MILWAUKEE — Nothing says summer like baseball. And nothing says baseball like Mr. Baseball himself, Bob Uecker.
Some might argue for Vin Scully, but as a Wisconsin native there’s no one I’d rather hear call a baseball game than Uke.
Especially on a pitch that’s “juuuuust a bit outside.”
Columnist Mike Bauman put it best Tuesday, writing: “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.”
That’s why Tuesday’s announcement that Uecker was going to have heart surgery Friday and miss 10-12 weeks of games came as such a shock to so many.
For Uecker, a Milwaukee native, the nearly three-month absence will be his longest since beginning his baseball career as a player in 1956 with the Milwaukee Braves and broadcasting career in 1971.
Previously he had missed more than a month in 1991 after having surgery to repair two abdominal aortic aneurysms. Aside from that, Uecker has been a constant fixture in baseball for nearly 55 years, with all but four of them being in Milwaukee.
As word began to spread about Uecker’s heart surgery Tuesday, there was an incredible outpouring of support for the 75-year-old Brewers broadcaster. Several players, including Prince Fielder, Craig Counsell and Casey McGehee, stood by during the press conference to show their support for Uecker, who is considered by the players to be “part of the team.”
Afterward, the sentiments expressed by a pair of Wisconsin natives rang true for me, and showed just why the heart surgery of the Brewers broadcaster means so much to so many.
“Baseball is every day, and he becomes part of your summer,” Counsell, who grew up in Whitefish Bay, said. “It’s going to be like one of your friends is gone.”
“You have a lot of people in different parts of the country that talk about someone being a voice. But Uecker has been here from the beginning. He is the Brewers,” Pirates pitcher and Racine native Jack Taschner told MLB.com. “Obviously, I hope the best for him. He is everything to baseball in Milwaukee.
“Bud Selig saved the team, but Bob Uecker is the voice.”
Need further proof that Uecker is an essential part of Brewers baseball?
Take a look around Miller Park.
In left field, there’s the sign that reads, “Get up, get up, get outta here, gone!” High above right field, Uecker’s name, with the No. 50 marking his more than half century in baseball, hangs alongside four Brewers greats — Hank Aaron, Rollie Fingers, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor — and Jackie Robinson.
Without Uke, baseball in Milwaukee just won’t be quite the same.
Still, it’s important to remember one thing: He’s not dead, nor is he dying.
He’s simply having the aortic valve and a portion of his aortic root in his heart replaced. As his doctor said in the press conference yesterday, no heart surgery is ever routine, but it is a commonly performed operation.
With that in mind, we’d all do well to follow the lead of Uecker himself. Staring at heart surgery in just a few days, Uecker opened the press conference the only way he knew how: With a deadpanned one-liner.
“A lot of you don’t know, some do,” he said. “I have been added to the active roster.”
On a day when he was announcing he’d have heart surgery and be away from the game and team that he loves, Uecker still wanted to keep things light.
As Brewers manager Ken Macha said after the press conference during his daily briefing with reporters, Uecker has a positive attitude about him that’s contagious.
Having met Uecker earlier this month, I can attest to that. Seeing Uke at the ballpark, talking to him about baseball — or professional wrestling on one occasion — it brings a smile to your face and brightens your day a little bit.
“No matter what, he’s always a happy person,” Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder said. “He has a good aura about him. Whenever he’s around, it’s a good time.”
As the Brewers travel to the west coast this weekend, Uecker will not be with them. Undoubtedly, his voice, the voice of Brewers baseball, will be missed.
Taking his place alongside Cory Provus, for at least the current road trip, will be former Major Leaguer and FSN broadcaster Davey Nelson. It will likely be a bit of a tough trip for both of them in Uecker’s absence.
Taking over full time for a legend like Uecker is no small task for Provus, who previously alternated every two innings with Uke.
Likewise, Nelson will be called upon for color commentary, something Uecker provides plenty of in addition to his play-by-play. Certainly, it will not be fair to compare Nelson or Provus to the legendary Mr. Baseball, but inevitably that is what will happen, and there’s simply no way either could possibly measure up.
Of course, if it were up to Uecker, that wouldn’t even be an issue.
“I’ll be broadcasting right from the O.R.,” Uecker joked during the second inning of Wednesday’s game.
You get the feeling that if they would let him do it, he would.
As Jim Gantner said before Tuesday’s game, “There’s only one Bob Uecker.”
Uke certainly will be missed, but the silver lining is that he will be back, and it will be, just as he would say, “Nice. Real Nice.”
Jordan is a senior majoring in journalism and political science. Have a favorite memory of Bob Uecker that you’d like to share? E-mail him at [email protected]