By: Melissa S. Wollering
In honor of Mr. Baseball turning three-quarters of a century old, it is worth reading (or re-reading) Uecker’s acceptance speech on July 27, 2003. That was the day Bob was awarded the Ford C. Frick award at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. No one says it like the Ueck. Here are some excerpts from his speech that day.
I, in deference to Hal McCoy, was asked to quit many times. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Actually, I was born in Illinois. My mother and father were on an oleo margarine run to Chicago back in 1934, because we couldn’t get colored margarine in Wisconsin. On the way home, my mother was with child. Me. And the pains started, and my dad pulled off into an exit area, and that’s where the event took place. I remember it was a nativity type setting. An exit light shining down. There were three truck drivers there. One guy was carrying butter, one guy had frankfurters, and the other guy was a retired baseball scout who told my folks that I probably had a chance to play somewhere down the line.
I remember it being very cold. It was January. I didn’t weigh very much. I think the birth certificate said something like ten ounces. I was very small. And I remember the coldness on my back from the asphalt. And I was immediately wrapped in swaddling clothes and put in the back of a ’37 Chevy without a heater. And that was the start of this Cinderella story that you are hearing today.
I did not have a lot of ability as a kid, and my dad wanted me to have everything that everybody else had. I think the first thing that he ever bought me was a football. And I was very young. He didn’t know a lot about it, he came from the old country. I mean, we tried to pass it and throw it and kick it, and we couldn’t do it. And it was very discouraging for him and for me. Almost, we almost quit. And finally we had a nice enough neighbor, came over and put some air in it, and what a difference…
…My first sport was eighth grade basketball. And my dad didn’t want to buy me the supporter johnny, you know, to do the job. So my mother made me one out of a flour sack. And the tough thing about that is, you put that thing on, you whip it out of your bag in the gym. You know all the guys are looking at it. And you start the game. The guy guarding you knows exactly where you’re going since little specks of flour keep dropping out. And then right down the front it says ‘Pillsbury’s Best.’
I signed a very modest $3,000 bonus with the Braves in Milwaukee, which I’m sure a lot of you know. And my old man didn’t have that kind of money to put out. But the Braves took it….
…I’d set records that will never be equaled, 90% I hope are never printed: .200 lifetime batting average in the major leagues which tied me with another sports great averaging 200 or better for a ten-year period, Don Carter, one of our top bowlers.
In 1967 I set a major league record for passed balls, and I did that without playing every game. There was a game, as a matter of fact, during that year when Phil Niekro’s brother (Joe) and he were pitching against each other in Atlanta. Their parents were sitting right behind home plate. I saw their folks that day more than they did the whole weekend.
But with people like Niekro, and this was another thing, I found the easy way out to catch a knuckleball. It was to wait until it stopped rolling and then pick it up. There were a lot of things that aggravated me, too. My family is here today. My boys, my girls. My kids used to do things that aggravate me, too. I’d take them to the game and they’d want to come home with a different player. I remember one of my friends came to Atlanta to see me once. He came to the door, he says, ‘Does Bob Uecker live here?’ He says, ‘Yeah, bring him in.’
But my two boys are just like me. In their championship little league game, one of them struck out three times and the other one had an error allowed the winning run to score. They lost the championship, and I couldn’t have been more proud. I remember the people as we walked through the parking lot throwing eggs and rotten stuff at our car. What a beautiful day…
…And the 1964 World’s Championship team. The great Lou Brock. And I remember as we got down near World Series time, Bing Devine, who was the Cardinals’ general manager at that time, asked me if I would do him and the Cardinals, in general, a favor. And I said I would. And he said, ‘We’d like to inject you with hepatitis. We need to bring an infielder up.’ I said, ‘Would I able to sit on the bench.’ He said, ‘Yes, we’ll build a plastic cubicle for you because it is an infectious disease.’ And I’ve got to tell you this. I have a photo at home, I turned a beautiful color yellow and with that Cardinal white uniform. I was knocked out. It was beautiful, wasn’t it, Lou? It was great.
Of course, any championship involves a World Series. The ring, the ceremony, the following season in St. Louis at old Busch Stadium. We were standing along the sideline. I was in the bullpen warming up the pitcher. And when they called my name for the ring, it’s something that you never ever forget. And when they threw it out into left field. I found it in the fifth inning, I think it was, Lou, wasn’t it? And once I spotted it in the grass man, I was on it. It was unbelievable…
…And to all of you baseball fans around America and any place else, for your letters, your thoughts, your kindness for all of these years, it’s been a great run, but number one has always been baseball for me. No matter what else I ever did, baseball was the only way I wanted to go. I thank you very much for your attention today, thank you for having me, and congratulations to everybody here. Thank you very much everybody, thank you.”
No, thank you, Bob. And Happy Birthday. Milwaukee is fortunate to have a legendary announcer seated above the plate; regardless of your success behind it.