Brewers celebrate native son Uecker

Brewers celebrate native son Uecker

MILWAUKEE -- The association that keeps alive the memory of Milwaukee's original Major League franchise honored Bob Uecker on Monday for being the first home-grown player to suit up for the Braves.

"I was also the first home-grown player sent out," Uecker deadpanned.

Cue the rim shot.

The Brewers took their turn to honor the man known locally as Milwaukee's longtime radio voice and nationally as "Mr. Baseball" on Tuesday afternoon, adding Uecker's name to the Braves Wall of Honor inside at Miller Park. Uecker later threw a ceremonial first pitch before the Brewers-Marlins game.

Born in Milwaukee in 1935, Uecker signed with the Braves in 1956 and went on to play six big league seasons as a catcher for Milwaukee, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Atlanta from 1962-67. He batted an even .200, but he won a World Series with the Cardinals in 1964.

It's Uecker's post-baseball career that made him famous around the world. Through a friend in the game, he met jazz musician Al Hirt in Atlanta in 1969, and Hirt later arranged for Uecker to make his first appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.

Uecker made some 100 appearances with Carson, which led to a career in commercials, television and film. He never quite made it to the front row in a string of popular Miller Lite commercials, and made other television appearances on shows like "Late Night with David Letterman" and "Saturday Night Live" before starring in a 122-episode run of the ABC sitcom "Mr. Belvedere." Uecker made his film debut in "Major League" as Indians play-by-play man Harry Doyle.

All along the way, Uecker got to play Doyle in real life, minus the open bottle of whiskey. Then-Brewers owner Bud Selig made the wise decision in 1971 to install Uecker in the Brewers' radio booth and, 39 seasons later, he's still there. In 2003, Uecker earned the Ford C Frick Award from baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Despite all of his off-the-field accomplishments, Uecker still loves to talk up his playing career.

"I don't know if a lot of people know this, but I started as a pitcher," Uecker said Tuesday. "My first game, my parents and everybody was there, my friends, and the manager came out to take me out of the game. I didn't want to come out because I was embarrassed. I said, 'Let me face this guy one more time, because I struck him out the first time I faced him.'

"He said, 'I know, but it's the same inning. I've got to get you out of here.' And that was my move to catching."

Ba-dum-dum.

But seriously, folks, Uecker was enshrined along with some good company on the Braves Wall of Honor, where he joined Hall of Famer Warren Spahn (Uecker was behind the plate when Spahn became the winningest left-handed pitcher in Major League history), plus Johnny Logan, Andy Pafko and Bobby Thompson.

Logan was on-hand to help honor Uecker on Monday night and Tuesday afternoon. The Milwaukee Braves Historical Association was his idea, and he runs it today along with former Milwaukee Sentinel sports editor Bud Lea.

"Sincerely, to be a part of the past here in Milwaukee and still be a part of the present, it's a big kick," Uecker said.

The Braves Wall of Honor is located on the field-level concourse at Miller Park along the third-base side. The association also installed a memorial to the Milwaukee Braves on the former site of Milwaukee County Stadium.

"It's sad in a way, because there's a lot of people -- young people -- who don't know the Braves were here," Uecker said. "They're surprised. But you think of the fact that Milwaukee was the first National League club to draw two million people, not New York or St. Louis, [it shows] it was a great place to play."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.