Year with Uecker: May

Listening to every game called by Bob Uecker in 2023

With all due respect to cheese and American light adjunct lagers, Bob Uecker is Wisconsin’s greatest export.

It’s difficult to imagine such an announcer coming up today: one that played in the majors, but also is a legitimate comedian and entertainer. It seems wild that a player today would be given a sitcom starring role after retiring, as Uecker was.

Many know Uecker from his iconic role in “Major League,” and others have perhaps caught a game here or there either listening to the Brewers’ broadcast via MLB.TV or recall his national baseball broadcasts in previous decades. Uecker injects his self-deprecating and unique style of humor in everything he does, but the real benefit comes from listening to Uecker call games over a full season.

It’s been said that listening to a blowout is peak Uecker, when the game is out of hand and there is more time to sidetrack into a (possibly made up) anecdote about his playing days, early life, or friends in the game. But that’s not quite right, I don’t think. Uecker will inject asides, tangents, and bits into any game at any time, and so the best way to fully appreciate his one-of-a-kind call is throughout a whole season.

For that reason, this season I’m listening to each game called by Uecker. “Uke” is in his 52nd season calling games for the Brewers, though at 89 years old he has limited his schedule to home games only, and trades innings with his broadcast partners (typically, Uecker will do the first two innings, come back for five and six, and then the ninth, with sometimes the eighth mixed in as well).

This year, Uke comes out of the gates firing on all cylinders after more than a half-century of opening days. The blend of entertainment with deep baseball knowledge that comes from a lifetime in the game is on full display.

Uecker effortlessly blends an anecdote of how catchers used to want to catch knuckleballers with first-base mitts for its greater dexterity with a suggestion that listeners should use sausage as deodorant.

You don’t have to listen for several games to hear Uke’s food takes, though. It plays a major part in every game’s broadcast. Usinger’s Sausage has been a sponsor for Brewers Radio forever. At least, one assumes it’s an advertisement. It may be the perfect ad — one that you’re not sure if you’re being sold anything or if the announcer just really enjoys the product.

I suspect it’s both, as even on road games Uecker’s broadcast partners mention the companies at some point. But Uecker’s earnestness in early April talking about how spring will be here soon, but there’s never a bad time for sausage (“on the grill, on the frying pan…”) suggests Usinger’s needn’t convince the Brewers booth too hard.

(Uecker typically ends his sausage recommendations of the day with an encouragement to finish it off with ice cream. “And don’t forget Cedar Crest. You bet.”)

That familiarity is comforting, especially in the early going of the season when you’re still trying to find the rhythm of real baseball being played every day. It doesn’t take long in the season for Lane Grindle in the booth to prod Uecker into telling one of his well-worn stories. By this point, anyone who has listened to more than a couple dozen Brewers games on the radio can tell them.

As he tells it, Uecker started out his post-playing career for the Brewers as a scout, which quickly ended after the mishap of sending in scouting reports with gravy stains on them from his dinner. There’s the other scouting yarn of the time he scouted without a stopwatch, so he would instead cup his hand pretending to have one, and asked his seatmate what he timed the runner at. “Me too,” Uecker would reply. These are the maybe-aprocryphal-but-also-believable origin stories of how Uecker got into radio, and they’re comforting to hear, even after you’ve heard them again and again.

In some ways, listening to Bob Uecker call a game is like being there with a friend or family member. During a late-April tilt against the Red Sox, Uecker spends almost a full inning talking about how he and several players would fish in New Hampshire on visits to the Red Sox when the Brewers were back in the American League. The name of the owner of the resort escapes him (“shows what a good friend he was,” he jokes), and this isn’t one of his bits or a particularly funny story — just a slice of life from more than 50 years around the professional game.

Those asides that can last an inning (or more) give the broadcast with Uke a familial feel. When you’re attending a game, you’re likely not talking with your spouse, sibling, or work colleague only about the game on the field. You drift in and out of conversations, sometimes remarking on what you’re seeing on the field, but other times whatever is coming into your head as the game is in front of you but in the background of your mind at the same time.

The difference though, is that your friend (probably) didn’t play against Ted Williams.

Sean Roberts

Sean Roberts is a baseball columnist for Pitcher List. His work has been featured on Baseball Prospectus, the Hardball Times, and October. He's still getting used to the DH in the national league. @seanroberts.bsky.social

3 responses to “Year with Uecker: May”

  1. Art Vandalay says:

    This is so great. He’s a national treasure and I’m so happy someone is chronicling this. Maybe you can write down some quotes he says over the course of the month for those of us who don’t have the time to catch Brewers games.

    Either way, keep up the great work.

  2. Mike Marquart says:

    The first time I actually paid attention to the Brewers was in 6th grade when they made the WS. It’s been 40 yrs since and I cannot tell you how much joy, pleasure, and memories Uke has brought me and Wisconsinites. Uke’s voice and call in the Spring is like the leaves changing in the fall, it literally signals a new season and makes us feel like the Wisconsin winter is over. Wish he could go another 50 yrs, what a treasure.

  3. Being a Brewers fan, I’ve enjoyed Uecker since I was a kid in the 80s. It isn’t summer without his voice on a radio in the backyard. Wish more people got to enjoy and experience him calling a game because he is an excellent commentator but so good with coloring the game as well. Really awesome to see you enjoying a season of Ueck, and I have no doubt it’ll be laced with even more great memories from him, and for you.

    Thanks for sharing with the audience here. As an avid reader of the site, it was such a nice surprise.

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