Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Bob Uecker | Baseball Digest

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Bob Uecker | Baseball Digest

Listen to the broadcast of any major, minor, or college league game and there’s a good chance you’re going to hear a reference to Bob Uecker. A pitcher’s delivery is well out of the strike zone and you’ll hear “Jussssst outside” said in a sarcastic tone. The announcer in question is paying homage to Uecker’s famous tag line from the “Major League” movie franchise in which he played announcer Harry Doyle.

Younger fans may think that Uecker has always been a baseball announcer or actor. Particularly after he starred as George Owens on the ABC comedy “Mr. Belvedere” and was part of a long running beer campaign (which led to another tag line “I must be in the front roooow”.). But first and foremost, Bob Uecker was a baseball player. Not a very good player, but a major league player nonetheless.

Robert George Uecker is Wisconsin through and through. Born in Milwaukee in 1935, he watched the then minor league Milwaukee Brewers in his formative years, played for the Milwaukee Braves (1962-1963), and began broadcasting in Milwaukee in 1971. He’s even promoted the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

Uecker spent six seasons in the minors, toiling in far flung spots like Boise, ID, Eau Claire, WI, and Evansville, IL. He showed some power, epitomized by a 22 home run season in 1958. But Uecker’s minor league success never translated to the major leagues. He would spent six seasons as a back up catcher with the Braves, St. Louis Cardinals (with which he won a World Series ring in 1964), Philadelphia Phillies, and the Braves again when they moved to Atlanta. He would play in just 297 games in “The Show”.

Neal Russo of the St. Louis Dispatch spoke with Uecker for Baseball Digest in 1964 about his shaky baseball career. Click here to read all about it!

Uecker batted just .200 lifetime with 14 home runs, half of them coming in his best offensive season with the Phillies in 1966. He drove in 30 runs that year in 78 games. But baseball was more than just games played for “Uke”. He forged a number of relationships, was in on a number of comical situations, and was building his post-baseball career as he played. Many of his antics and stories can be found in his two books, “Catcher in the Wry” (An autobiography that I highly recommend.) and “Catch 222″.

“The cops picked me up at 3 a.m. once and fined me $200 for being slightly inebriated and $100 for being with the Phillies.”

Four years after his playing career ended, Uecker returned to Milwaukee as an announcer for the Brewers, who were in just their third season of existence after beginning as the Seattle Pilots in 1969. He also worked semi-regularly on national broadcasts, made numerous personal appearances, such as guesting on “The Tonight Show”, and was part of a series of television ad campaigns. It would all lead to his television and theatrical acting careers. Popular in any venue, he’s even in the World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Hall of Fame for his time as an in-ring announcer in the late 1980′s.

But first and foremost, Bob Uecker has always been about baseball. In 2003, he was awarded the Ford C. Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition for his major contributions to baseball. He’s also in the Radio and Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fames, and in recognition of his 50 years in baseball, the Brewers placed a number 50 in their “Ring of Honor” in 2005.

Uecker gave all of his fans a scare last April when he had to undergo aortic valve replacement surgery. He returned to his broadcasting duties in July, but needed additional surgery in October to repair a tear from his original surgery. He’s expected to be in fine fettle when the 2011 season starts. Milwaukee Brewers baseball wouldn’t be the same with out him.

Happy 76th birthday and many more to come to Bob Uecker!

Also celebrating birthdays today:

Brian Doyle in Glasgow, KY, 1955: Doyle’s career was even shorter than Uecker’s, just 110 games over four seasons (1977-1981) with the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics. In 1978 Doyle caught lightning in a bottle, helping the Yankees to the second of back to back world championships. Starting 2nd baseman Willie Randolph went down with an injury, but Doyle stepped in and stepped up, hitting .438 with two RBI and four runs scored against the Dodgers as the Yankees rallied from a 2-0 deficit in games to capture the title. Today, Doyle, along with brothers Denny and Blake, runs one of the most highly respected baseball schools (Doyle Baseball Academy) in the country.

Ryland Rowland-Smith: The left-hander who really does come from down under- New South Wales, Australia- was born in 1983. Rowland-Smith recently signed with the Houston Astros, hoping to rebound from a less than stellar 2010 campaign with the Seattle Mariners. He emerged as a solid starter, in his third season in the bigs, in 2009 with a 5-4, 3.74 mark and a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

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