PHOENIX — One of the factors that has kept Bob Uecker in the radio booth for the Milwaukee Brewers well into his 80s is the manner in which players have treated him as one of their own.
But, when the players put their money where their mouths were last November, it stunned Uecker, moving him to the brink of tears.
When deciding who would get full playoff shares after the Brewers advanced within one game of the World Series, the players voted to give one to Uecker, which was worth $123,000. Giving a full share to a team broadcaster, even a Hall of Famer, is basically unheard-of in baseball but showed once again that "Ueck" is considered one of the boys.
“To include me in that, I couldn’t believe it,” said Uecker, 85, who became emotional when team director of travel Dan Larrea called him with the news. “I said, ‘I don’t believe it. Really?’ I’ve tried to make sure I thanked every one of them.”
Bob Uecker and manager Craig Counsell walk off the field after the legendary Brewers radio announcer threw out the first pitch prior to Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday at Miller Park. (Photo: Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
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In true Uecker fashion, he never thought of pocketing even a dime of the money. Instead, he divided it among some of his favorite charities – the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of Milwaukee, Wounded Warriors and the Froedtert Cancer Center.
It wasn't the monetary amount that made Uecker so proud of his ball club. It was the symbolic gesture that the players considered him a vital part of their success, deserving of the same payout the players received.
“I would never keep the money, but I sure appreciated what they did,” Uecker said. “I’m proud of that. When I talked to them about it, they said, ‘Ueck, that was no big deal. You were part of that.’ Still, I was shocked when they did it.”
There could be no doubt that Uecker was considered one of the boys last Sept. 26 in St. Louis, after the Brewers clinched their first playoff berth in seven years with a 2-1 victory over the Cardinals. A video went viral of players dumping champagne and beer on a grinning Uecker in the clubhouse celebration as he wildly pumped his arms back and forth.
“He had seen the video,” Uecker said “He asked me what the arm-pumping stuff was all about. I said they dumped so much champagne on me, my pacemaker shorted out and my arm started jerking violently, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
Typical Uecker, the king of self-deprecating sports humor. The Brewers would go on to hold two more clubhouse celebrations, one after beating the Cubs in a Game No. 163 showdown for the NL Central crown, and again after sweeping Colorado in the NLDS. They were one victory shy of a fourth party, losing in Game 7 of the NLCS to the Dodgers.
Brewers radio announcer Bob Uecker throws out the first pitch for the Brewers vs. Dodgers NLCS Game 1 at Miller Park Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. (Photo: Michael Sears / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
“That was fun,” Uecker said. “It was everybody. Not just the players. It was (principal owner) Mark Attanasio and (general manager) David Stearns, and everybody. There was so much happiness for the players.
“A lot of really good players never got that chance to be in the postseason. Ernie Banks was one. He was one of the greatest players we ever had and never got to spray champagne.
“To be treated like one of the guys is so nice. They treat me like I’m still a player, and I’m so honored that they do that.”
So, here Uecker is, preparing for his 49th season as the Brewers’ radio voice and his 64th in baseball, including his modest yet fruitful playing career. The Milwaukee native has seen another of his peers, Cincinnati’s Marty Brennaman, announce his retirement as that team’s radio voice, effective after the 2019 season, but Uecker still has no plans to call it a career.
“I’m comfortable but I also still feel good doing this,” he said. “If I get to the point where I’m an embarrassment on the air, not only to myself but the team, I would never continue.
“As long as I can do what I’m doing at this level and I don’t get criticized, I’ll keep doing it. I’ll know myself when it’s time (to quit). You’re not going to have to tell me. I’ll know.”
Then, more Uecker humor.
“I can see myself still doing it at 104: ‘Swing and a miss,’” Uecker said in a mock frail voice. “Then I lay down for the seventh-inning stretch.”
“I talked to Marty about it,” he added. “I can see why he’s doing it. He wants to travel and do other things. He was very emotional, which is understandable. It’s tough to tell the fans you’re leaving.
“What would I do if I quit, go fishing? I fish all the time, as it is. That’s what I do – call baseball games and fish. If I’m not out here (at the ballpark), I’m out on Lake Michigan fishing. I don’t know how many fish I’ve caught. Maybe two.”
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