Uecker's undeniable wit, wisdom worth honoring
Bob Uecker's broadcasts have been, for 42 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, a remarkable blend of baseball acumen and unfailing humor.
Friday, Uecker's place in the history of this franchise will be permanently recognized with the unveiling of a statue in his honor outside Miller Park. Uecker's statue will join those of three other Milwaukee baseball icons -- Henry Aaron, Robin Yount and Bud Selig.
In the midst of this it is especially pleasing to note that Uecker on the air is not playing a character. The wit and wisdom that Uecker shares daily with his listeners, is an extension of the person Uecker is off the air.
Jim Powell would be in an ideal position to know this. Powell, now the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves, spent 13 years broadcasting Brewers games with Uecker. That gives Powell the longest tenure of any of Uecker's broadcast partners.
"There will never be another Bob Uecker," Powell said in an interview with MLB.com. "I am just so happy I had a chance to work with him. That's the proudest line in my resume; I worked longer with Bob Uecker than any other broadcaster. That is something I will treasure the rest of my days."
On the issue of whether Uecker is the same fellow when the microphones are off, Powell responds with a chuckle.
"He's the same guy on the air as in person -- in fact, if anything you'd be amazed at how he straightens up to go broadcast," Powell says.
"I mean, he's the life of the party. I'll never forget just being on the bus with Uke on the way to ballparks, and the commentary on the passersby and the day's events and the bus driver. And I've told Bob this many times: It's like he made a deal with the devil. The more he pounds on people with his humor, including himself, the funnier it is.
"I've sat there and watched him humiliate governors and mayors and commissioners of baseball, and husbands and wives, co-workers, especially co-broadcasters and the more he does it the harder everybody laughs including the person he's making fun of. And that's a gift."
Uecker's sense of humor is impossible to resist and he does not spare its effects on his broadcast partner.
"Bob's number one thing he would do with a fellow broadcaster was to get you laughing uncontrollably and then get up and walk away," Powell says with a laugh. "That was his idea of the best day possible at the ballpark. And unfortunately, he was good at it. It didn't have to be a big thing. It would be relentless, one thing after the other, piling up and then in the seventh or eighth inning, finally he breaks you down and you're done."
But Uecker knows how to pick his spots for that humor.
"He has a lot of fun but he doesn't do it indiscriminately," Powell says. "The game is still No. 1. Players are still No. 1. He knows how hard this game is, he had to work really hard to hit .200. And so he never disrespects players on his team or the other team. The game is No. 1.
"Now when the game gets out of hand, hello, here we go. I looked forward to rain delays and lopsided games, unlike anybody else in baseball, because he knew, 'now it's time to have a good time, I have an audience that needs to be entertained now. The game is not going to get it done today.' That to me is a very important lesson for all broadcasters; have fun, but do it at the right time for the right reasons. And never let what you're doing on the air supersede or overshadow or take away from that night's game. That's why we're here.
"The way he did it was he didn't try to do yesterday's game and he wasn't doing tomorrow's night's game. You might be 7-50, but that was yesterday, and tomorrow you can't control, so we're doing tonight's game. Tonight's game was the most important thing and he approached it as though this is going to be a no-hitter, or this is going to be a 2-1 game. That's a lesson that all broadcasters learn, and it's a hard one to learn, because it's difficult not to carry the baggage of yesterday. And it's difficult not to be peeking into tomorrow."
Working as a broadcast partner with Uecker was an ideal situation, Powell said. The proof lies in the subsequent career moves Uecker's partners have made. Along with Powell's move to the Braves, Pat Hughes, who broadcast with Uecker for 12 years, moved on to be the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs, a position he has held for 16 years. Cory Provus, who worked with Uecker for three seasons, this year became the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the Minnesota Twins.
"I don't think any of that is a coincidence," Powell says. "I think if you get a chance to learn at the knee of the master, and you don't pick something up, and you don't improve, and you aren't ready to go on to the next job and do it well, hopefully, then shame on you.
As a youngster growing up in Georgia, Powell was influenced by some legendary Braves announcers. He broadcast Minor League baseball, college football, and broadcast for the Twins before coming to Milwaukee. But working with Uecker, Powell says, "was my finishing school.
"To be able to spend 13 years learning in any way that you can imagine, that it's just a game, it's just a game, you don't' have to hit anybody over the head with it. You just have to go to the game and have a good time. That's what the people listening are doing. They want to relax and have a good time and enjoy a baseball game.
"The thing Bob told me the first Spring Training I was with him was: 'I don't care about anything except having a good time.' And I thought: 'We'll see over time if that's true.' And it was absolutely, 100 per cent true."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.