Editor’s note: Avery “Deuce” Barnes, cub reporter for FOX Sports Wisconsin, has been interviewing members of the Brewers organization all summer. He completed his duties for the season by interviewing broadcasting legend (in his own mind) Bob Uecker. (OK, Bob’s a legend in our minds, too!) Thanks to Deuce for a fun and informative season!
Next year will be Bob Uecker’s 50th year with Major League Baseball. He’s been around baseball for a long time so it’s no surprise that my interview with him was the longest one of the season. He has a lot to say and it is really funny — just what you would expect from a broadcasting legend.
Deuce: Next year will be your 50th with MLB. What’s it like to get this far? Uecker: Well, I’m thinking of going to Japan next year and starting over again because they haven’t seen me play. I thought maybe I’ll head over there and get myself a nice little contract in the Japanese League and then maybe, maybe, maybe I’ll head back here on my 85th birthday and get back in the big leagues. What do you think of that?
Deuce: I think it’s great! So, you’ve been a player, a broadcaster and an accomplished actor — how did you get interested in all of these? Uecker: When I acted it was when I was playing baseball — that was the real act. I was born and raised here in Milwaukee and I played sandlot baseball here in Milwaukee then signed with the Braves as a young guy and went on from there. But you know it was a big kick for me to play here in Milwaukee, having been born here and then being able to play on an MLB team.
I always had a little thing for being funny and I like to have a lot of fun so when my days as a player were over with the Braves and then when I went back to the Braves (they were in Atlanta) they told me they wanted me to broadcast. They wanted me to work in the front office and all the way to into the telecast, and that was a big break for me because I didn’t have any schooling as far as broadcasting went. And I found it easier that way for me to do ad-libs without a script. When the game is not going well — either you’re getting your brains punched out or you’re punching their brains out — then you have to do other things to keep people listening, and that’s what I tried to do. I’ll tell you, I’ve always missed playing — there’s nothing like playing. Broadcasting is great but it’s nothing like playing.
Deuce: You’ve been around baseball long enough — what is your favorite memory? Uecker: I don’t think I have a favorite but what I most appreciated about baseball in my career is with the Redbirds in ’64 when we won the World Championship. There are a lot of great players to play the game of baseball and most never really reached that mark where they can say we’re World Champs. It’s not even the money that’s important when you get to that point in your career. It’s a championship ring that you wear that says ‘World Champs’ on it — that was the one thing or the highlight of my career. To win the Series and to beat the Yanks was a really big thing. Even doing broadcast stuff working a World Series or playoff game is always something big that you can get your teeth into and have a good time with. It’s something you’ll always remember.
Deuce: What do you like so much about Milwaukee that you’ve never gone anywhere else? Uecker: Well my parole office keeps me here. I’m allowed to go to Racine and Kenosha, that’s as far south as I can go — and north, I can go to Cedarburg. I was born and raised here and I’ve lived here a really long time and I’ve had chances to go other places but I’ve always felt comfortable here. My kids and family are here and if I wasn’t here I wouldn’t be able to do the show with you today — so that’s another big thing.
Deuce: A couple of tips on broadcasting? Uecker: Well, I always did it a little differently. I didn’t go to a communications school or a broadcasting school, I kind of did it on my own. You know what I did when I was playing? In games that I wasn’t playing, I’d go sit out in the bullpen and call the games for practice — all of the guys got a good kick out of some of the stuff I’d say or do. I did that a lot — I really did.
I’ll tell you a story about when I went up to the booth for the first time by myself: I was working here a long time ago with a fellow named Merle Harmon and another named Tom Collins. When the Brewers brought me back here — when Bud (Selig) brought me back here — I worked into the broadcast very slowly. When I was on the air with them I felt really comfortable because they were kind of like a crutch for me. I didn’t have to talk or work alone. I could always talk to them.
Well, after a number of games — I had done one inning by myself but they always sat there with me — this particular time in New York they got up and left me by myself and I begged them to come back and they wouldn’t. They thought it was time to work by myself and I was scared to death, I really was! The guys told me, You better start talking because there’s one out. I’m pleading with those guys to come back. They didn’t do it. That was my so-called baptism into broadcasting by myself.
Deuce: Regarding your health — how’s your recovery coming? Uecker: I’m doing really good Deuce — thanks for asking. It was kind of a tough period there for a while — I was diagnosed as having an earache and I went to the hospital and ended up having a heart operation! I had gone to a guy that only had one year of medical school so it was a misdiagnosis. I’m doing great — the doctors at Froedert Hospital did a great job. I didn’t even know I had a heart — that’s what’s so funny — I thought I was like something out of the Wizard of Oz, no heart. The surgery went great — I left the hospital with more than I went in with. Some of it belonged to other people but I took it anyway.
Deuce: How did you get the name ‘Mr. Baseball’? Uecker: I gave it to myself.
Deuce : Of course you did. Uecker: No, you know who gave me that name? Johnny Carson. I used to do a lot of ‘Tonight Shows’ and Johnny Carson was sort of a baseball fan — not a huge fan — but because I used to tell all of these fantastic baseball stories, making myself out to be bigger than I actually was — I made myself the holder of records I never held and batting averages I never reached, he thought it would be funny to call me ‘Mr. Baseball’ because I was so bad. People called me that for laughs more than anything else.
Deuce: You have a lot of relationships with many players but one of your closest relationships is with the Commissioner, Bud Selig. Uecker: Bud and I go back a long, long way. He’s the one that hired me and brought me back here. His time here as the owner of the Brewers was special for me and I love his whole family. We’ve remained close friends and we talk a lot. You know some owners don’t really get to know their players because they have to pay them a lot of money and sometimes they might be mad at the players because they have to pay them so much money. But Bud and I are really good friends and I am friends with his daughter Wendy, too. He’s the best commissioner baseball has ever had. When I played here with the Braves, Bud was one of the guys that would hang around the ballpark and come to the clubhouse sometimes and we got to be friends then. I’m trying to stay good friends with Bud because he hasn’t paid me yet and I’d like to get paid for all the time I’ve worked in baseball — I’m not in it for nothing. Know what I’m saying?
Deuce: The fans really supported you during your surgery with an outpouring of love — how did that make you feel? Uecker: It was great — what are we really without fans? You become a part of everyone’s family. That’s what happens to a broadcaster like me or anybody else who has been around for a long time — for a certain part of every day you become part of a family. People turn the radio on and there you are — they believe what you say, they have fun with you. The fans here are tremendous — I can’t think of any place I’d rather be. Bud gave me a lot of chances to go other places and work, like on Mr. Belvedere, but I love being with the Brewers. Sometimes when I go on the field and I look around and see people cheering and clapping for me — my family sits there and boos — it’s really something to see.