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.

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Feeling the Magic?

August 19, 2011

The Milwaukee Brewers look like they could win the National League Central Division. They have a 6 1/2 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. They have only 38 games left.

Brewers fans are getting excited. They are starting to talk in hushed tones about the teams Magic Number.

In Major League Baseball parlance a team’s Magic Number is calculated using the number of games left and the lead a team has in the race. If a club leads the race by 3 games and there are 5 games left, it’s magic number to win is 3. And, a club’s number can be reduced when opponents lose.  

By Labor Day all but a few teams know their number will never be called.  Some teams never get a real shot for a Magic Number, like the ’62 Mets and, well, nearly every Cubs club. 

I’m getting nervous. It’s too early to start doing the math. Yet twice in the last 24 hours the Magic Number was referenced.

First, there were some Milwaukee sports radio guys. “So, there’s only 40 games left …… and they have series with the Mets, Pirates and Cubs …….. so you figure……. it would almost be impossible to miss the playoffs….” Similar extrapolations were being conjured using the more complicated two-team method. “OK, the Crew gets the Mets, Pirates and Cubs for 10 games but the Cardinals get the Cubs, Reds and Astros……so the Brewers should get 4-6 wins out of that week while the Cards can expect…….” It’s beginning to sound like winning the division is a foregone conclusion.   

But there are 38 games left.

The Brewers have a miserable road record and they’ll be playing in New York and Pittsburgh the next 7 games. They get at least three games left with St. Louis. They could face a hot club on the road. And injuries can crop up.

They have been scoring only 2-3 runs a game over the past month. They won a 1-run game last week by pulling off 3 double plays and one triple play. They won another when their runner moved from first to third on a passed ball. He then scored the winning run from third on a passed ball. The runner? Their catcher, batting 7th in the order. 

There are 38 games left.

The Brewers could collapse like the ’51 Dodgers. Or the ’64 Phillies. They could choke.

There are still 38 games left, people are calculating Magic Numbers – and I just received an invitation in the mail to purchase playoff tickets.

They have no chance.

St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Albert Pujols is off to a terrible start for the 2011 season. And it couldn’t be any better for this baseball fan.

The 31-year old Pujols is the best player in Major League Baseball. And he’s got the statistics to prove it. In his 10-year career Pujols has produced a batting average of .331, 409 home runs, and 1231 runs-batted-in. He has 3 Most Valuable Player Awards and 4 Silver Slugger Awards. He received the 2010 Golden Glove Award as best fielder at his position. He is going to the Hall of Fame and be the greatest ever.

But he’s not worth the money he is asking the Cards to pay over the next 10 years. His current contract – expiring this year – pays Pujols $111 over 8 years. He’s seeking a new contract worth $300 million over 10 years!

Those terms would be bad for baseball. Let’s respond to those who think the Cards should pony up:

1. The Cards have a chance to “lock” him up.   He’s 31. If they sign him for 10 years, what happens when at 36-year old he’s batting .275? There won’t be a designated hitter in the NL (at least I hope not).

2. Won’t his productivity just continue? Is he going to hit 50 HR this year? Next year? Five years from now? No.

3. Hasn’t he been a model citizen, an example for kids, and a credit to the game? Yes, but I assume he would be all those things at $111. What, he’s a better person at $300 million?

4. A high tide will float all boats. Won’t the players benefit from Pujols contract? Some. Pujols’ contract might be a measure/a target for the elite players. But, it could cap the amount available for average players. The Union may have a problem.

5. Shouldn’t he be able to get whatever he can? Sure. And in the course of doing so he could wound the game. How much is enough?

Pujols might find out there are few takers. Only a few clubs could consider a deal that size. The Red Sox, Yanks and Phils are set. The Cubs would have the need and the cash. They wouldn’t be that foolish would they? Hmmm… 

Here’s hoping he hit .275.