buck's best-known lines -- "That's a winner!"
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.