MILWAUKEE – At 84, Bob Uecker’s chops aren’t fading any time soon.
Uecker’s day job remains the same: Play-by-play voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, a gig he’s held since 1971, and as such he will throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The assignment is a nod to longevity, of course, but also a recognition that perhaps more than anyone, the many characters and quips Uecker has worn with grace or delivered with elán continue to resonate in the five decades since his famously modest playing career came to a close.
Mr. Baseball. Harry Doyle. George Owens. I must be in the front row. I had slumps that lasted into winter.
Every part of Uecker’s public persona comprises a widespread appeal that, for whatever reason, seems absent from today’s zeitgeist.
After all, does anyone actually enjoy the play-by-play or color analysts on their favorite sporting events? Peeking under the hood of social media seems to indicate that’s a resounding no.
Does anyone chit-chat with friends or colleagues about Flo from Progressive or the Geico Gecko or Peyton Manning’s milquetoast musings the way Uecker’s Miller Lite canon defined an era of advertising?
Can any figure deliver a radio call of Brewers at Angels, plenty of good seats available, and then hop aboard a helicopter and hold court with Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon on The Tonight Show couch as Uecker often did?
Friday at Miller Park, Uecker dished for nearly a half hour on sports, entertainment, and how who he was is still very much who he remains.
“I like to make people laugh,” Uecker said. “And I’ve gone through that with my kids: ‘Why do you do that? Why do you talk the way you do?’ To me, it’s funny.
“As a matter of act, the other day when we were in Colorado (for Game 3 of the NL Division Series) and Seunghwan Oh came into the game with his interpreter, and after they were finished talking I said, ‘If I was a hitter here, I would probably face the interpreter; Oh would go to the dugout.
“And I don’t know why I think of stuff like that, either. That’s another thing.”
Nor could he explain a particularly unique approach to Friday night’s honor.
“I am?” he says of throwing out the first pitch.
“I was going to take a Percocet and throw it in the upper deck. That would have been good for a laugh. But stuff like that, I mean, what’s wrong with that, you know?
Uecker might be Bud Selig’s finest contribution to baseball, bringing the former Milwaukee Braves catcher (career Wins Above Replacement: -1.0) back to Dairyland to call Brewers games in 1969. Uecker said he often had to stand up to the famously penurious Selig, holding the line on his refusal to read Pabst Blue Ribbons ads on broadcasts due to his affiliation with Miller Lite and, later, hammering out an arrangement that enabled him to skip some September series for the filming of Mr. Belvedere during that show’s six-season run in the late ’80s.
Now, it is he the Brewers cherish. Uecker was a social-media star during the team’s celebrations to clinch a playoff spot, and the NL Central division and their sweep of the Rockies in the Division Series. None of them were born when Uecker was among the nation’s most prominent pitchmen, but they do know that he played, and, besides, he can still make them laugh.
“His sense of humor,” says Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who tapes a radio segment with Uecker before all home games, “has no age span.”
Uecker’s respect for the game is clear. He said he quickly quashed any talk of doing an inning in the booth during the 2016 World Series to resurrect the Harry Doyle character from the Major League trilogy. “The movie was the movie,” he says, “and the World Series is the World Series.
“The third one stunk,” he said unabashedly. “It was really bad.”
Uecker does not make many Brewers road trips now, though his loyalty to the radio medium remains unconditional. And as the proliferation of media slices into everyone’s relevance, it is possible he is the last of his kind.
Yogi Berra has left us. So, too, has Jack Buck. Vin Scully has retired quietly to the Los Angeles suburbs.
Uecker remains vibrant, though he admits he has given the afterlife some thought.
“I’ve already made a deal with (Brewers owner) Mark Attanasio,” he says. “Once I pass on, to bring me back here every five years, around the warning track.
“And then, make sure they take me back to the same place.”