Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 8/30/12
The Milwaukee Brewers will immortalize legendary announcer Bob Uecker on Friday by unveiling a statue of him at Miller Park. In anticipation of that moment, FOXSportsWisconsin.com's Ryan Kartje talked to three of the men Uecker has shared the booth with during a Hall of Fame broadcasting career that has spanned more than 40 years and has made Uecker famous beyond the bounds of the sport he has played and loved. MILWAUKEE The walls of Don & Charlie's steakhouse in Scottsdale, Ariz., were drowned out by a museum of sports memorabilia a haven for baseball that might rival Cooperstown itself in terms of its history. Signed jerseys and baseballs, pictures and keepsakes litter the walls. But on this day in 2009, one of baseball's most valuable relics happened to be sitting in a booth in the corner of the restaurant. And, in the seat across from him, Cory Provus couldn't help but be distracted. Provus had never seen this dinner for what it really was an interview. ("It was more of a conversation," he later would say.) But he was having trouble focusing on the legend in front of him; instead, he couldn't stop looking at a peculiar picture just above his head. The man in the photo proudly stood shirtless with dark tan skin, balancing on the boat beneath him. He flashed a familiar, disarming smile as he hoisted a giant fish. The picture seemed out of place in a restaurant loaded with sports memorabilia; until, that is, Provus realized the man in the photo was Mr. Baseball himself. Provus snapped back to attention, as Bob Uecker flashed the same disarming grin from across the table. He continued to lavish Provus with tales of his playing days and his years in the booth in Milwaukee, where he had called games for almost four decades. Two hours passed before either of them even looked at the menu. It was easy for Provus to see how Uecker had captivated radio audiences for so long. His voice was soothing. And he had a way with people that much was obvious his self-deprecation and quick wit could put anyone at ease. But in this conversation, Provus could see something else about Uecker, something that blended so seamlessly in his broadcasts the reason he'd been in the business for so long. He romanticized baseball on the radio in a way that was unparalleled by anyone whose voice first reached the airwaves after the start of the Internet and mega TV contract age. He spoke about the seemingly divine connection of baseball and radio like a man would speak of his first love. "Every sport is on radio, but there's nothing like baseball on the radio," Provus said. "That is the best sport on the radio by far. It's personal. There's so many games, and there's just a natural connection between baseball and the medium of radio. Bob has always loved calling baseball on the radio. He was meant to do it. He could have done TV in a second if he wanted to, but he loves calling Brewers games on the radio." Even Uecker's voice was teeming with nostalgia. His broadcasts had always been about stories, and that clearly wasn't an act he was a storyteller by nature. But what was it about Uecker that made him more than just a broadcaster? What had helped him remain an icon, even as the world changed so drastically around him? There's a quote from legendary former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell that only begins to answer that question, a quote that has stuck with Provus over the years. It's something he learned after this three-hour dinner and during his three years as Uecker's sidekick on the Brewers Radio Network. It's the simple first step in understanding the romanticism Uecker's broadcasts have invoked in Milwaukee since he first took the microphone in 1971. "When it comes to broadcasting baseball on the radio, nothing happens until the announcer says it happens," Harwell said. That was certainly the case for Joe Block, who grew up listening to Harwell in his home in Detroit. It was Harwell who had first incited his love for broadcasting baseball. But every now and again, on a clear day with his radio dial adjusted just right, Block could pick up Bob Uecker calling a Brewers game. Block had seen Uecker plenty of times before watching "Mr. Belvedere" on ABC as a young boy and especially watching Miller Lite commercials. Even some of Uecker's trademark wit came out of his own mouth, as Block remembered those moments: "I wanted to drink Miller Lite because of Bob Uecker, but I was 9. So we had to do it in moderation." Those are the kind of jokes that attracted Block to Uecker and have kept so many Wisconsinites listening for years. Uecker is a relic from an age when there weren't 50 ways to check the score and statistics of a baseball game. Uecker doesn't monitor Twitter or use any form of technology much differently than he did four decades ago. "There aren't too many of those left," Block said. "It's getting to that point where that last bastion of guys are fading. And it's amazing what those guys are still able to harness, where younger broadcasters like myself, we can't do it in quite the same way." It's something Block didn't quite understand until he sat in the same spot Provus did three years prior, interviewing with Uecker for the job Provus had vacated and listening intently to the legendary broadcaster across the same table at Don & Charlie's. It was here, again, that Uecker explained in full detail his love of radio. He made Block laugh harder than he could remember doing Uecker has that effect on folks. But it was something else that struck Block, beyond the world-famous humor, beyond the one-liners something that made him understand more fully what he'd been feeling ever since hearing Uecker on the radio across Lake Michigan. It was the same reason Uecker's voice had brought Wisconsinites closer together for generations. "It's just him," Block said. "It's just who he is. He's a guy who grew up in Milwaukee of modest means. . He's good to people. He talks about grilling out and having beers, and that's how I grew up. He's an everyman. That's not an act, and I think that comes across on the air. And I think that's part of his appeal. Brewers fans tell me, Why we love Ueck is because he makes us feel like we're included.' I think that's the ultimate compliment you can get from a fan. He's not talking at anyone. He's talking with them." For almost four hours, Block and Uecker talked with each other in that booth, staying in the same spot till long past closing. It wasn't until the sound of Snoop Dogg flooded from near the dishwashers and into the main dining room that the two realized they should probably end what had been one of the more unusual interviews of Block's life. A Detroit native, Block can only understand a bit of the breadth of Uecker's appeal. For the entirety of the 2012 season, he has sat next to Uecker, taken in his intricacies, and soaked in as much of the aura he brings to the sport as possible. For Block, there is no better comparison to Uecker than the man well, the voice he had already known so well: Ernie Harwell. Block can see the same effect Harwell had on him as a child in those who listen to Uecker narrate their favorite baseball team. "When Ernie passed away, he lied and stayed at Comerica Park, and they opened up the ballpark at 6 in the morning and people had lined up at midnight," said Block, whose family was at Comerica Park that day. "People that had never met him came to pay their respects. They just listened to his voice on the radio while they were washing their car in their driveway or making dinner, and he told them about the Tigers. That's what I think Ueck means to folks in Wisconsin. He's been there so long. He's been a trusted friend on the radio for so many years. And all of those moments of joy and triumph, he described them. The moments of heartbreak: he was there for them. He's always been there for people. And I think that's why Wisconsinites think Bob Uecker is a part of their family." Uecker has always been there for Laura Hemming, at least. Growing up in Monroe, Wis., Hemming took a liking to the Brewers while everyone around her had begun obsessing about the Green Bay Packers. In that way, she was an outsider. And without Milwaukee TV channels on the southwest side of the state, the only way Hemming could keep up with the Brewers was to listen to Bob Uecker's familiar voice on the radio. He was always there for her, day after day. Hemming's love for Uecker hadn't started from the beginning, but rather it was a relationship forged through years of trust and mutual experiences. Uecker had narrated every moment she could remember of Brewers baseball, from the 1982 World Series season to the 1987 Easter game, the miraculous ninth-inning comeback that was the 12th win in the team's 13-0 start. On that day, the last of her Easter vacation from college, she stood on her parents' porch with her mother and brother, soaking in every moment of Uecker's treasured voice. She can still hear it today. First, Rob Deer's tying home run Here's the pitch a curveball, Deer to deep left And it's way, way, way outta here, and gone for Deer! And they've tied it at four! Then, Dale Sveum's winning home run The pitch a swing and fly ball to right field and deep! Get up, get up and get outta here! Gone for Sveum! And they've done it again! 12 in a row on a two-run blast by Sveum to win it! Oh my goodness! Holy cow, do you believe it? Hemming jumped up and down in elation. She would remember this moment for the rest of her life, and she knew it then. She grabbed a blank cassette tape and her brother's rundown RadioShack stereo and recorded the postgame show. It was the first of many Uecker calls she'd record. And now, 46 years old and living in Madison, she has a playlist on her iPod of his best calls, not to mention the cassette from that day. For Hemming, like so many others around Milwaukee and the rest of the state, Uecker's longevity is what had made him a legend. "He knows all of the memories," Hemming said. "He knows all of the big moments. He knows everything I know." Pat Hughes first knew Bob Uecker in a way very few others did -- at least, that's how Uecker always joked -- for his baseball career. Hughes, who worked with Uecker for 12 years before Provus, Block, and Jim Powell, first remembered a baseball card he had of Uecker as a young boy, when Uecker played for the Milwaukee Braves during his six-year, famously lackluster major league career. Hughes even brought up one of Uecker's greatest accomplishments when he met him for the first time in 1983 at the Minneapolis Metrodome. Hughes confronted Uecker with the memory of Mr. Baseball's only grand slam, which Hughes remembered he had hit at Candlestick Park."Do you remember it?" he asked. "Remember it?" Uecker answered. "It almost ruined my career!" It was Hughes' first exposure to Uecker's special brand of self-deprecating humor. But it was that lack of success and his willingness to joke about it that made him so appealing to his listeners. He was just like them an average guy. "I led the league in "Go get 'em next time," he famously jested. As the Brewers took on the Cubs in a four-game series this week, Hughes now the play-by-play man for WGN Radio in Chicago -- got a chance to see his former partner. Uecker looked as good any 77-year-old he'd seen, Hughes thought, even considering the heart surgeries he had undergone not too long ago. It got him thinking about his legacy and Uecker's legacy and what any radio announcer meant to those who listened to him. "In the history of Wisconsin sports, with the possible exception of Vince Lombardi and Brett Favre, who would be more famous or more beloved than Bob Uecker?" Hughes asked. "And I'm talking about forever. I really think Bob is way, way, way up there. "He's dedicated his life really to the city and the state and the organization and to doing radio for his hometown team. I just can't think of anybody else that would be close to him." "Why would anyone want to leave this?" It's a question that Bob Uecker posed back to reporter Bernard Goldberg of "HBO Real Sports" in 2011, when Goldberg asked him about a potential end to his broadcasting days. As of Friday, part of Uecker will never have to leave Miller Park. In an afternoon ceremony, the Milwaukee Brewers will reveal a statue of the broadcaster that will stand next to those of three other Brewers immortals: former owner Bud Selig and Hall of Fame outfielders Robin Yount and Hank Aaron. Uecker is already a legend and an icon, not only in baseball, but in the entertainment industry. He's a member of too many Hall of Fames to count, including some eclectic ones, like the Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame and WWF Hall of Fame. In a sense, he's already immortal to those who grew up listening to him. But Uecker realizes the significance of standing forever outside the ballpark of the team he's synonymous with. "When you look at it in that light, that it's going to be there long beyond you, beyond any of us, it's a pretty neat thing," Uecker said when the dedication was announced. "It really is." For those generations to come, as Uecker's voice eventually fades from consciousness, part of him will always remain a testament to his longevity and what he meant to a young major league team and fan base that so badly needed a voice it could trust. "He'll always be the face," Provus said. "He'll always be the big name of the Brewers. Ryan Braun can win 10 more MVPs, but 50 years from now, people are still going to connect that Bob Uecker is the Milwaukee Brewers."
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