Uecker's sense of humor belies his talent
Hall of Fame broadcaster not planning to retire anytime soon
MILWAUKEE -- Bob Uecker, the Hall of Fame Brewers broadcaster and baseball funnyman, has a particular plan for his retirement. No, it does not allow going out on top should the Brewers bounce back from their 3-2 deficit in the National League Championship Series and win the franchise's first World Series championship.Uecker has an even more dramatic exit in mind. "I'll take a dirt bath in the booth," he said. "I'll probably die up there, roll down the screen, have a wagon go around to grab you when you fall off and then go twice around the track." In other words, you can expect Uecker back in the Brewers' radio booth next season. He'll be 77 by Opening Day, and still less than two years removed from two major heart surgeries. "I'm coming back," he said. There will be no paperwork to sign. Since then-Brewers owner Allan H. "Bud" Selig hired him in 1971, Uecker has never had a contract. There simply exists an understanding that he will call games until he decides he does not want to -- or cannot -- do it anymore. "It's a handshake," Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said. Uecker has always said he will know when it's time to call it a career, but he's not there yet, says on-air partner Cory Provus, who joined Uecker in the booth for the start of the 2009 season. Provus, who is half Uecker's age but a fine game-caller in his own right, handles the middle three innings of each game and generally giggles through the other six. Provus believes that Uecker's famous sense of humor belies his talent as a baseball broadcaster -- the skill, after all, that earned Uecker the Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2003. "I usually have the 10th and 11th innings, but I was downstairs in the clubhouse, ready to do interviews in the bottom of the 10th of NLDS Game 5 when [the Brewers] beat the Diamondbacks," Provus said. "So it was not until later that I heard Bob's call, and all I could think was, 'Thank goodness he had that call.' We all dream about having that big call, but you know what? Milwaukee and Wisconsin and baseball fans, they deserved that man to be on the mic for that moment. He nailed that call." Provus admires Uecker's pacing above all. He conjures the game last September in which Trevor Hoffman became the first man to reach 600 saves. It was a ground ball to shortstop Craig Counsell. Uecker's call was simple: "Swing and a bouncer, shortstop. Counsell. Throws! There it is!" "It was perfect," Provus said. "I've been blessed that I've been two feet away from him for some signature calls." Uecker has had a few of them in recent seasons, including Ryan Braun's twin go-ahead eighth-inning home runs -- in 2008 to clinch the NL Wild Card and in 2011 to clinch the NL Central. But there is also time for fun. Like the day last year in Cincinnati when the Reds had a festival on the field for which a woman wore a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables on her head while singing the national anthem. Provus cannot remember the exact occasion. It doesn't matter. Said Provus: "Ueck is getting ready to throw it to me for the starting lineups, and the lady finishes the anthem and he goes, 'The Chiquita Banana, with our national anthem. For the lineups, here's Cory.'" Dead air. Provus lost it. "I've said this many times," Provus said, "working with Bob, it's the best remedy for a bad day." This NLCS has been a trip down memory lane for Uecker, both because it featured an October return to St. Louis, where Uecker was the backup catcher for the 1964 World Series champion Cardinals, and because Brewers-Cardinals is a rematch of the '82 World Series. When it became clear the Cardinals would be the Brewers' opponent, which memories came rushing back first? "Oh, it's '64," Uecker said, "because we won." That was long before baseball's playoff system, when teams played the entire regular season to determine league champions and then met in a winner-take-all World Series. The Cardinals were pitted against a New York Yankees team that was in dynasty mode, complete with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford. "The thing I remember about that '64 Series was the Yankees were huge," Uecker said.
The Cardinals did not clinch the NL pennant until the final game of the regular season, having overcome a 6 1/2-game deficit over 12 games to catch and pass the Phillies. Uecker remembers waiting at Busch Stadium for the outcome of a Reds-Phillies game which determined the Cards' fate. Then-Cardinals radio man Harry Caray stayed on the air and received reports from Philly.Sound familiar? "It's the same thing I did when we won the championship" this season, Uecker said.
He was talking about Sept. 23, the night the Brewers clinched the NL Central with a win over the Marlins and a Cardinals loss hours later. The Cardinals-Cubs game aired on the scoreboard at Miller Park, and Uecker called it for a Brewers Radio Network audience.In '82, Uecker's club was back in the World Series, but this time he was in the broadcast booth. The Brewers that met the Cardinals that year were a collection of characters, from imposing starter Pete Vuckovich to cool and detached first baseman Cecil Cooper to beer-swilling center fielder Gorman Thomas. Not to mention four future Hall of Famers in Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers and Don Sutton. Uecker figures the current collection of players, whether or not they make it back to the World Series, will be remembered with the same fondness. "I have no doubt about that," he said. "This has been a really exciting season, and down to the wire. ... I love being here." And if broadcasting doesn't pan out over the next couple of years? Uecker might lace up his spikes again. "I was thinking of going to Japan," he said with his famously straight face. "They've never seen me play."