MLB NOTEBOOK: Brewers to honor Uecker in unique way
MILWAUKEE — The corner of a baseball dugout, where the tunnel to the clubhouse intersects with the bat rack, ought to have a friendly greeter. At Miller Park, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers, his name is Bob Uecker. Everyone stops to say hi to him, and Uecker greets all with gusto.
“He walks by me every day and I say, ‘Nice talking to you!’ because he doesn’t speak any English,” Uecker said after an enthusiastic exchange with Wei-Chung Wang, a rookie pitcher from Taiwan. “But now he’s starting to do what I do. He says, ‘Nice talking to you!’”
Who doesn’t have a Uecker imitation? Uecker, 79, hears them everywhere he goes as a Hall of Fame-honored broadcaster for the Brewers — “Juuuuust a bit outside,” from the movie “Major League,” and “I must be in the front row,” from a memorable Miller Lite commercial in the 1980s.
Uecker, a Milwaukee native, played two major league seasons for the Milwaukee Braves and has called Brewers games on radio since 1971. Two years ago, the Brewers honored him with a statue outside Miller Park. This week, he gets another that is inside the stadium, but just barely.
On Friday — Miller Lite Brewers cap night, naturally — the team will unveil a statue of Uecker in the last row of the upper deck, in Section 422, where home plate is little more than a rumor. The bronze statue, designed by Brian Maughan, will depict Uecker with his arm to the side, ideal for posing with fans.
“It’ll be up there, behind one of those pillars, way up on the top,” Uecker said, popping his head from the dugout to show a visitor the spot. “People are going to go up there and sit next to it and take a picture for a buck, and the money goes to Make-a-Wish. So it’s fun.”
Fun has been Uecker’s domain for decades. With little prompting, he will spin stories about Johnny Carson and Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Jack Lemmon, Jonathan Winters and Dick Van Patten. He was a late-night comedy staple, a sitcom star and the host of uproarious sports blooper tapes.
The Miller Lite ads, which survive on YouTube, are a sudsy salute to good-natured self-deprecation. Yes, Uecker hit only .200 for his career with 14 home runs, but he played for a World Series champion — the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals — and scratched out a six-year career when the major leagues had only 20 teams. He homered off the Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Ferguson Jenkins and Gaylord Perry. He has reason to be proud of his career.
“I know, but it makes people laugh,” Uecker said. “My kids used to ask me that, ‘Why do you do this?’ Because it’s funny. Joe Block, my partner, asked me, ‘Ueck, you know who your first pinch-hit was against?’ I said, ‘No,’ and he goes, ‘Don Drysdale.’ I mean, when I think of all the stuff I’ve done, baseball’s still No. 1.”
Uecker’s broadcasts with Block are a delight. His playing career gives him the gravitas to analyze tight games, and his wit makes him a master at filling airtime during blowouts. He always has something to say.
“I can tell stories going way back,” Uecker said. “When you’ve got a big crowd, there’s hundreds of stories there, just looking around at people. And I have a partner if I want to talk to him. So I’ve never had a problem finding something to talk about during a broadcast — whether it’s true or not.”
Of Dubious Quality: A quality start — at least six innings with no more than three earned runs — should not be too much to ask of a pitcher. Entering the weekend, 30 major leaguers had done it at least three times this season, including four by Andrew Cashner, Johnny Cueto, Yovani Gallardo, Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester and Julio Tehran.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, meanwhile, had just two quality starts in their first 18 games: by Trevor Cahill on April 2 and by Wade Miley on April 6. Cahill has been dropped from the rotation, and the Diamondbacks are off to the worst start in franchise history.
Gehrig’s Speech Goes On: One of the best features of the new Yankee Stadium, for its first five seasons, was the recording of Lou Gehrig’s 1939 “Luckiest Man” speech, which played on a constant loop just inside Gate 4 behind home plate. It was a subtle gesture for a team given to grandiosity, a kind of eternal flame for a baseball hero.
This season, there is no recording in that spot, which was taken over by the newly constructed Field MVP Club Lounge, a private dining area with a 45-foot bar for full-season-ticket holders in nearby sections.
Thankfully, though, Gehrig’s voice still has a place at the stadium.
The recording of his speech can now be heard on the 200 level concourse, opposite a souvenir store.