Brewers unveil Uecker’s statue in ceremony

MILWAUKEE — As Bob Uecker stared up at his bronze likeness, now immortalized just outside the walls of Miller Park, master of ceremonies Bob Costas asked him what he’d like to do with his new statue first.

“Get my money back,” Uecker deadpanned, in a way only the legendary Milwaukee Brewers broadcaster could.

For months, Uecker had joked that he couldn’t put together the money for a down payment on a statue — that’s why it hadn’t arrived sooner. But in all seriousness — or in as much seriousness as the 77-year-old broadcast can muster — Uecker took the stage at Friday afternoon’s statue unveiling in very much the same way as he always had. Quickly, in his trademark self-deprecating style, Uecker’s ceremony turned into more of a variety show than an honorary event.

Costas, who has been a friend of Uecker’s since their time working together on NBC baseball broadcasts, opened the event in a way few, if any, statue unveilings have ever started.

“We are here somehow, for some reason, to unveil a monument to a man with a lifetime batting average of exactly .200, 14 career home runs in seven big league seasons with six different teams,” Costas said. “This monument will stand in close proximity to that of true all-time home run king Henry Aaron. … If you listen closely, you can hear Henry’s statue begging to be relocated.

“When word of this got out, pigeons all over the Midwest headed to Milwaukee to pay their respects. … And yet we proceed to dedicate a statue to a man that couldn’t hit the curveball, the fastball, or even successfully execute his half of an intentional walk.”

But Costas’ act was only the beginning as guests continued to roast Uecker’s playing career among other things. Aaron, who had played with Uecker for the Braves, joked that he was glad he never took Uecker’s advice after the former catcher offered to show him how to hit a curveball.

Hall of Famer and former Brewer Robin Yount, who couldn’t be at the event, provided one of the biggest laughs of the afternoon with a video he had filmed in Italy to honor Uecker. In the video, Yount asked several Italian strangers if they’d ever heard of Uecker as he wandered around Italy searching for his statue.

“You’ve been around so long, you probably played here,” Yount said, pointing at the ruins of the Roman Coliseum.

But time after time, as jokes were exchanged in jest toward Uecker’s playing career, the speakers at the ceremony circled back to one common theme — that Uecker’s 42 years as a broadcaster in Milwaukee have made him a legend and one of the lodestars of the Brewers organization and baseball in general.

“For 42 years, we’ve spent Wisconsin summers listening to his broadcasts,” Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said. “The wit and wisdom of Bob Uecker is part of our community’s collective psyche. It’s unimaginable to spend a summer without him.”

But of all the guests who spoke so kindly and so jokingly of the 77-year-old Uecker all afternoon, it was, perhaps, Major League Baseball commissioner and former Brewers owner Bud Selig who best summed up what the broadcaster meant to Milwaukee in the more than four decades that he filled up the radio waves with storytelling and humor.

“Here’s a guy who was born here, was raised here, and the fact that he’s willing to stay here and devote his entire career is so meaningful to fans,” said Selig, who along with Aaron and Yount has his statue outside Miller Park. “You look at the great relationship he has with fans here, and that’s why. He is them. And they’re him.”

Uecker, of course, had a different reason for why he never left Milwaukee.

“It was a parole thing,” Uecker joked.

Follow Ryan Kartje on Twitter.