Bob Uecker’s role in Brewers history, 2021 playoffs

Kirsten Schmitt / Milwaukee Brewers


ATLANTA — Bob Uecker, 87, 27, walked out of the clubhouse in his champagne-soaked plaid shirt and Miller Lite. He’s been calling Brewers games on the radio since some of the current players’ parents were toddlers, and yet there he was, dragged to the pitcher’s mound at American Family Field with confetti still falling as the Brewers celebrated winning the National League Central 2021 Title.

The players wanted Uecker in the middle of their group photo. There is no other broadcaster on the planet who is more part of their team.

“I think it’s very unique,” said second baseman Kolten Wong, who came to the Brewers from St. Louis, home of many legendary broadcasters. “’Ueck’ is in the clubhouse every day we are. If he’s not there, something is wrong. He has definitely been part of our team all year. He nurtured us, encouraged us, set us free.

“It was good. It wouldn’t have looked good if we didn’t have it in that photo.

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Bob Uecker posing with the 2021 National League Central Champions Brewers. (Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers)

It’s been like that in Milwaukee forever. When Uecker joined the Brewers’ radio crew in 1971, he was just four years away from playing the final season of a Major League career that spanned the Milwaukee Braves, Phillies and then Washington Braves. ‘Atlanta. Then-owner Bud Selig initially hired Uecker as a scout, but it was a failed venture. Selig swears he once received a reconnaissance report in the mail from Uecker which was smeared in mashed potatoes and gravy.

It was probably for the best, since Uecker wasn’t supposed to work behind the scenes. He has done commercials, television and films. He was Johnny Carson’s favorite guest in over 100 appearances on The Tonight Show. Uecker has hosted Wrestlemanias and is in the WWE Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Radio Hall of Fame and of Cooperstown, recipient of the 2003 Ford C. Frick Award for Broadcasting.

But he was always a baseball player at heart, according to those who know Uecker best.

“He still thinks of himself as a player,” said Brewers team travel manager Dan Larrea, who has worked in Milwaukee’s front office since 1996. “I think he always looks back on his playing days because he “It’s the basis of everything. None of the other things happen without his playing career.

The deal with Selig when Uecker accepted the broadcast gig was that he could practice batting before changing quickly in the clubhouse and rushing to the pits. He did so well into the 1990s until health issues – ranging from a rotator cuff to heart surgeries to a scare for pancreatic cancer – forced him to give up his spot in the rotation. BP and take up swimming. To this day, Uecker uses the resistance pool at American Family Field’s clubhouse almost daily.

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Bob Uecker in his element, batting practice for the Brew Crew. (Stephen Dunn/All Sport)

“He was always accepted as a player. He might as well have been a player,” Hall of Famer Robin Yount said. “I’m not kidding, he was probably the best batting practice pitcher we’ve had for many years. A big part of that is being a receiver; catchers always throw good batting practice. Pitchers always think they are pitching. I was looking forward to hitting the road, because that’s where he trained most of the time. »

“Bob has become incredibly popular, incredibly recognizable,” fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor said. “But his favorite environment has always been the clubhouse. He never changed. With everything that happened to him, he never forgot his roots, and I think we’ve all seen that.

Yount added: “That camaraderie he created, I’m sure is the same with players today.”

“Ueck” is in the clubhouse every day we are. If he’s not there, something is wrong. He has definitely been part of our team all year.

Kolten Wong

There’s no better measure of that camaraderie than a gesture that nearly took Uecker’s breath away in 2018. Every September, competing teams hold a player meeting to determine playoff share splits. playoffs, often dividing partial shares to medical staff, clubhouse staff and so on. After the Brewers’ playoffs ended with a loss to the Dodgers in Game 7 of the NLCS, it was Larrea’s duty to call Uecker to tell him that the players had awarded Uecker the unusual honor of a full share. . It was worth $122,957.13. Uecker donated the money to his favorite charities.

“He almost burst into tears when I told him,” Larrea said. “He was very emotional. I’ve had the pleasure of calling him every year since.

This year, there were additional bonuses far more valuable than cash. With Uecker’s cohort first in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it became available in January, the Brewers were able to include him in their so-called ‘tiered’ staff with clubhouse access for the start. from spring training, meaning he was back mingling with the players and doing his in-person pre-game show with manager Craig Counsell.

And with the Brewers celebrating Uecker’s 50th birthday in the broadcast booth, Larrea, Brewers equipment manager Jason Shawger and star outfielder Christian Yelich conspired to create custom Nike shoes to mark the occasion, with an “Air Uecker” logo on one side of the heel and “ONE OF US” on the other. Uecker has worn them at the ballpark ever since.

“He’s a big part of that,” Yelich said. “I think everyone is always looking forward to that lawnmower party and champagne showers. I hope there are more to come.

To understand what a “lawnmower party” is, just look at it:

“Bob has that quality with people. He can relate to anyone in any situation,” said Tony Migliaccio, who started as Brewers batsman in 1978 and has been with the club ever since. as director of clubhouse operations. ‘He’s going to sit down and have a 10-minute chat with a guy who’s sweeping the parking lot and then come over here and have a 10-minute chat with Mark [Attanasio, the Brewers’ chairman and principal owner]. You know what I mean?

“It’s like he’s your best friend. It’s a real gift to connect with people.

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Bob Uecker speaking at the Brewers clubhouse after receiving personalized Nike shoes for his 50th birthday celebration on Sept. 25, 2021. (Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers)

The connection is stronger than ever this week. For the first time since before the pandemic, Uecker will be on the road with the Brewers in Atlanta, calling games for the Brewers Radio Network.

This will be his first visit to Truist Park, site of NLDS Game 3 on Monday.

It’s an opportunity to reconnect with his baseball roots, as one of Uecker’s first stops was Double-A Atlanta, playing at Ponce de Leon Park in 1958 and 1959 before moving to Triple-A and eventually to the major leagues. Uecker played alongside Hank Aaron with the Milwaukee Braves in 1962 and 1963, then reunited with ‘The Hammer’ in Atlanta in 1967. Uecker said he thought about Aaron this week and wondered what he would think of the first post-season game between the Braves and Brasseurs.

There is no doubt that Uecker’s fundamental interests lie.

” I loved [the Brewers] all year round,” he said. “We went through all this COVID stuff last year, and it was a bummer. You haven’t really gotten to see what guys do for a full season.

That’s why it was so important to celebrate in person with the team when the Brewers won the division on Sept. 26.

“It’s good,” Uecker said. “Very well.”

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Bob Uecker demonstrating his lawn mower celebration after Milwaukee won the NL Central on Sept. 26, 2021. (Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Brewers)

In recent weeks, Uecker has been asked if he plans to retire. The answer was a quick no, as long as he is able to do his job without getting in the way or getting in the way of the organization. He will know, Uecker insisted, when the time is right.

“I think I’ll continue to do that,” Larrea said. “Tell me which other 87-year-old man is active and can work. Someone told me the other day when Bob got his first pitch [prior to NLDS Game 1], “I look at my 81-year-old aunt and she puts pudding in her mouth and goes to bed.” Now look at what Bob is doing at 87.

“I think the work, being around everyone, the players, the front office, the media, everyone, it invigorates him. It keeps him young.

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Bob Uecker and Bud Selig throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1 of the 2021 NLDS against the Braves on Oct. 8, 2021. (Kirsten Schmitt/Milwaukee Brewers)

Neal T. Doss