Updated from an original 2019 post. Happy birthday, Ueck!
The ultimate Brewer happens to be Bob Uecker, which is kind of odd since he never played a game for the team. Sure, today’s birthday boy drove in eight runs and hit two doubles in 1962 (and wow, those are all some very even numbers), but he did so for the Milwaukee Braves, who no longer exist. Bob had been retired and forced into pursuing a different career path a few years before the Brewers became a franchise in Milwaukee in 1970. Doesn’t matter. With no stats whatsoever to back up this claim: Bob is the essence of the Brewers.
The Brew Crew aren’t really defined by stats. Shout-outs to Robin Yount and his 3,142 career hits and Paul Molitor and his 39-game hitting streak, but the Brewers are all about the essence, not the numbers. And Bob transcended some notably shitty stats to embody that essence.
Let’s talk about Bob Uecker’s shitty stats. He totaled 14 home runs and 74 RBI—not in a season, but in his entire six-year career. His career batting average was exactly .200, and even in a game marked by recurring failure, that’s a dismal performance. He was somewhat regarded as a good defensive catcher, yet he once led the Big Leagues in passed balls with 27.
That’s what we talk about when we talk about Bob Uecker’s shitty stats. But here’s the thing: Bob himself loves to talk about his shitty stats. He doesn’t want to be praised as the funniest man in baseball history, with one of the brightest minds and a staggering amount of charisma. He prefers to laugh about his shitty stats.
Bob would rather go on about how he was so slow that in almost 300 games he never stole a base, than say that he costarred with Charlie “Tiger Blood” Sheen in a movie that grossed $50 million at the box office and holds a proud rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. If Bob lost a bet and had to mention himself, “Charlie Sheen,” “box office,” and “Rotten Tomatoes” in the same sentence, I bet he’d pump himself up and power through it, but first he’d probably have to throw up a Usinger’s sausage and two Miller Lites.
Bob is a deep skeptic of the human ego, and although he is a showman who’s drawn to the spotlight, he aims that beam of light on his shitty stats and shortcomings. Bob appeals to us because his love of baseball endured after he had the realization: “I suck at baseball.”
As a fan, what’s more relatable than that?
His ability to laugh at most anything begins with himself. He chuckles at self-righteousness, and not only is he humble, but he expresses that humility in perfectly timed punchlines. As a human being, what’s not to love about someone like that?
Cheering for the Brewers can be a humble gig. Remember the Crew in the ’90s and early 2000s? Cringe. It was like watching Major League—but only the first half of the film, before that small-market team of has-beens and never-will-be’s rallied against all odds to defeat the Goliaths of baseball and treat their fans to a Hollywood ending.
Ever since he got on the mic as the voice of Milwaukee baseball more than 50 years ago, Bob has been a beacon of greatness for a modest franchise that began after one year of instant doom in Seattle as the long-defunct Pilots. We know about his iconic catchphrases, his side hustle on Mr. Belvedere, and his spot-on portrayal of what it’s like to be strangled by Andre the Giant, but the Bob moment I’d like to acknowledge on the man’s 89th birthday is a brutal one for Crew fans: Game 7 against the Dodgers. October 20, 2018.
Bob was tasked with reporting the severe letdown felt by the fanbase in the top of the sixth. There were two on and two out when Jim Jeffress gave up that catastrophic shot over the fence in left-center. The Crew faced a four-run deficit. I remember how Bob called it with somber dignity. Like he was reading a eulogy with inspiring strength. His voice revealed no trace of hysterics, nor self-pity or spite against a Dodgers franchise spoiled with a mammoth payroll and talented but disdained stars like Puig and Machado.
This elder legend who had gathered so much wonderful material from life’s disappointments, who thrived on his own follies, acted as the beacon of greatness again, in a time of the worst heartache and nastiest adversity a sports fan can endure.
Afterward, he quietly praised the Miller Park faithful for keeping the stadium packed and full of hope down to the last out in a 5-1 defeat. (It is unlikely that Dodgers fans would have done the same.) He marveled at a magical season that ended a game short of the World Series, and he said something as simple as it is powerful: “I look forward to next spring.”
Bob is there in the cautious optimism of Wisconsinites grilling out and discussing the team’s chances, bundled up and sipping beer in the chilled air of late March. He’s there when fans laugh at heart-wrenching defeats, and when the Brewers outperform division rivals that can easily outspend them. Through a cycle that may seem to end in an emotional gut punch, the essence is there with the message that matters most:
“I look forward to next spring.”
Happy 89th birthday to the essence of the Milwaukee Brewers, Mr. Bob Uecker.
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