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.

It could have been one of the worst Mondays in a long time. But, in the end it was fantastic, memorable.

The Brewers were swept by the Washington Nationals over the weekend in DC. The Nat’s had been 5-7. What’s worse the Brewers had won 7 of 9 after starting the season getting swept by the Reds. 

Sure, it was only 15 games of 162. But it was a bad start. And, the Crew would be starting a 3-game series with Philadelphia Phillies, the odds-on favorite to get to the Series. The year wasn’t going to collapse on April 18th, right?

I was mulling the question during the 10 am Water Aerobics class at the Wisconsin Athletic Club. Water aerobics hadn’t been my idea. For a couple of reasons, I have the hips of a 12-year old collie. Kathleen had demanded I go.

The first time I attended a session I looked around the lobby and thought “Not bad. A group of 60-year old guys attempting to stay in shape.” Then I realized these guys were dropping off their 80-year old mothers.

I changed my focus to the fact Kate and I had sent out our taxes over the weekend. That was great. We signed the return with 3 days to go. Good thing. It was snowing.

It’s Monday morning. The Brewers had been swept by Washington. I was bobbing in a pool with octogenarian to the beat of disco. I had just sent a check to the Feds. It was snowing.

Brutal. And then, the most fabulous thing in the world happened.    

Kathleen, my wife and partner, won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in the category of “Explanatory” for a series covering treatment of a little boy, Nic, and DNA sequencing. Kate was one of the reporters and photographers who had followed Nic’s challenges over 12 months. It is an incredible story. And Kate and her colleagues got it all down. You can read the series – “One in a Billion” – at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (www.jsonline.com).

It was a most beautiful day. Like no other.