|ESPN Network: ESPN.com | NBA.com | NHL.com | WNBA.com | ABCSports | EXPN | INSIDER | FANTASY|
Voice of the Brewers
GameNight: Bob Uecker is happy to be in the front row in Cooperstown
Thursday, March 13
Updated: March 18, 10:15 AM ET
Broadcaster recipient of Ford C. Frick Award
Bob Uecker finally made it to the front row -- in Cooperstown. The longtime Milwaukee Brewers' announcer was picked Thursday for induction into the broadcasters' wing at the Hall of Fame. He parlayed humor about his career as a backup catcher into popularity far beyond baseball.
"When I got the call this morning, the first thing I thought was, 'Am I going to be in the regular ceremony or are they going to do something in December?'" Uecker said.
He'll be at the big one, all right, to get the Ford C. Frick Award. He'll join former players Eddie Murray and Gary Carter and Dayton Daily News writer Hal McCoy for the festivities in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 27.
The 68-year-old Uecker will get a prime seat, too, right up there on the podium with the likes of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial.
"Some of those guys were in games I played in -- or sat in," Uecker kidded on a conference call. "This has got to be a first, letting a guy like me in there."
Not bad for someone who hit .200 with 14 home runs and 74 RBI in six seasons, and was on the 1964 St. Louis team that won the World Series. But it was his humor that zoomed him to national prominence, and he turned his jokes into starring roles on television and the movies.
His line -- "Must be in the front row!" -- in a beer commercial where he gets shunted from the box seats to the bleachers became a national catchphrase.
At Miller Park where the Brewers play, the team sells "Uecker Seats" -- high in the upper deck and obstructed, they go for $1.
His wry description on a wayward pitch -- "Juuuust a bit outside!" -- in the movie "Major League" is still often-repeated by announcers and fans at ballparks all over.
Uecker joined the Brewers' broadcast team in 1971, back when current commissioner Bud Selig owned the team. They had been friends for a long time and Selig wanted him to work for the Brewers, but didn't have an immediate opening for an announcer.
"So I hired him as a scout," Selig recalled Thursday. "We sent him up to the Northern League and the next thing I know (general manager) Frank Lane comes raging into my office, asking what kind of scout I'd hired. I wasn't sure what he meant, and then he threw down Bob's scouting report. It was covered with mashed potatoes and gravy."
Earlier this month during an exhibition broadcast, Uecker spotted Selig in the press box and pulled him into the booth with a hearty, "Hey, Buddy!"
"He's got a great voice, a great delivery," Selig said. "Bob Uecker is the Brewers."
Despite his reputation as funnyman, enhanced by a top role in the TV show "Mr. Belvedere" and about 100 appearance on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," Uecker is much different on the radio.
His broadcasts rarely include the standup humor that has made his a favorite on the banquet circuit, and he's known for being self-effacing.
"When I sit down to work, I'm doing a straight broadcast. Fans don't want to hear some guy telling jokes and getting in the way of a game," he said.
Not that he doesn't punctuate his calls with anecdotes.
"A couple of times, I've come out of the game early and heard him on the speaker in the clubhouse," Brewers' slugger Richie Sexson said before Thursday's exhibition game against Texas. "He's awesome, he's Mr. Baseball. He's the nicest person you'll ever meet."
Uecker made it to the majors in 1962 with the Milwaukee Braves and batted .250 in 64 at-bats. It turned out he would never hit higher than that in any season.
"He may not have had a Hall of Fame career on the field, but he certainly has had one in the booth," said Robin Yount, a Hall member who only played for the Brewers. "Throughout my career in Milwaukee, of all of the people I've known in the organization, he's one of my closest friends."
Uecker later played for St. Louis, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
"Career highlights? I had two," he once joked. "I got an intentional walk from Sandy Koufax and I got out of a rundown against the Mets."
With Milwaukee and Atlanta, Uecker was a backup to current Yankees manager Joe Torre.
"We've been close for a long time. He started out as my brother Frank's roommate and I inherited him. He probably shortened my career somewhat," Torre said with a laugh.
The Frick Award, named for the former broadcaster who became commissioner, was picked by a seven-member panel of announcers that included Bob Costas, Joe Garagiola, Curt Gowdy, Ernie Harwell, Joe Morgan, Vin Scully and Curt Smith. Uecker joined Garagiola as the only former players to make the Hall as announcers.
"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," Costas said.
Uecker was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2001 and did network broadcasts of the World Series, league championship series and All-Star game in the 1970s and 1980s.
"Ueck" got his big break off the field after opening for Don Rickles at Al Hirt's nightclub in Atlanta in 1969. That performance caught Hirt's attention, and the musician set him up to appear on Carson's show.
Uecker honed his skills during lazy days as a player, imitating Harry Caray and doing mock broadcasts in the bullpen and on the team bus, and was even able to get a smile from the most serious players.
"I once was catching Bob Gibson and went out to the mound," Uecker said. "He looked at me and said, 'What do you want?' I said, 'Nothing, I was just going out to see Curt Flood in center field."