MILWAUKEE — At precisely 4:30 Friday afternoon, a national treasure walked into the room and instantly won over his audience.
No surprise there. Bob Uecker has been doing that for the better part of 50 years as the Milwaukee Brewers’ beloved broadcaster.
Perhaps feeling obligated to serve up some of the self-deprecating humor that long ago elevated him to icon status as Harry Doyle in the movie “Major League,” George Owens in the TV show “Mr. Belvedere” and Johnny Carson’s on-screen foil, Uecker switched on his comic mode as he approached the podium.
“Which way do you want me to stand?” he asked as he turned away from his audience to start a press conference Friday afternoon. “This way or (turning to face his audience again) that way?”
Then, as he was introduced as the man who would throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the opening game of the National League Championship Series between the Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers Friday night at Miller Park, Uecker innocently asked, “I am?”
But the truth is, Uecker seemed to be more subdued and pensive as he answered questions for 16 minutes. That was understandable.
Uecker is closing in on his 85th birthday in January and there are only so many more times he can exclaim, “Get Up!” before gets outta here. His hair is white, his voice is more feeble and his emergence as Merle Harmon’s sidekick in 1971 is ancient history.
But that doesn’t matter. Uecker is an icon. That’s understood. Even the players who have taken the Brewers to within four victories of the World Series long ago came to understand the legend of this man.
Bridging the generation gap
Uecker was asked how he is able to relate to players, many of whom are 60 or more years younger than he is.
“Well, I think for the most part, they know that I played and I think that’s where the relation really comes in,” Uecker said. “And the shows (TV and movies) and stuff I did, they can watch it now and see what I did as far as making fun of things that I did.
“But I do that because it makes people laugh and I like to make people laugh.”
The Brewers have enthusiastically accepted Uecker, whose mostly bumbling 731 major league at-bats from 1962-67 served as the basis of his comic identity, as one of their own. And Uecker has liked what he has seen from these guys.
“Per man on this club, nobody says ‘I’ here and I think that impresses a lot of people, impresses a lot of writers, impresses me all the time that they’re always ‘We,’ Uecker said. “There’s a lot of ‘I’ stuff that happened here this year, but no matter what happens, they’re always ‘We.’ And they treat me like I’m one of them.”
That’s how long it’s been since most of these Brewers were born. Thirty six years ago, when the Brewers were rolling to the American League pennant and the “MVP!” chants were directed at Robin Yount instead of Christian Yelich, a 48-year-old Uecker was one of the boys. Just as he is now.
“I was with the players before, during and after games,” Uecker said. “And, you know, you become friends. You become friends with their family.
“Robin Yount, for instance. Robin’s kids, I watched them grow up. Jim Gantner’s kids. I watched their kids and grandkids grow up and I see them and I visit with them. There’s no age factor for them with me.”
Still in the saddle
The press conference drew to a close, just as Uecker’s time in the broadcast booth will one of these days. Time waits for no one and all good things must come to an end. Even for a man who made us laugh for so many years.
But Uecker is still working and he is to be celebrated while he is. That’s exactly what happened when he walked onto the pitching mound prior to Friday’s game to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
As Uecker, dressed in a dark blue sweater and wearing a paneled Brewers cap, fired away, the standing-room-only crowd erupted in thunderous applause. They know what he has meant for so many years. And they know someone will one day be sitting in his seat.
Hey, it happened to the Dodgers’ legendary Vin Scully two years ago. It happens to everybody.
This man is to be celebrated. Even when he’s not cracking jokes.
“Per man on this club, nobody says ‘I’ here and I think that impresses a lot of people, impresses a lot of writers, impresses me all the time that they’re always ‘We.’ There’s a lot of ‘I’ stuff that happened here this year, but no matter what happens, they’re always ‘We.’” Bob Uecker, speaking about the 2018 Brewers