If summertime in Wisconsin has a voice, it’s the peppery chatter of Bob Uecker.
Nearing the end of his 50th season in the Brewers broadcast booth, he has – for many state sports fans – simply always been around. Baseball itself acts as a kind of background noise to the summertime. The local nine plays nearly every day and, even in the most memorable seasons, the omnipresence of the game make it something that can be more passively observed than other sports. But even if you’ve forgotten the Brewers had a game on a particular afternoon or early evening, somewhere in the neighborhood there’s a radio tuned to the local affiliate. From an open garage or a passing car or in the shop on the corner, you’d eventually catch a few words, recognize that voice, and all of the sudden it would be baseball season again.
A Milwaukee native, Uecker signed with the hometown Braves in 1956 and ended up playing six big league seasons. His career ended as a member of the Atlanta Braves in 1968 after a spring training bar fight caused the team to cut ties. But Uecker’s wit quickly brought him back into the organization as a member of their PR department. Uecker might have stayed in Atlanta if not for the efforts of Bud Selig to bring big league baseball back to Milwaukee. He returned home as a Brewers scout in 1970 and joined the broadcast booth the following year.
Uecker’s career path after his playing days ended is perhaps unlike any in American sports. From color man for one of the worst teams (and smallest markets) in the league, he became a part-time celebrity for his self-deprecating appearances on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” When he graduated to doing play-by-play for a now-powerhouse Brewers club, he moonlighted as a reliable TV pitchman. Finally recognized as one of baseball’s best announcers, he parlayed his TV stardom into a regular acting job on “Mr. Belvedere,” a TV show that ran for 117 episodes. But all the while, he kept coming back home to Milwaukee.
His role with the Brewers has changed in recent years. At 87, he no longer regularly travels with the team and – with baseball score and play-by-play available quickly and easily in digital formats – a buzzing portable radio is no longer essential gear for a baseball fan.
But a few weeks ago, when Daniel Vogelbach hit a walk-off grand slam to give the Brewers their unlikeliest comeback win in ages, I was doing the typical thing for a fan of my age, following the play-by-play online while taking in the commentary of Brewers Twitter and occasionally ducking into the next room to catch some of the live action on streaming video. I saw the grand slam live, dumbfounded at the audacity of it all, but quickly had to dive back into the digital mess of social media. Like a thousand other fans, I just had to hear to head Bob Uecker’s call. It was posted a few minutes later and with Ueck’s “Get up, get up, get outta here and GOOOOONE,” the whole thing finally felt real.