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100 Things Brewers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Tom Haudricourt
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Tom Haudricourt
All rights reserved.
Bud Wouldn't Take No for an Answer
Simply put, without Bud Selig, there would be no Milwaukee Brewers.
A Milwaukee native, Selig took it personally when the Braves moved to Atlanta after the 1965 season. Selig was a devout baseball fan growing up in the city, and no one was happier when the Braves relocated from Boston in 1953, and no one was more devastated when they left town in a huff.
Before the moving vans were packed, Selig formed Teams, Inc., later renamed Brewers, Inc., a group that unsuccessfully sued to keep the Braves in town. He was haunted by a conversation he had with an elderly female baseball fan at the Braves' final game at County Stadium on September 22, 1965. "You're all we've got now," the woman told Selig. "Don't let us down."
Selig knocked on every baseball door he could find, attended every Major League Baseball meeting — in essence, making a supreme pest of himself. He was determined to get big league ball back to Milwaukee, begging the game's leaders for an expansion team and coming oh-so-close to buying the Chicago White Sox. Looking back at that frustrating time, Selig calls it "probably the toughest five years of my life. But it taught me to be tenacious and have patience."
That determination and unwillingness to take no for an answer was rewarded in 1970, when Selig's group was allowed to purchase the Seattle Pilots out of bankruptcy. The transaction was concluded just days before the start of the season, and hurried preparations were made to transform the club from the Pilots to the Brewers, a nod to the city's rich tradition of beer making.
Always a fan, even as the team's principal owner, Selig lived and died with the Brewers. In the early years, it was mostly the latter as the club battled to become relevant in the American League. The Brewers finally broke through in 1982 to win their only pennant, though that glorious season ended in disappointment when the St. Louis Cardinals rallied to win Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, otherwise known as the "Suds Series."
Selig was not merely content to operate a major league club, however. Born to lead, he found the time to be active in any number of ownership committees, learning the ins and outs of the game. He slowly emerged as a go-to guy to get things done on the management end. So it was no shock when owners ousted commissioner Fay Vincent on Labor Day weekend in 1992 and named Selig to that post on an interim basis days later.
September 9, 1992 remains emblazoned in Selig's memory as a special day on two fronts. In a meeting in Texas, he officially was voted in as interim commissioner. He then rushed back to Milwaukee and County Stadium to watch Robin Yount collect the 3,000 hit of his career.
But it soon became evident to Selig that he would not be able to continue running his beloved Brewers while also trying to navigate the sport through difficult economic issues. He turned over the reins of the club to his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, a shift that became official on July 9, 1998, when he was named commissioner on a full-time basis.
Before transitioning to that new role, Selig's determination and perseverance paid off once again. He led the charge to build Miller Park, convincing civic leaders and state legislators through long and painful debate that the stadium was absolutely necessary to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee. It was that knack for persuasion, that ability to build consensus, and his refusal to take no for an answer that made Selig a natural to lead the Brewers and later the sport. There were painful times, such as ongoing labor strife that led to the strike in 1994 and cancellation of the World Series. But, as always, Selig persevered.
As a nod to his love for his hometown, he convinced baseball leaders to allow him to establish a new commissioner's office in a downtown high-rise in Milwaukee. True to his roots as a baseball fan, and later, owner of the Brewers, he simply refused to relocate. A creature of habit if there ever was one, Selig continues to regularly eat lunch at Gilles, a landmark frozen custard stand not far from Miller Park, always ordering the same modest meal — hot dog smothered in ketchup and Diet Coke. He often conducts baseball business there, sitting in his car, making telephone calls while also taking time to chat up local baseball fans who instantly recognize him.
It was only fitting that the Brewers dedicated a bronze statue to Selig outside of Miller Park on August 24, 2010. It honored his status as founding father of the franchise, driving force behind that retractable roof facility, and innovative commissioner of baseball — leading the way with significant changes such as interleague play, the wild-card playoff format, revenue sharing, and comprehensive drug testing.
The team was sold after the 2004 season to a group led by Los Angeles money manager and investor Mark Attanasio, officially ending the long tenure of Selig family ownership. But there was no denying the impact in the club's history of Allan H. Selig, a persistent man simply known as "Bud."
Selig often is asked what he considers the defining moment of his well-decorated baseball career, and he always comes back to the same answer: bringing baseball back to Milwaukee in 1970. "That will always be my biggest accomplishment because the odds were stacked against us tremendously," he said.
A Fan Through and Through
Before he became owner of the Brewers and later commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig was a true baseball fan. And, as with most fans, he was in a good mood when his team was winning and miserable when it was losing.
That fan-like behavior continued when Selig was running the Brewers. By his own admission, he cheered wildly when the club was winning and did a slow burn when they lost, especially if they lost in an ugly fashion.
Selig's private box in County Stadium was adjacent to the press box, with a small landing in between. His door was made of metal, and when things weren't going well for the Brewers, you often heard it slam with a loud bang that shook the press box. Selig often joked that his wife, Sue, wouldn't sit with him when the team was losing because she was too embarrassed by his behavior.
There also was a seating area in front of the press box, and during games Selig often would pace back and forth, forth and back, alternately clapping and wringing his hands, depending on the Brewers fortunes. When one of his players would do something wrong, Selig often would turn around and look at me, shrugging his shoulders and rolling his eyes. While Selig's actions were somewhat comical, I always admired his passion. He wanted to win so badly.
One night when the Brewers were faring particularly poorly, Selig came into the press box and spied team media relations director Tom Skibosh and assistant Mario Ziino sitting in the corner, laughing about something unrelated to the game. Selig walked up behind them and roared, "If you want to have fun, go someplace else!"
The entire press box fell silent as Selig stomped out, slamming that door, as well as the door to his box, almost simultaneously. Being the smart-alecky cut-up that I am, I walked over to Skibosh and Ziino and said, "You know, he's right. If we want to have fun, we should go someplace else!" That broke the tension, and everyone started laughing. After leaving the Brewers a few years later, Skibosh wrote about his years with the club in a book titled, If You Wanna Have Fun, Go Someplace Else!
To this day, Bud and I talk about his temper tantrums when the Brewers played badly, and we always end up chuckling about it.CHAPTER 2
When the Brewers announced in March 2012 that a statue of Bob Uecker would be unveiled later in the year at Miller Park, it was not surprising that "Mr. Baseball" made light of the honor.
Asked what took so long for the club to dedicate a statue to him, Uecker replied with a straight face, "It was kind of a finance thing. I didn't have enough for the down payment." Uecker's schtick carried on for several minutes, during which he described the pose on the statue as "kind of a Schwarzenegger-type thing ... beefcake, speedo, pretty buffed."
You didn't really expect Uecker to play it straight, did you? It's not the style of one of the funniest men to ever wear a baseball uniform or sit behind a microphone in a radio booth. "Ueck," as he is known to friends and fans alike, can find a funny element in nearly every topic, including the serious heart surgery that forced him to miss much of the 2010 season.
In many ways, Uecker has been the face of the franchise. He has been the club's radio voice since 1971, the year after the team came to Milwaukee. A native of the city, Uecker was the perfect fit not only because of his baseball knowledge, but also because the sometimes slow tempo of the game provides the perfect platform for his unique style of self-deprecating, deadpan humor. Anything but a Hall of Famer as a player — he batted .200 in 297 games as a backup catcher — he evolved into one in the radio booth with his must-listen brand of storytelling and observation.
Along the way, Uecker became a national celebrity. It was during one of his many appearances on The Tonight Show that Johnny Carson dubbed him "Mr. Baseball," a moniker that stuck like glue. It was a comedic nod to Uecker's underachieving playing career, but it made perfect sense in so many other ways.
Uecker quickly became a friend and associate of former Brewers owner Bud Selig, who loves to tell the story about trying to make a scout out of the former catcher. Selig swears that Uecker's first scouting report landed on the desk of general manager Frank Lane covered with remnants of mashed potatoes and gravy. "I knew then that he wasn't going to make it as a scout, so we decided to try him as a broadcaster," Selig recalled.
The wisest move in franchise history, many would call it.
Uecker finally was recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 2003, when he received the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. People still talk about the hilarious acceptance speech he gave on that late-July day.
Uecker often says — perhaps only half-kidding — that he plans to keep broadcasting games until he drops in the booth. "They can take me right from there to my 'dirt bath,'" he says.
How widespread is Uecker's popularity? Not only is he in the Baseball Hall of Fame, he has likewise been honored by the Radio Hall of Fame, the National Association of Broadcasters Broadcasting Hall of Fame, the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, the WWE Hall of Fame (Uecker hosted Wrestlemania III and IV), the Wisconsin Performing Artists Hall of Fame, and the Meat-Packing Industry Hall of Fame.
That's what you call cutting a wide swath through the sports and entertainment industries.
Uecker still regularly hears folks recite famous lines from his once-popular Lite Beer commercials ("I must be in the front row!") as well as from his hysterical portrayal of announcer Harry Doyle in the Major League movies ("Just a bit outside!"). He even had a memorable television career on the hit show Mr. Belvedere, which put 117 episodes into syndication and introduced him to an entirely new audience that had little or no interest in baseball.
Along the way, Uecker has never forgotten his Milwaukee roots. He still lives in the city much of the year and contributes to many philanthropic endeavors in the community. He can't go anywhere in the city without fans flocking to him. Players, club officials, and even owners have come and gone, but the one constant has been the voice greeting all residents of Brewer nation who follow the club via radio.
As for the enjoyment of spending more than 40 years in the Brewers radio booth, Uecker said, "I hope the fans have enjoyed listening as much as I've enjoyed doing the games. I don't ever go to the park where I don't have a good day. I don't like losing. But I don't think I ever go to the park where I have a bad day. I don't think once.
"That's discounting playing. I had a lot of bad days there."
Try the veal, folks. "Mr. Baseball" will be here all week.
It Just Came Naturally
Some broadcasters work hard on their home run calls, finding just the right mix of words and intonation to make it their signature statement on the long ball. For Bob Uecker, it took no work whatsoever.
Uecker's renowned call, "Get up, get up, get out of here! Gone!" is as familiar to Brewers fans as a bratwurst and a beer at the ballpark. But it was not the product of an extensive search by the Hall of Fame radio voice to put his stamp on a home run. "That goes back to when I was a player," Uecker said. "When a guy would hit one deep, we'd all jump up out of the dugout and yell, 'Get up! Get up!' That's what we'd do. Everybody was jumping off the bench and saying that. I did it from Day One [on the air], because that's what we said when we played. I never really thought about it when I first started saying it [on the air]. I didn't think I needed my own home run call. I just did it from the start and kept doing it. It was just a habit.
"If people think it's one of the best calls, that's nice. It makes you feel good, but I don't really think much about stuff like that. When I see a ball go deep, I just say it. I don't really think about it beforehand."
Uecker said he was taken aback when the Brewers told him they wanted to put his home run call in neon lights next to Bernie Brewers' slide in Miller Park. "I never really thought it was that big of a deal until [former club vice president] Laurel Prieb came to me one day and said, 'Would you mind if we put your home run call up there?' I said, 'If you want to, sure.' It didn't matter to me. I didn't want them to make a big deal about it.
"I guess it has become my call, but I didn't really set out to do it that way. I know some guys work on what they want to say. I just said it. I don't really work hard at anything. I just show up and go along with things." CH2CHAPTER 3
Forever "The Kid"
Robin Yount is hardly a kid anymore. In fact, he turned 57 in September 2012. Nevertheless, for those who played with him and watched him perform, Yount forever will be known as "The Kid." That's what happens when you break into the big leagues at the tender age of 18.
It was the spring of 1974, and the Brewers' brain trust was pondering who was going to play shortstop. The previous season, Tim Johnson batted .213 and committed 25 errors at the position, and club executives were, well, underwhelmed, to be honest.
Yount, the third pick overall in the '73 draft, had played only 64 games in the minors. But manager Del Crandall and his staff were willing to overlook that inexperience, primarily because they didn't have anybody better to play short, one of the most important positions in the field.
The Brewers took Yount north with them to begin the season, and a Hall of Fame career was born. But it was anything but smooth sailing at the start. Yount batted .250 with three home runs and 26 RBIs that first season. He was no threat to win AL Rookie of the Year honors.
The following season, Yount got a case of the yips in the field, committing a whopping 44 errors in 145 games at short. The jury was out as to whether "The Kid" was going to make it. "I was learning at the big league level," Yount said. "Those first few years were pretty tough. I'm sure a lot of people were wondering what the Brewers were doing, putting a raw kid like me at short. It took me a number of years before I really felt like a major league player."
Excerpted from 100 Things Brewers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Tom Haudricourt. Copyright © 2013 Tom Haudricourt. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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