07/25/2003 12:56 PM ET
Showtime for Uecker
Broadcaster honored in Cooperstown this weekend
MILWAUKEE -- You wouldn't be the first person to ask him about his front row seats. Or how it felt to have Andre the Giant wring his neck. Or if it really was all Belvedere's fault.
But for Bob Uecker, the legendary "Voice of the Brewers," his true calling is in Milwaukee as the Brewers' play-by-play broadcaster.
"All that stuff, I never considered it a life's work ... even some of these other movies I've done, all that stuff is laughs to me," Uecker said. "Because no matter what I did, I was always coming back here [to the broadcast booth]. There was nothing that was ever going to change my mind about coming back here."
His impact in the broadcast booth unquestioned, Uecker's long and distingushed career takes him to Cooperstown, N.Y. this weekend. He is the recipient of the Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick award for a broadcaster's meritorious contribution to baseball.
But in his 33rd season with Milwaukee, Uecker may best be known to non-Milwaukeeans as Cleveland Indians off-color broadcaster Harry Doyle in the movie Major League, a movie which began filming 15 years ago this month.
"They had the premiere in Cleveland, and most of those current Indians players called me Harry Doyle all the time, they never called me Bob Uecker anymore," he said.
"I think that people who only knew him primarily from the 'Tonight Show' appearances, or the Miller Lite commercials or 'Mr. Belvedere' couldn't realize what a good broadcaster he is and what an institution he has been in Milwaukee for 30 years," said Bob Costas, a former broadcast partner of Uecker's.
By J.R. Radcliffe / Special to MLB.com
"People know me from a lot of other things," concurred Uecker. "The Miller commercials probably gave me the most recognition of all. I had a series on television 'Mr. Belvidere' that lasted six seasons, I did the 'Tonight Show' for all those years, Friday Night Baseball, Monday Night Baseball. ... There were so many other things that I did, I think people associated me with all the movies actually more than they did with play-by-play unless they were really baseball fans."
Uecker's credits include over 90 appearances on the 'Tonight Show' with Johnny Carson, a ringside announcer for Wrestlemania, the 'Mr. Belvedere' TV series and appearances in such films as Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco and suspense thriller spoof Fatal Instinct, not to mention a famous sequence of Miller commercials and appearances in each of the three Major League films.
Uecker said he doesn't mind hearing about his place in the entertainment lexicon each time he comes to work for his steady job with the Brewers.
"It's become such a part of everyday life for me. When I go to ballparks, I don't care for how many years, it'll be from now to perpetuity, someone's going to mention the front row guy," he said, referring to his character from the Miller Lite commercials, a self-important celebrity who can't catch a break. "I don't mind that. You're part of American folklore. It's something that people remember and their kids remember. Part of Americana I guess."
Uecker said the commercials for Milwaukee's most recognized brewery almost didn't happen.
"I turned them down three times because there was a conflict here with Pabst," he said, noting that the latter brewery sponsored radio broadcasts at the time. "Finally, after the third time I went and told Bud [Selig, who was Brewers president then] that I thought it was better for me to do this stuff, and if it meant that I was going to leave here, I was ready to do that. Bud told me to go talk to the Pabst Brewery and everybody else, and we worked out a deal and I stayed. Pabst left and Miller came in."
The ad campaign, which he said lasted close to 17 years, still lingers as a defining moment in Uecker's on-screen history, along with Major League and its successive sequels, which didn't quite live up to the popularity of the first.
"The sequel was okay, I always think of the first one as the best," he said. "They didn't have Wesley Snipes in the second one, but they still let me do what I wanted and I had fun doing it.
"The third one stunk. I did it, but I never wanted to do it, they talked me into it. I saw the script and I couldn't understand how my character went from a big league team to the minor leagues."
Uecker recalled one scene from the second movie, which used Camden Yards in Baltimore for filming. "I was sitting with a tank top shirt in October and it was really cold, and I had to do this scene over and over and it was getting to the point where it was really hard to do."
He added, "The toughest thing about doing something like that is calling the game when there's nothing going on. You're sitting in a little box by yourself."
Uecker emphasized the best part of the movie-making process was using material that closely mirrored something he would say during real games, often using ad lib to manufacture memorable on screen moments, such as his home run call or famous phrase, "Juuussst a bit outside."
"I don't ever feel bad in front of a camera," he said. "Not that you're not nervous; but the thing with doing a movie is you can screw it up a hundred times and go back to doing it again."
Uecker, who will not appear in the upcoming Mr. 3000, currently using Miller Park as a filming locale, has felt good in a series of professional ventures, as evidenced by such accolades as induction into the Wisconsin Performing Arts Hall of Fame, Radio Hall of Fame, Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame and of course, the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet with all the celebrity that has attached itself to Bob Uecker, he makes one thing very clear: Milwaukee Brewers radio is his role in life, first and foremost.
"I'm here, I'm not a Hollywood guy," he said.
J.R. Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.