07/27/2003 8:15 PM ET
Banner day for Milwaukee's Uecker
Baseball has always been No. 1 for this broadcaster
Uecker speech excerpts
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bob Uecker's acceptance speech Sunday at the Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies was a collection of one-liners from beginning to end that had the 44 living Hall of Famers on the stage and an audience of about 18,000 in complete stitches as he ad-libbed for 18 minutes.
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Uecker stole the show from Gary Carter and Eddie Murray, who were both inducted into the Hall on Sunday.
Uecker, the longtime play-by-play man for the Milwaukee Brewers, was honored this year with the Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick award for broadcast excellence, but told the crowd he should have earned a place in the Hall earlier.
"I still think, and this is not sour grapes by any means, that I should have gone in as a player," Uecker said. "Starting with the Braves in Milwaukee, St. Louis where I won a world's championship for them in 1964, to the Philadelphia Phillies and back to the Braves in Atlanta where I became Phil Neikro's personal chaser."
Uecker, a catcher, was a .200 hitter with 14 home runs and 74 RBIs in 297 games during his six-year career that began in 1962 and ended in 1967. Uecker said Sunday he knew the signs when his on-field career was on the brink.
"The Cardinals GM at that time  asked me if I would do him and the Cardinals a favor," he said. "He said, 'We'd like to inject you with hepatitis. We need to bring an infielder up.' "
Things went from bad to worse.
"When the Braves were going to release me -- it's a tough time for a manager, for your family, for the player to be told that you are never going to play the game again," he said. "And I can remember walking into the clubhouse that day and Lum Harris, who was the Braves manager, came up to me, and said there were no visitors allowed."
Later that year, Uecker said he knew his fate was sealed.
"Paul Richards was the general manager and he told me the Braves wanted to make me a coach for the following season and that I would be coaching second base," Uecker said. "That's when I knew I was gone."
Uecker told the crowd that he is a native of Milwaukee, but was born on the side of the road in Illinois when his father and mother were making a run for "colored oleo."
"I remember it was a nativity-type setting," he said. "An exit light shining down. There were three truck drivers there. One was carrying butter, one guy had frankfurters and the other was a retired baseball scout who told my folks that I probably had a chance to play somewhere down the line."
His father, like "most athletes," was a major influence in Uecker's career.
"I got a lot of my ability from my father as a lot of these other guys did," he said. "My dad actually came to this country as a soccer player. He didn't play, he blew up the balls.
"And they didn't have pumps in those days. To see a man put that valve in his mouth and to insert it into a soccer ball, blow 30 pounds of air, and then have the ability to pull that thing out without it fracturing the back of his mouth was unbelievable."
His father bought him a football.
"We tried to pass it, throw it, kick it and it was very discouraging for him and for me and we almost quit. And finally we had a nice enough neighbor who came over and put some air in it, and what a difference."
Then as a Major Leaguer, Uecker said he had all the endorsement deals of the modern players.
"I had a great shoe contract and glove contract with a company who paid me a
lot of money never to be seen using their stuff," he said.
"People have asked me a lot of times, because I didn't hit a lot, how long a dozen bats would last me? Depending on the weight and model I was using at that time -- I would say eight to 10 cookouts."
Uecker closed the speech with a moment of solemnity, thanking the fans. He's the guy who appeared on "The Tonight Show" multiple times with Johnny Carson. He was in the cast of "Mr. Belvedere", a television sitcom that ran six seasons. He was the classic Harry Doyle, that crafty announcer for the Cleveland Indians in the three "Major League" movies.
And is finishing his 33rd season as a play-by-play announcer for his hometown Brewers.
"For all of these years it's been a great run, but No. 1 has always been baseball for me," he said. "Baseball was the only way I wanted to go."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.