Voices in My Head

September 8, 2012

Milwaukee dedicated a statue to Bob Uecker last week. “Ueck” is a nationally known personality. He, a native of Milwaukee, played as a back-up catcher for the Braves, Cardinals and Phillies in the ‘6os – and without distinction. He parlayed his play and humor into numerous appearances on the Johnny Carson Show (Carson: “Well, how hard is it to catch a knuckle ball.” Uecker: “I don’t usually have a problem. I would wait for it to stop rolling and then pick it up.”). Uecker was a major character in a sitcom (“Mr. Belvedere”) and as announcer in the move Major League (“Just a little outside…..”). And, of course, he has sold with the best of them (“Great seats, eh buddy?”).

But more than anything else Bob Uecker is a baseball play-by-play radio broadcaster and personality – not “announcer” – for the Milwaukee Brewers. On a quiet afternoon Summer and Fall you can hear the voice, “Get up, get up, get out of here…” You stop to hear Uecker at a critical moment, you wait to hear him share that moment.

You enjoy the game through the voice of a play-to-play pro painting a picture of probabilities, actions, choices, nuances, and outcomes.  Baseball does that better than any other sport.

For me baseball broadcasters started with Phil Rizzuto – the “Scooter” – and Jerry Coleman doing Yankees games on WPIX.  They were a Yanks double-play combo in the ’50s. and knew the game. Before there was Red Barber and Mel Allen, radio and TV guys. The Mets countered with Bob Murphy, Ralph Kiner and Lindsay Nelson. But who cared about the Mets?

Yes, radio gave us the early NFL. For me the New York Football Giants home game on the radio broadcast would waff from yard to yard like burning leaves in a Jersey Sunday afternoon. “Tarkenton hands to Koy who gets a seam off tackle….goes to his left…gets a block…dodges a defender…. bulls his way before being stopped on the play. It’ll be second and 9 at the Giants 16 yard line….” Marty Glickman would make some truly brutal Giants losses sound close.

And in the 70’s and 80’s NYC metro sports fans were treated to 3-4 magical years of Knicks basketball and 50 years of frustrated Rangers defeats. Marv Albert told it all.

But TV changes the NFL and the NBA.

Baseball – radio broadcasts in particular – is best. And almost each market has had a special voice.

As a homer I’ve enjoyed: Jack Buck and Mike  Shannon in St Louis – and later Bob Costas – for the Cards. Hawk Harrelson at Sox Park. And Harry telling the story from Busch, and Comisky, and Wrigley. Now Uecker.

What about Bob Prince (Pirates); Harry Callas (Phillies); Ernie Harwell (Tigers); Marty Brenamen (Reds); and Vin Scully (Dodgers)? They are icons. I wish I had heard more  of them. They are as much a part of baseball’s history as Ruth or Fenway.

You are a baseball fan. You have known your own. You can hear them. Baseball puts voices in your head and special memories in your mind.