This week I had the opportunity to view an advanced screening of Mr. Baseball, Bob Uecker, which will air Thursday, July 17, at 7 p.m. ET on MLB Network.
The moving, hour-long special depicts the former big league catcher turned beloved Brewers play-by-play broadcaster, Hall of Famer and unwavering funnyman.
More than a recounting of a life's journey from the field to the press box, it's a powerful story of how Uecker has stayed true to himself—compassionate and genuine with a profound appreciation for baseball, Milwaukee and the people he has met and influenced along the way.
The film is narrated by actor Tom Berenger and is brought to life through candid descriptions and warm memories by many of those on whom he has left his most personal mark.
Baseball and entertainment legends like Hank Aaron, Bob Costas, Dick Ebersol, Tim McCarver, Al Michaels, Major League director David Ward and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig share their reverent insights about his life on, off and above the field in this must-watch television event.
Do yourself a favor: Don't miss out on this one.
"To make people laugh is a good thing."
It's a simple line uttered by Bob Uecker early in Mr. Baseball, but it's more than that. With its profound meaning as the undercurrent of both the film and Uecker's life, it's a personal philosophy.
If self-deprecation, humility and gratitude are the clearest indicators of honor among men who have played a game in which failing seven out of 10 times is considered a ringing success, then Uecker unequivocally sits high at the top.
Or maybe he'd just tell you he "must be in the front row."
It's fitting then—after compiling a laughable career .200 batting average with 14 home runs and 74 RBI over six major league seasons with four different teams—that Uecker, in his 44th year of broadcasting, is still sitting high in the Brewers' press box.
From his front-row perch, he has been delivering the gospel of Milwaukee baseball since 1971 in the state where he is larger than life.
So how does a man with one of the shortest-lived and worst statistical careers in MLB history end up with a statue in his honor both outside and inside Miller Park?
Perhaps because what's funny is also what's true, and—as Mr. Baseball informs us—even the late comedic legend Johnny Carson said Uecker was the funniest person he ever met.
Rather than doubt himself due to athletic "futility," as broadcast partner and friend Bob Costas referred to it, Uecker has kept it all in perspective and simply shown appreciation. It's why, before Game 2 of the 1964 World Series, Mr. Baseball picked up a marching band's abandoned tuba, slung it over his shoulder and used it to shag fly balls in batting practice.
It's the reason he found a rarefied celebrity despite additionally failing as a minor league scout, accidentally spilling dinner on his scouting reports—and then infamously mailing them to the big league ballclub nevertheless.
He became the play-by-play voice of the Brew Crew by the '70s, and by the '80s even George Steinbrenner was recruiting him as a broadcaster.
He hosted Saturday Night Live in 1984; he turned beer commercials into bites of comic genius; he made Major League a cult classic; and he made everyone cry at his Hall of Fame speech in 2003—because they were laughing so hard.
"I don't think 'celebrity' means anything to him to the extent that he appreciates it, he enjoys it. But he doesn't need it," Al Michaels remarked in the MLB Network special.
As a broadcaster, Uecker became so popular so quickly that Brewers relievers would turn on the radio in the bullpen. What made him so likable was maybe best summed up by Michaels, who said Uecker was the same on the air as he was off of it.
Mr. Baseball shows us that Uecker isn't in the Hall of Fame because he's funny.
"You really feel the game through him," Costas expressed.
Said Major League director David Ward: "The thing that makes Bob so likable to people, is that he's genuine."
Hall of Famer Robin Yount added: "He's...just being himself."
And how about that at age 80, Uecker has been doing it for this long: "Baseball is his life, and Milwaukee is his life. That's a tough combination to give up," said Bud Selig.
"I love talking to people...I love doing what I do on the air...I don't know what else I would do!" Uecker explained in his own words.
"When you've done something for as long as I have...at a certain time every day, I'm supposed to be here. Your family knows it. Your wife knows it. Everybody knows it. You're gonna be here."
"Baseball was always the bottom line."
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