No hit, all wit
Uecker's self-effacing jokes keep crowd in stitchesPosted: Sunday July 27, 2003 7:28 PM
Updated: Sunday July 27, 2003 10:47 PM
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) -- Bob Uecker played only six unremarkable years as a catcher in the major leagues, but his blend of quick wit and homespun wisdom has since made him a star in movies, on TV shows and in beer commercials -- and it's turned him into a cultural icon.
He is known by millions as Mr. Baseball, Harry Doyle -- the oddball Indians announcer in the 1989 blockbuster movie Major League -- and the Miller Lite front-row guy who couldn't catch a break. He also appeared as a character on the sitcom Mr. Belvedere.
On Sunday, at his induction into the broadcasters' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, he delivered a speech that was true to his self-deprecating character.
Here are some excerpts:
Uecker spoke second, after Hal McCoy, an award-winning writer with the Dayton Daily News who nearly quit writing two years ago after suffering an optic stroke and losing half his eyesight.
McCoy credited his family, colleagues, players and fans for their support in helping change his mind.
Uecker: "I, in deference to Hal McCoy, was asked to quit many times."
Uecker, speaking off the cuff in a stream of consciousness, began his speech by describing his birth:
"I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Actually, I was born in Illinois. My mother and father were on an oleomargarine run to Chicago back in 1934 because we couldn't get colored margarine in Wisconsin.
"On the way home, my mother was with child -- me -- and the pain started and my dad pulled off into an exit area, and that's where the event took place.
"It was a nativity-type setting, an exit light shining down and three truckdrivers there. One was carrying butter, one had frankfurters, and the other guy was a retired baseball scout who told my folks that I probably had a chance to play somewhere down the line.
"I remember it being very cold, it was January. I didn't weigh very much -- I think the birth certificate says 10 ounces. I was immediately wrapped in swaddling clothes and put in the back of a Chevy without a heater. And that was the start of this Cinderella story that you're hearing today."
Uecker also reiterated a story about the first ball his father bought for him:
"It was a football. I was very young, and he didn't know a lot about it. He came from the old country. We tried to pass it and throw it and kick it, and we couldn't do it.
"It was very discouraging for him and for me. We almost quit, and finally we had a nice-enough neighbor who came over and put some air in it."
About his first contract:
"I signed for $3,000 with the Braves of Milwaukee, which I'm sure a lot of you know, and my old man didn't have that kind of money to put out. But the Braves took it. I remember sitting around our kitchen table counting all this money, coins out of jars, and I'm telling my dad, 'Let's forget this. I don't want to play.'
"He said, 'No, you are going to play baseball. We're going to have you make some money, and we're going to live real good.' So I signed."
About playing for manager Gene Mauch and getting the sense that he might get traded:
"I'd be sitting there and he'd say, 'Grab a bat and stop this rally.'
"Or he'd send me up there without a bat and tell me to try for a walk. Or look down at the third-base coach for a sign and have him turn his back on you.
"But you know what? Things like that never bothered me. I've set records that will never be equaled -- .200 lifetime batting average in the major leagues, which tied me with another sports great averaging 200 or better for a 10-year period -- Don Carter, one of our top bowlers. And I did that without playing every game."
About catching knuckleball pitchers:
"The key is to wait until it stopped rolling and then just pick it up."
About his family:
"I'd take my kids to a game, and they'd want to come home with a different player."
"And my two boys are just like me. In their championship Little League game, one of then struck out three times, the other one allowed the winning run to score, and they lost the championship. I couldn't have been more proud."