MILWAUKEE – Bob Uecker was born on Jan. 26, 1934, in Milwaukee. Bud Selig was born on July 30, 1934, also in Milwaukee. Henry Aaron was born on Feb. 5, 1934, in Mobile, Ala.
They are 86, still among us, and they are the Baseball Trinity of Milwaukee, this durable old burg, this gathering place by the water.
Aaron is the star of stars, the true Home Run King, and the most vivid reminder of those glorious years when the Braves arrived, fans flocked to County Stadium and a World Series was won over the Yankees in 1957.
Selig is the car dealer who had a few hundred doors slammed in his face trying to return baseball to Milwaukee, and if he didn’t have the city ready when the Seattle Pilots needed a last-minute new home in 1970, the Brewers might never have happened in this comparatively small market.
Uecker is the bad-hitting big-league catcher, so bad that his one-liners made him “Mr. Baseball” to Johnny Carson, so funny that no one else could have played the announcer Harry Doyle in “Major League,” and so loyal to his hometown that this is his 50th season in the Brewers’ broadcasting booth.
He was an analyst on national telecasts for stretches in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s — could have been a West Coast guy through his connections as the father of the family in “Mr. Belvedere,” could have been an East Coast guy since George Steinbrenner wanted him in a Yankees booth.
Yet he always came back home from the coasts to tell the locals on the radio what was happening with the Brewers, good or bad.
There were nights in the Metrodome, when the Brewers were still in the American League and things weren’t going well, when a few hundred border crossers would wait past the final out for this reason:
To chant “Ueck” until the wrap-up was over and he had disappeared down the steps of the press box.
Cory Provus did three years with Uecker from 2009 to 2011, before moving to the Twins as the main play-by-play announcer in 2012.
“I remember getting off team buses in Chicago,” Provus said. “We had Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, but the biggest reaction by far was when the Brewers fans outside Wrigley saw Ueck.”
On Wednesday, I talked with Uecker on a cellphone as we sat in adjacent press areas — a coronavirus precaution — at Miller Park, and then he came over for a fist-bumping hello.
I’ve known him since sharing beverages in the 1970s in the Twins Room, the AL’s most notorious hospitality room for media, scouts, etc.
Uecker asked the first question in the phone interview: “What was the name of that bartender with the bad leg at the Met?”
Art Ruane, belligerent when full of beer after a game. “That was him,” Uecker said. “Me and [Don] Drysdale were in there doing a national game. He was showing us some proper techniques for making plays and fell on his rear end.”
Next: “What was the name of that guy who was always eating onions?”
Halsey Hall. “Yeah, Halsey … the broadcaster,” Uecker said. “He would eat onions while he was watching batting practice.”
Pause. “Man, if you couldn’t have a good time going to Minnesota, to see Tony Oliva and Rod Carew hit, to hang out with those characters, you didn’t like baseball,” he said.
Eventually, my question: Why Milwaukee for 50 years in the booth?
“It’s my hometown, I’m comfortable here, and most important, everything was OK,” Uecker said. “Bud was my boss, and we were great friends — still are — and if I needed time off for the other stuff, TV shows, national games, it was never a problem.
“There’s something to be said for everything being OK, right? I mean, you look around at this mess [coronavirus] we’re going through, and what are we all hoping for? To be OK.”
Uecker and I talked for a few more minutes, told a couple of disparaging stories about a mutual friend from days of yore, and then he went back to the radio booth in the hope of offering a couple more “Get Up, Get Out of Heres” to Brewers fans on this night.
“Ueck’s greatness as an everyday broadcaster is he builds the scene in a tight ballgame, and in a blowout, he has the comedy and the stories to entertain,” Provus said. “What I remember most, though, is the work he did with Make-A-Wish.
“Parents would come in the booth, say, with a terminally ill 9-year-old boy, and they had been crying for days knowing how it was going to turn out, and Ueck would put that young kid on his lap during the broadcast — ‘Doing OK, son? You want a Miller Lite?’ — and the youngster would be smiling, and the parents would be laughing.
“Those memories he provided hurting families at those moments — unforgettable for me.”