I’ll never forget it. I was in my senior year at UWM in 1981 and I was often doing the sports on television at noon at WVTV (Channel 18). The station allowed students from UWM to do a news show at noon, Monday through Friday. It was a fantastic experience.
This happened shortly after I received a scholarship to work at WTMJ (Channel 4) in 1980. My No. 1 duty was to cover the Milwaukee Brewers, although I also covered the Green Bay Packers and other sports. WTMJ thought enough of my work to bring me back in 1981 to cover Brewer games again.
While I covered the Brewers, I was often in the press box cafe which served media members during the game. Whenever I saw Bob Uecker up there (which was often), I would say hi and he would always reply hello with the same smiling gesture.
Bob was able to see me often, because at most games that I would cover, I would sit in the press mezzanine area just below his broadcasting booth.
One time when I caught a pop up at a game right in front of Ueck, he gave me a thumb’s up with a grin. I got Ueck’s attention again with another catch at different game during that same period. At that particular contest, my girlfriend and I were at County Stadium for a day game to watch the Brew Crew.
I heard about it from one of my buddies who heard Uecker call my catch on the radio. My girlfriend and I were in an upper box section at County Stadium down the right field line and there was no one else in our section. Charlie Moore of the Brewers hit a line drive right at us. I ended up catching it with my left hand as it was heading towards my girlfriend who was to my left. According to my buddy, Uecker said something like, “Moore fouls off a liner into the upper deck down the right field line. Hey! That was a great one-handed catch by a fan!”
The thing I remember most about catching that ball was the reaction of a Cub Scout group who were sitting behind me in the next section. I received quite an ovation from them. I let the group pass the ball around so they could look at it.
Back to Channel 18 now. The station also allowed me to book guests so I could interview them on the show. I was very fortunate to get Paul Molitor, Steve Shannon (the television play-by-play broadcaster for the Brewers then) and Uecker to appear on the show. It was not a paid appearance for any of them either. All were very kind to make that effort for me. I was very grateful.
Molitor and I were of a similar age and we connected well. It was like that with almost all of the Brewers when I covered the team. I’ve mentioned this before, but when I would leave the clubhouse of the Brewers at County Stadium after covering a game, I was often mistaken for pitcher Bob McClure by kids waiting for autographs.
The parking pass that I was given was right next to the parking lot for the players too.
Shannon was a great guest as well. He told me about all of his various stops in the minor leagues as a broadcaster before he made it to the big leagues. You could tell he loved his job with the Brewers. Shannon often had dinner with owner Bud Selig and with the man who was also known as “Mr. Baseball”, Bob Uecker.
When Ueck agreed to do the show, I was thrilled. I was in awe of the guy to begin with. Not only was he a great broadcaster for the Brewers, he also did other national MLB broadcasts for ABC. Besides all that, he also was doing multiple appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, plus was doing some hilarious commercials for Miller Lite beer.
Before the interview, we had several minutes to kill and he and I just chewed the fat. The ice immediately melted and my nervousness went away, as it felt like we were long lost friends. As per usual, Ueck was cracking me up with his humor.
Once the show started, we had to cover a number of subjects somewhat quickly with the limited time I was allotted.
We talked about his playing days in MLB, which started with the Milwaukee Braves in 1962. Bob, a Milwaukee native, played with several of his boyhood heroes like Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Del Crandall, Joe Adcock and Lew Burdette. Ueck was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964, where he told me tongue-in-cheek that he “led” the Cardinals to a World Series title.
After two years in St. Louis, Uecker was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, as he played for the Phils for about a year and a half, before he was traded back to the Braves while they were now in Atlanta. Uecker was released by the Braves after the 1967 season.
Ueck joked to me about the one year he was a scout for the Brewers in 1970. We also talked about his broadcasting career with the Brewers, which started in 1971. Back then, Uecker worked with Merle Harmon (1971 through 1979) and Tom Collins (1971 and 1972). During the time I covered the team, his broadcast partners were Lorn Brown (1980 and 1981) and Dwayne Mosley (1982 and 1983). Ueck told me that he really appreciated the friendship and the mentorship of Harmon when he first got into broadcasting.
We also talked about the current Brewers of 1981. Ueck could sense that the team was about to about to break through and get to the postseason based on the way the team had performed the previous three seasons, plus had really improved with the new additions of three players going into the current season. Those players were pitchers Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich, along with catcher Ted Simmons. Ueck’s premonition was spot on, as the Brew Crew did make the postseason in 1981.
When I covered the team, I could tell that the players on the Brewers just loved Uecker. Ueck often pitched batting practice and was always joking around with the players before games. His fame on The Tonight Show and in Miller Lite commercials also brought him some notoriety. Robin Yount said about getting to know Uecker, “It felt like I was meeting a movie star for the very first time.”
Ueck was also a great announcer that the players in the bullpen would listen to during games.
Speaking of the bullpen, when I caught up with Fingers a couple of months ago, one of the subjects we talked about was Uecker.
“Ueck was great,” Fingers said. “Ueck had been on the field. He knows baseball because he’s been a player. So when you listen to Bob Uecker calling a ballgame, he could call it like a ballplayer.
“Plus, Ueck is a comedian. You can be listening to a 10-0 game and you would still be listening to him in the ninth inning because he is so entertaining. Ueck is a great announcer and have been friends with him for years, ever since I first met him. Plus, he’s still at it!”
The love from the players on the Brewers still holds to this day.
When the Brewers advanced to the postseason in 2018 after winning the National League Central title and were just one victory away from going to the World Series, the players voted Uecker a full share, which amounted to $123,000. After getting that share, Uecker donated the money to his favorite charities: the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of Milwaukee, Wounded Warriors and the Froedtert Cancer Center.
Since our conversation on television in 1981, Uecker has truly become an icon in both entertainment and broadcasting. In entertainment, he had continued success on The Tonight Show, as well as a six-year run on television, as Uecker starred in Mr. Belvedere.
Uecker really made a name for himself in the Major League film trilogy, where a number of his lines are still constantly quoted. As in, “Just a bit outside” when Uecker as announcer Harry Doyle tried to downplay the extremely wild pitch from Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn played by Charlie Sheen.
When we had our interview in 1981, Uecker was on his way to winning his third Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year that year. Uecker won it two more times in 1982 and 1987.
Ueck also is in the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame (2011), the National Radio Hall of Fame (2001) and also the National Baseball Hall of Fame, when he won the Ford C. Frick Award (2003).
Uecker was also put in the the Ring of Honor for the Brewers in 2005, as the No. 50 is displayed for the 50 years Uecker had been in professional baseball. Four years later, Uecker was also added to the Braves Wall of Honor inside Miller Park.
In 2012, the Uecker Monument was put up outside next to the statues of Hank Aaron, Robin Yount and Bud Selig outside Miller Park.
The bottom line is that Uecker has been a wonderful fixture in Milwaukee and Wisconsin for 50 years now. I got to know Ueck fairly early in his tenure with the Brewers, but the kindness and consideration he showed me will never be forgotten.