Bob Uecker is now in the twilight of his career. And, for him, it’s been quite a ride. Uecker played six years in the big leagues, as a rather un-distinguished catcher for the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies. He was on the Cards team that won the World Series in 1964. His career batting average was .200 and he hit 14 home runs.
What Uecker has accomplished after his major league career ended is nothing short of astonishing. In 1969, he appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and became a late night talk show hit. Carson dubbed him “Mr. Baseball”, the moniker stuck throughout Uecker’s career. He left baseball in 1967, his last season with the Atlanta Braves. In 1971, he became the play-by-play radio announcer for his hometown Milwaukee Brewers and he is still doing it, some 45 years later.
He’s logged countless miles on road trips, to the west coast and the Pacific Northwest. A few years ago, those close to him, convinced him to cut back his schedule.
“I ain’t getting any younger,” he said. “I’m 81 years old and you know the end of the road is down the line.” If you’ve seen pictures of him, he doesn’t look 81 or act that age. But he reluctantly accepts that there are other things in life he wants to enjoy and the traveling has taken it’s toll. “You don’t walk away from something you’ve been doing this long and say, “see you later, I ain’t coming back.” That won’t happen.” Uecker says he will make the call when to step away from the broadcast booth. “I know when I finally have to pull the plug,” he said. “I’m going to miss it.” According to baseball writer Tom Hourdicourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, his legion of fans are going to miss Uecker too. He has become an institution in Milwaukee and is highly regarded by his peers.
In August of 2012, they had a Bob Uecker Day at Miller Park in Milwaukee and MLB’s Bob Costas co-announced a half-inning with Uecker. It was a mutual admiration moment. With Costas playing the part of “auditioning announcer.” Uecker joked that Costas was in the top five of those left. The scene was a warm one and one had the feeling that these two genuinely liked each other. Tributes came on the video screen from Vin Scully, Marty Brennaman, and Tim McCarver. McCarver told the story of Uecker in 1964 in the bullpen using a tuba to shag fly balls during a World Series game. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were laughing hysterically.
There is a section of seats at Miller Park in the upper deck behind home plate called the “Uecker seats” –the seat is yours for $1.00 if you can tolerate the beams that hold up the roof of the stadium. It is so high up if you get ice cream on a hot day, it may melt before you reach your seat.
Uecker’s humor is legendary in baseball circles. He was introduced as the Ford C. Frick Award recipient in 2003, for meritorious service to baseball. He gave an off-the cuff speech that had the Hall of Fame players seated behind him, trying to contain themselves, and fans rollicking as if at a Las Vegas comedy club.
He also gave an interview to MLB.com and reeled off some great one-liners. “I call slow pitch softball for seniors,” he remarked. “They don’t use a ball, they just tell me what they did.” How was the pay in baseball when you played, Ueck? “We got below minimum.” “(It wasn’t good). “I had to get a salary selling other players equipment.” He was liable to walk up to you and say, “Hey, need a used shin guard?”
Uecker did hit 14 home runs in his career, one off the great Sandy Koufax. As Uecker tells it, he was worried it would affect Koufax’s career, not his. And, Uecker, clever with the self-deprecating wit, has a story about pitcher Gaylord Perry. As Ueck tells it, when Uecker hit a home run off him, it was the worst day in Perry’s life, not just his baseball life. Uecker has been disarming people with his humor for decades. He appeared in the hit movie series “Major League” as Cleveland Indians announcer Harry Doyle who enjoyed the sauce, if you will. When Charlie Sheen’s character Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn throws a wild pitch, Uecker deadpans, “Juuust a bit outside.” Asked what was his biggest thrill in baseball? Uecker said, “Watching a fan fall out of the upper deck in Philadelphia.”
And, Uecker can announce baseball folks. Just listen to the call of the single by Nyjer Morgan of the Brewers to send Milwaukee into the NLCS vs. St. Louis. Uecker calls the play with a knowing passion, excitement and perfectly captures the moment as Carlos Gomez scored the winning run back in 2011.
Ueck was heard on WGN-TV, calling a Cubs/Brewers game a few years ago, saying how much he loved the game of baseball. “Baseball is a good game. I enjoy every minute of it. You have to have a good team at the ball park. Do I get a gift?”
He’s had a statue honoring him at Miller Park and Reds announcer Marty Brennaman kidded him saying, now the pigeons had a new place to do their thing. In 2010, Uecker had two heart surgeries, and missed some time during the season. Last season he was hit in the head with a batted ball during batting practice before a Royals vs. Brewers game. He called six innings, felt dizzy, and then went home. Team doctors said he had a mild concussion. He was back behind the mic the next week.
“I love making people feel good whether it be at a charitable thing I do or just through the broadcast, or shows that I’m in, films that I’ve done,” Uecker said.
He is still going strong at 81 and will continue until he thinks it’s time to hang ‘em up. Quite a career, Bob Uecker.