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Uecker to have heart surgery

Uecker to have heart surgery

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Uecker has always been better at turning a comedic phrase than turning on a fastball, so it came as no surprise when he delivered sobering news on Tuesday with a touch of his famous humor.

Uecker, 75 and in his 40th season in the Brewers' radio booth, will undergo heart surgery on Friday and is expected to miss the next 10-12 weeks of the baseball season. Dr. Alfred C. Nicolosi will replace Uecker's aortic valve and a portion of his aortic root.

After that procedure, Dr. Jim Kleczka will determine whether additional bypass surgery is necessary.

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"It has to be done -- that's the bottom line," Uecker told a packed news conference. "I don't want to go on the road and 'take a Dixie' there. I'd rather do it here."

Flanked by a group of well-wishing players that included Prince Fielder, Trevor Hoffman, Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee, Jim Edmonds and Wisconsin's own Craig Counsell, Uecker said he has known about his heart problem since last September but had hoped to get through the 2010 season before undergoing surgery. He planned to work Tuesday's and Wednesday's games against the Pirates as usual before surgery Friday morning at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

At the same time, the Brewers will begin their first road trip without him in 19 years. Uecker's radio partner, Cory Provus, will handle play-by-play throughout the trip with color analysis by Fox Sports Wisconsin's Davey Nelson. After the trip, the Brewers and the team's flagship radio station, WTMJ-AM, will review its options for the remainder of Uecker's absence.

Uecker also had surgery in 1991 to repair two abdominal aortic aneurysms and made a full recovery in about five weeks. That's the longest he has been away from baseball since his hometown Milwaukee Braves signed him in 1956.

Until now.

"A lot of people have problems worse than mine," Uecker said, tearing up. "I wasn't worried about it because they told me I could swim, you know. It was just in the last three months that this thing started to increase in size. I know, because I saw it [on an EKG] yesterday."

After his 1991 surgery, Uecker was told that there was a likelihood of a recurrence of similar problems. They manifested last September, when Uecker saw a specialist for tests to determine whether he had diabetes. He didn't, but the physician heard a heart murmur and notified Klezcka, who was alongside Uecker on Tuesday at Miller Park.

Further tests revealed that Uecker's aortic valve was "leaking quite badly," Klezcka said, and he also found that the aortic root above the heart was enlarged. He monitored Uecker in the ensuing months.

"Those two problems often go hand in hand," Klezcka said. "It's not something that necessarily requires surgery immediately, especially in people who don't have any symptoms. At the time, Bob was having no symptoms.

"But the latest scans that we've gotten have shown that the aorta has grown larger, and even though Bob doesn't have any symptoms right now, it's grown to the point that something needs to be done because I'm afraid he would have problems in terms of this thing potentially rupturing before the end of the season."

That decision was made after the Brewers returned last Thursday night from a three-city road trip.

"Things changed dramatically, pretty much," Uecker said. "I was advised not to go on this [upcoming] trip and that the surgery was going to be moved up. I was kind of hoping I would go to the end of the year and have it during the offseason, but it didn't work."

Uecker has been calling play-by-play on Brewers radio broadcasts since 1971 and was inducted into the broadcasters' wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. He was inducted into the Miller Park Walk of Fame the same year, and then was added to the Milwaukee Braves Wall of Honor at Miller Park in 2009.

He's better known nationally for his work in film and television, including appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It was Carson who dubbed Uecker "Mr. Baseball." Uecker went on to star in commercials for Miller Lite, in the hit TV series "Mr. Belvedere" and the "Major League" series of films. He also hosted a pair of Wrestlemanias and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last month during Spring Training.

He is an avid swimmer who maintains a locker at Miller Park for his afternoon workouts in the team's resistance pool. Acquaintances could see even at the start of Spring Training that he was weak, but Uecker continued to swim a mile every morning, right through last week's road trip.

Even as he received treatment over the winter and called early-season games while woozy with medication, Uecker never considered taking time off until the doctors required him to.

"I don't want to quit," Uecker said. "I don't want to become a gibberish idiot on the air, either. I'll know when to quit. I'll know when to stop all the other activities. But, no, I don't feel like I can't work anymore. I look forward to coming to the park every day. That's the highlight of the day.

"I don't think I'm ready [to quit] until someone tells me to, Mark [Attanasio, the team's principal owner] or someone. Then we'll probably have a scuffle."

He kids, he kids.

When he is cleared to return, Uecker will probably begin on a part-time basis calling home games.

"When they think I'm ready to travel, I'm going to go," Uecker said. "And I'll keep going."

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

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