Bob Uecker didn’t hit a home run in September of 1967, but his buddy Clete did. And that was good enough for Ueck.
Some background: A Honda dealership in Atlanta was running a promotion for the players in the last month of the season. If they pitched a shutout or cracked one over the fence, they’d win a new car. Belatedly seizing the opportunity, Braves third baseman Clete Boyer swatted a homer in the final game to acquire the prize most likely to get someone really psyched on The Price Is Right. While Ueck may have been envious, he wasn’t too proud to mooch.
Clete’s Honda was parked in front of his apartment the very next morning when Ueck rolled up to take it for a test spin. He wasted no time coaxing the keys from Clete. If you thought that perhaps Ueck required shoes and/or a shirt to see how the new set of wheels handled, you’d be mistaken. As Uecker recalls in Catcher In The Wry, “I was shoeless and shirtless when I roared off down the street.”
We don’t know if Clete advised him to not crash the car he’d earned the day before, but we do know that if he did, Ueck wasn’t listening. Hell, someone might have also told Ueck not to leave the house that morning wearing only shorts, and he didn’t listen to them either.
When Ueck revved that Honda’s engine to get a load of its thunder, he says a pack of dogs got excited by the noise. Was Clete’s apartment building in 1967 a hotbed for unruly packs of dogs? We don’t know. There’s a lot about Bob Uecker, his old pals, and the universe that we don’t understand.
Seeing the canines in pursuit in the rearview mirror, a barefooted Ueck felt for the brakes. Looking back, that may have had the unintended effect of a rowdy pooch or two face-planting into the Honda bumper, but rest assured, no dogs were harmed in this Uecker story.
The dogs went unscathed because Ueck never pumped the brakes with his foot (or toes). Instead, his feet got tangled and he stomped on the gas. On its first day off the lot, the Honda sped up, jumped what must have been a menacing curb, tipped over, and crashed against the pavement.
“I was lucky to get away with a broken right arm and a pair of badly slashed feet,” Uecker writes.
He offers no account of the cost of damages incurred on Clete’s one-day-owned-and-fucked Honda, but the mishap set the tone for Uecker’s offseason. He spent the weeks leading up to New Year’s Day of 1968 and several weeks thereafter with his throwing arm in a cast. He was almost healed less than a month before the dawn of spring training in Florida, but someone on the Braves’ medical staff unhealed his injury.
“When a trainer tried to ‘work out’ some of the adhesions by yanking and twisting my arm, he rebroke it,” Uecker recollects.
A limb that had been in recovery since being disfigured by one man’s lack of caution and brazen “no shirt/no shoes” credo was forced to retreat into a cast again. On the fringe of being cut by the Braves, Ueck reported to Florida with an encased arm that was better suited for accepting autographs than throwing a baseball.
Spring training renewed acquaintances. Perhaps as a distraction from the impending end of his playing career, Ueck met up with Clete (and fellow teammate Deron Johnson) at the Cock ‘n’ Bull Restaurant in West Palm Beach to indulge in mischief we’ve covered before. As you might have guessed, Clete and Deron got wasted on a jug of martinis on the team bus before stumbling into the Cock ‘n’ Bull to party with Ueck.
An old cliché states that bad things happen in threes. If the retirement of Bob Uecker the ballplayer could be construed as a bad thing, the final act was realized in a barfight in West Palm Beach. Some wino jerked Clete off his stool. Ueck stood up for his friend and slugged the guy. In Uecker’s own words, here are some fragments to recap what happened after that:
“Busted my head wide open.”
“A terrific fight was breaking out all around me, like a scene from a ‘B’ Western.”
“A week later the Braves released me.”
With the 2018 Brewers reconvening in Arizona for games this spring, it’s doubtful the likes of Travis Shaw and Ryan Braun have swapped any anecdotes that compare to how Bob Uecker spent his offseason in ’67-’68. And it remains unclear if Ueck learned anything about the repercussions of recklessly driving a buddy’s new car while naked above the waist and below the knees.
No matter. Some of the best stories don’t include a lesson.