22/09/2018

50 year ago this week, Atlanta Braves insisted they weren't cutting Bob Uecker as punishment

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50 year ago this week, Atlanta Braves insisted they weren't cutting Bob Uecker as punishment

It was 50 years ago this week that the Atlanta Braves released 33-year-old catcher Bob Uecker - not because of a nightclub incident, they swear - and freed Uecker's calendar for the start of a Hall of Fame broadcasting career.

It was 50 years ago this week that the Atlanta Braves released 33-year-old catcher Bob Uecker - not because of a nightclub incident, they swear - and freed Uecker's calendar for the start of a Hall of Fame broadcasting career.

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Atlanta's loss turned out to be Milwaukee's half-century gain, and maybe a nightclub incident had something to do with it. Or was it a nightclub act?

It's been 50 years since the moment that essentially marked the end of Bob Uecker's playing career, after the Atlanta Braves elected not to make him part of the big-league club coming out of spring training in 1968. 

In an Associated Press report that appeared April 3, 1968, in the Milwaukee Sentinel, Braves manager Luman Harris was quoted as saying a nightclub incident had nothing to do with the decision, though it left Uecker, then age 33, with a cut in his eye "when he was hit by a beer bottle during a row in a West Palm Beach cocktail lounge."

It seems like a more-than-perfect farewell to his playing days, which are remembered humorously today through the slant of Uecker's storytelling.

According to the article (and hardly surprisingly), Uecker was regarded as the funniest man on the Braves' team. He was asked if he might develop a nightclub act as a result of the incident.

"My nightclub routine may have been what cost me the job," he said.

One-liners like that have become part of the Milwaukee Brewers lexicon thanks to Uecker's work as the franchise's radio voice. He began play-by-play duties in 1971 and remains a beloved sports personality in Milwaukee and beyond.

Just look to the statue of his likeness outside Miller Park - or the one perched in the very last row of the upper deck - as proof. 

Uecker's career includes serving as host of syndicated television shows, as announcer at WWF WrestleMania, as the centerpiece of Miller Lite commercials and as actor in TV show "Mr. Belvedere" and the canonical "Major League" movies. He may be just as remembered nationally for his appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" as his work during games, though his easygoing storytelling approach and familiar home run call are sacred experiences for Brewers fans.

Uecker, 84, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the Ford C. Frick Award winner in 2003. He also belongs to the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame and National Radio Hall of Fame.

Perhaps the best joke of all is that his playing days are remembered very differently by those who knew him, with many acknowledging his talents as a defensive catcher.

David Halberstam makes a matter-of-fact reference in his 1994 book "October 1964," chronicling a year Uecker and the Cardinals won the World Series, about Uecker's renown as a top defensive catcher with a good arm. The Braves supposedly wanted Uecker in 1967 to catch Phil Niekro's knuckleball.

Uecker saw big-league action in six seasons from 1962-'67 and only batted .200 with 14 career home runs (one off Sandy Koufax - Uecker once said he thought that feat might keep Koufax out of the Hall of Fame).

The 2018 season marks Uecker's 63rd year in baseball. 

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