Bauman: 'Get well, Uke ... and thanks'
Uecker still making people laugh, even in face of adversity
MILWAUKEE -- The prevailing sentiment can be summed up in three words:
"Get well, Uke."
The news that Bob Uecker will undergo heart surgery on Friday is a jolt. He is a fixture in the Milwaukee baseball landscape, and the rest of us have been very happy with that situation.
Uecker is in his 40th season as a Brewers broadcaster. That's a considerable role, but he has been more than that. He has been the voice of life and laughter for anybody with a radio in Wisconsin.
He earned the Ford C. Frick Award and enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster in 2003. His credentials as a broadcaster need no further polishing.
He's been a source of good cheer at the national level, also. He came to national attention with more than 100 appearances in the glory years of "The Tonight Show," when it was hosted by Johnny Carson. It was there that America was treated to a whimsical reconstruction of Uecker's professional career. It was Uke at his self-deprecatory best, using himself as the target of his wit. Carson dubbed him "Mr. Baseball."
The record is going to show that, yes, Uecker's batting average over six seasons as a Major League backup catcher was .200. What Uecker didn't mention was that he was regarded as a fine defensive catcher.
The Carson appearances opened up a world of TV opportunities for Uecker. He had a starring role in the ABC sitcom "Mr. Belvedere." He was a fixture in a long-running series of genuinely funny commercials for Miller Lite. He starred in the movie "Major League," and a sequel. And, of course, he did extensive baseball broadcasting at the national level.
Uecker could have moved beyond the status of team broadcaster at many junctures in his career, but he steadfastly remained with the Brewers. This was his hometown and his hometown team. And there was no better role for him to play.
Listening to Uecker broadcast a game is like listening to the funniest guy at your neighborhood bar. The difference is that Uecker is simultaneously dispensing completely accurate information and insight about an event that is going on even as the one-liners keep coming.
In a serious baseball situation, Uecker is serious. In those many conversational opportunities that baseball affords, though, he can be absolutely priceless, a man with a natural sense of humor, to whom anything and everything can be turned into laughs.
For instance, it's a warm summer night at old County Stadium. "It's a beautiful evening at Milwaukee County Stadium," Uecker tells his audience. "The moon is rising, full and yellow. Wait a minute. No, that's the clock tower at Allen-Bradley."
That moment, like the vast majority of Uecker's stories, spoofed himself. On the occasion that Uecker might turn his ever-present sense of humor on somebody else, that was fine, because he had already laughed at himself, thousands of times.
There was the classic about him signing with the Braves for just $500. "It wasn't much," Uecker said, "but it was all my Dad could afford."
At the Miller Park news conference announcing Uecker's surgery, the business began in typical Uke fashion: "As a lot of you don't know, some do," Uecker said, "I have been added to the active roster."
There you go. The man is having heart surgery, but the order of the day is to make sure that everybody else gets a laugh.
Uecker will undergo surgery Friday for the replacement of his aortic valve and a portion of the aortic root. The recovery time is an estimated 10-12 weeks.
Uecker said that he had given no thought to retirement. The appropriate baseball reference works list his age as 75, although he would not appreciate that particular fact entering the discussion. In any event, he looks considerably younger. He indicated that he could not wait to get back to work.
"I look forward to coming to the park every day," Uecker said. "That's the highlight of the day."
The thing is, over the last 40 years, when you listen to Uecker broadcasting a Brewers game, you always know that this is, in fact, a man enjoying himself at the ballpark. And you can tell that he wants you to get in on the fun.
That kind of thing has not aged, has not changed. It has stood the test of time. And now, with the good wishes of people from Milwaukee and Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest and North America and throughout the baseball world, it will stand the test of some medical problems serious enough to require surgery.
So Uke, in addition to "Get well" there's another message: "Thanks."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.