03/13/2003 12:04 PM ET
Uecker makes it to Cooperstown
PHOENIX -- For years, Mr. Baseball has been juuussst a bit outside.
Now, Bob Uecker is in.
Uecker, the 68-year-old actor, funnyman and longtime Brewers broadcaster, on Thursday was named the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award Winner.
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
He will be honored at Cooperstown, N.Y. with fellow Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Eddie Murray on July 27.
Uecker may be the first to admit he lacks Vin Scully's poignancy, Jack Buck's poeticism or Ernie Harwell's silky voice, but in his 33rd season calling games for his hometown team, 'Ueck' has never lost his sense of humor.
"The first thing that comes to mind is, 'Am I going to be in the regular ceremony or are they going to do something separate in December?'" he joked after getting the news Thursday morning. "I'm excited, I'm happy. What else could you be?"
Of joining other broadcast legends in the Hall: "A lot of those guys were doing games that I played in. Games that I sat in, I should say."
Uecker batted only .200 in six seasons as a Major League catcher for the Milwaukee Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves from 1962-67.
He jokes that the good days were the worst thing that ever happened to him, because poking fun at his own abilities between the lines has become his trademark on the air.
"One of my managers told me I should be a broadcaster, and that was the first day I signed," Uecker said.
Fans love that self-deprecating style in the broadcast booth, his quick wit and his uncanny ability to make them laugh through even the most lopsided game.
"One way or another," Brewers Hall of Famer Robin Yount said, "you know the broadcast will be good, whether the game is or not."
Ask anyone who ever wore a Brewers uniform, and they likely have a Bob Uecker story. Yount's favorite came after his playing days were over, when the Brewers' Hall of Famer was in town for an auto race in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
After the race and a stop at the ballpark, Yount started driving to Indianapolis, where his daughter was set to participate in a figure skating competition.
Of course, Uecker started riding his old buddy.
"He made a joke out of it and said he used to ice skate," Yount said. "He said, 'Anybody can do a figure-eight. I used to do figure-fours. And forget those figure skates. I did it on speed skates.'"
But his love of baseball, his fans say, is the beauty of Uecker. His famous "Get up! Get up! Get outta here! Gone!" home run call is in lights high above Miller Park.
"A lot of people don't know his love for the game, which is I think where you need to start," former Brewer Cal Eldred said. "That's the thing. He really enjoys the game of baseball and he's given up a lot of his life for it. That's what I see. And he's one funny human being. He can tell a story."
In 2001, Uecker was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, joining other baseball legends like Buck, Harwell, Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber and Jack Brickhouse. He is a five-time Wisconsin sportscaster of the year winner and was inducted into the state's sports hall of fame in 1998. He and former Brewers GM Harry Dalton will enter the Brewers Walk of Fame at Miller Park this summer.
Uecker's break in entertainment came in 1969. Jazz trumpeter Al Hirt opened a nightclub in Atlanta and invited Uecker to come on stage with comedian Don Rickles, who was cracked up by Uecker's deadpan style.
Hirt arranged for Uecker to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the first of some 100 appearances on the show before Carson retired in 1992.
Uecker stepped into the Brewers radio booth with Merle Harmon and Tom Collins in 1971.
"I was more nervous doing radio play-by-play than I ever was on the Tonight Show or all the other things I ever did," Uecker said. "It was always because I was wondering what my friends, and those people I was raised with in Milwaukee, were thinking about me being an idiot on the radio."
Uecker said he remembers a day at Yankee Stadium in 1971 when Harmon and Collins left him in the booth alone for the first time. Uecker begged them to return for three or four pitches, until the engineer urged, "You better start talking."
So he started talking. In addition to his work with the Brewers Uecker hosted two syndicated television shows, starred in a popular run of commercials for Miller Lite and was cast as cynical Indians broadcaster Harry Doyle in the "Major League" movie trilogy, the first of which was filmed at Milwaukee County Stadium. He appeared on several ABC programs before landing a leading role as sportscaster George Owens on the seven-year run of "Mr. Belvedere."
For the past seven seasons, he has teamed with Jim Powell on Brewers broadcasts. Uecker has also called national broadcasts for ABC's Monday Night Baseball, and teamed with Bob Costas and Joe Morgan on playoff and World Series broadcasts. Yount said some fans remember the movies and the Carson appearances and forget that Uecker is a baseball man at heart.
"It's because he's so entertaining along with knowing the game the way he does," Yount said. "He's basically a color guy who's also an analyst plus a play-by-play guy too. He's all in one."
"He comes across as a guy who played the game and remembers that it is a tough game to play," said Brewers catcher Mike Matheny, one of Uecker's fishing buddies. "He doesn't just pound guys and forget that he had his tough days, too. He gives a lot of insight to the fans, tries to teach them the game."
Uecker has never had a contract with the Brewers, and he says he's like to stay in the booth until someone kicks him out.
"People and fans in Wisconsin mean a lot to me," Uecker said. "That's where I was born and raised, and no matter what I do or what I ever did, I'm staying there. I feel bad when we don't win, I feel bad when people get sick.
"I have become, and so has [Powell] and any other guy that works there, part of people's daily lives. Every day, at a certain hour, people around the state in our broadcasting area, they turn you on. Mail tells me that. I get mail from grandkids and great grandkids of people who listened to me when I first started. ... You become part of people's families. They know you because you're there every day. I never want that to change."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Matthew Leach contributed to this report, which was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.