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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Up in the Nosebleed Section

"Mulligan drives the ball.  It's going, going and caught
by the shortstop.  Mets lose again.  Man, I haven't
seen play this bad since the days of Bob Uecker!
This is Bob Uecker, saying thanks for watching!"

Robert George Uecker

The farthest seats from the action in arenas and stadiums are called "Uecker seats". There is even a section of $1 seats at Miller Park, Milwaukee, where the view is obstructed called "Uecker seats".  This appellation comes from a Miller Lite commercial, where Uecker is told by an usher that he's in the wrong seat.  He states he must really have a front row seat, but it's in the nosebleed section.

The Uecker seats at Miller Park.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Called "Mr. Baseball" by Johnny Carson, Uecker was a former Major League Baseball player, first for the Milwaukee Braves, then the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, returning to the Braves who had moved to Atlanta.  He was just a mediocre hitter, finishing his career in 1967 with a .200 batting average. He was considered a sound defense player, and as a catcher committed only a few errors, ending his career with a .981 fielding percentage.  He is on the top ten list still for most passed balls in a season.

Images courtesy www.baseball-almanac.com.

He left his baseball career and went on to host two syndicated TV sports shows, "Bob Uecker's Wacky World of Sports" and "Bob Uecker's War of the Stars".   "Wacky World of Sports" became "The Lighter Side of Sports" and still continues, albeit with a different host, and is the longest syndicated sports show in TV history. He also wrote a book, The Catcher in the Wry, about his baseball career.

Uecker has also made a number of commercials, played a continuing role in the "Major League" film series, and was a father and sportwriter in the sitcom "Mr. Belvedere" in the 80s.  Although he remains most popular for his Miller Lite commercials, he famously made one for the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team where he designed new uniforms from a loud plaid pattern (as in the sports jackets he's fond of) for the team.  In 2006, the Admirals played a special event wearing those uniforms, which were later auctioned off for charity.

His big break in TV was in 1969.  Al Hirt arranged for him to appear on the "Tonight Show".  Uecker became one of Johnny Carson's favorite guests, and made over 60 appearances before Carson retired in 1992.  He also appeared with Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin, on Letterman's "Late Night" show, and as a host on "Saturday Night Live".

Last year he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame's Celebrity Wing.  He has been a ringside announcer and backstage interviewer for WWE events, and was the ring announcer for a pay-per-view match between Hulk Hogan and André the Giant.  In WWE's intro to each of their televised events Uecker's intro of André the Giant can be heard.

He was inducted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998.  In 2001, he was also inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.  He won the annual Ford C. Frick award in 2003, given by the Baseball Hall of Fame to a broadcaster for contributions to baseball.  His speech has been called by the Milwaukee Brewers as "one of the most memorable speeches in Hall of Fame induction history".  In 2005, which was his 50th year in pro baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers placed a number 50 in their "Ring of Honor" for him.  Four years later his name was added to the Braves Wall of Honor, along with Hank Aaron and Bud Selig, among others, at Miller Park.

Uecker is also known for his philanthropic work.  He chairs a celebrity fishing tournament for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and helps raise funds for the United Performing Arts Fund, the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Fund, the Milwaukee Symphony, and is an advocate for organizations that fight cystic fibrosis and heart disease.

Famous for his self-deprecating sense of humor, the man has delighted so many.  As he puts it:  "Anybody with ability can play in the big leagues.  But to be able to trick people year in and year out the way that I did, I think that was a much greater feat."


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