Though Bob Uecker got the call-up to the majors midway through the month of April in the 1962 season, when the time came to club his initial home run for the Milwaukee Braves, he didn’t rush into it. The man had spent six years in the minor leagues to prove he preferred to get the important stuff done at his own leisurely pace. True to form, with the approach of a cunning slacker, Uke waited until the very last day of the season to cross off his to-do list: “Hit first MLB dinger.”
Leading up to the backup catcher’s 33rd game of the year, the future Harry Doyle had totaled 15 hits, 6 RBI, 4 runs, and a pair of doubles in nearly 70 plate appearances—and to his credit, Uke wanted even more. He had done a great job showing to the casual fan that it’s really hard to swat a pitch over a far-off wall, but his competitive drive made him want to demonstrate that such a feat could indeed be done.
With two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the second inning, the hometown kid picked his moment to shock the fans at County Stadium. The victim on the mound was a Pirates lefty named Diomedes Olivo.
Nicknamed Guayubín after his birthplace in the Dominican Republic, Olivo, like Uke, had some distinct quirks. When Olivo made his debut in “The Show” in 1960, he was 41 years old. Only Satchel Paige, a legend from the Negro League, has ever been an older candidate for Rookie of the Year (at 42). A late bloomer and journeyman of the Western Hemisphere, Olivo pitched in the countries of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua before he moved to the States.
Guayubín was baseball’s oldest player, seven years shy of a half-century, when he peered over his glove at Bob Uecker in the batter’s box on September 30, 1962. A veteran of life, a newbie in the majors, perhaps Olivo underestimated Uke, and like a man who showed up two minutes late for the Early Bird Special, he paid the full price.
Despite being over the hill, Olivo had earned respect for his vigorous fastball and surprisingly low earned run average. (He posted a stingy 3.10 ERA and a record of 5-6 in 85 games played in 1960 and 1962-63. We can only guess that he took 1961 off to soak his aching body in a tub of Epsom salt.) Too loose to care, Bob Uecker was not intimidated by the quadragenarian on the bump.
The count was no balls and a strike when Uke stopped toying with the middle-aged southpaw. He took a mighty hack at the second pitch and connected. Years later, the tape was played at a roast of Uecker, featuring Earl Gillespie as he announced the round-tripper (as well as a laugh track added to the mix). Gillespie’s call is chronicled in Uecker’s autobiography, Catcher In The Wry:
“The pitch swung on and a drive (voice rising) INTO DEEP LEFT FIELD…GOING BACK TOWARD THE WALL…IT MAY BE…IT’S BACK AT THE WALL…HOME RUN FOR BOB UECKER!!! Well, Bob Uecker…quite a thrill.”
While the blast is described as a “looping line drive” in Uecker’s book, it sure seems like the Spalding stayed in flight long enough for Gillespie to contemplate the fate of it. As he trotted around the bases, few had any notion that Uecker would someday surpass Gillespie in the quality of his home run call. Mr. Baseball went on to coin a dinger catchphrase that’s an emphatic command, not a prolonged maybe, and rather than saying “WALL” twice, Uke’s slogan avoided the word altogether. His iconic order to “GET UP” is so good it had to be used in an alarm clock.
When his cleats landed on home plate, Uke must have felt relief. Milwaukee went on to lose the game 4-3 and fall several games short of a postseason berth, but that hardly mattered. Uke had freed himself from the bother of having to wait at least another six months to humiliate a Big League pitcher. In fact, the Braves demoted him back to the minors for the bulk of the next season, and he went homerless in the scant 13 games in which he played. He wouldn’t go deep again until ’64, after Milwaukee dealt him to the Cardinals—and he coaxed a home run call out of Harry Caray exactly once that season.
It’s worth noting that, despite sitting on the bench for the entire seven-game clash between the Cardinals and the Yankees in the 1964 Fall Classic, Uke still got honored with a World Series ring.
Consider that resume: World Series Champion without the use of a bat or a glove, and first homering off not merely an old pitcher, but a historically old pitcher.
Bob Uecker may have been a mediocre ballplayer, but today we salute him because he was also a sly opportunist.