'It's his booth': At 90, Uecker still anchoring Brewers' broadcast

April 2nd, 2024

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio spent Tuesday morning working through the traditions of his 20th home opener. He reflected on his late father, Joe, who used to sing the national anthem before every regular-season and postseason opener. He called MLB Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig, who was on his way to teach his history class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while the franchise he founded prepared to open another season at the domed ballpark he helped build. Then Attanasio visited with the face of the franchise.

Not 20-year-old Jackson Chourio, who made arguably the most anticipated home debut in Brewers history, or veteran mainstay Christian Yelich, whose arrival in 2018 began a stretch in which the team has made the postseason five times in six tries. But 90-year-old Bob Uecker, the Brewers’ Hall of Fame radio voice who is entering his 54th season in the booth.

This year, Uecker, the former .200-hitting catcher, will call his own game. He worked Tuesday’s home opener and will decide on a day-to-day basis when he wants to work. Having reached nonagenarian status on January 26, he’s earned the right to disappear for two weeks any time he likes.

“It’ll be just like when I played,” Uecker said, still as witty as ever.

As he watched batting practice on Tuesday, Uecker planned to be back in the booth Wednesday for the finale of this brief two-game series against the Twins. But the point is, he’ll get to make that decision on the fly, with the rest of the Brewers’ deep bench of broadcasters filling in around him.

“I have the arrangement with him that Bud did,” Attanasio said. “We do a handshake. There’s no contract. I feel it’s his booth and he can do whatever he wants in that booth. And that’s true this year.”

Attanasio recalled that when he was into negotiations to buy the Brewers from the Selig family in 2004, his first two calls were to Hall of Famer Robin Yount and Uecker. The Uecker call was brief, but then-CEO Wendy Selig-Prieb arranged for Attanasio and Uecker to have drinks in Scottsdale. They were supposed to meet for 30 minutes, but they spent three hours together and have considered each other friends ever since.

The two have discussed Uecker’s workload for years, starting with a multi-season effort a decade ago to get him to take some road games off. Eventually, Uecker exclusively worked home games. Last season, he took some of those games off, too. At times, Attanasio says he’s suggested that Uecker limit the number of innings of play-by-play on days he works, or to switch to more of a color commentary role while his broadcast partner, be it Jeff Levering or Lane Grindle or Josh Maurer, calls the play-by-play.

But Uecker has resisted some of those suggestions, insisting on doing the job the way he learned to do it beginning in 1971.

“Ueck’s in the Hall of Fame as a broadcaster for a reason,” Attanasio said. “He’s exceptional at his craft, and it’s not just the great stories he tells. Every year I go on [Brewers flagship station] WTMJ radio, and this year was running a lot of his great calls over the years. There’s a lot of great memories and a lot of great calls.

“Ueck is very focused on always being at a Hall of Fame level, so he doesn’t want to just be in the booth to be in the booth. … I think he’s mindful of where he is in life, but look, I’m expecting a great broadcast today.”

Speaking of expectations, Attanasio spoke of his hopes for a team that looked very different on Tuesday than it did at the end of last season. It has a new manager in Pat Murphy, is missing Corbin Burnes (traded to Baltimore) and Brandon Woodruff (injured) from the top of a starting rotation that had been the club’s signature strength, and features 12 players who were on the first Opening Day roster of their careers. The highest profile belongs to Chourio, who just turned 20 last month and is the sixth-youngest player to ever appear in a game for the Brewers.

It’s that young, reconfigured roster which will attempt to extend the Brewers’ run of regular-season success. Since Attanasio assumed ownership prior to the 2005 season, only three National League teams -- the Dodgers, Braves and Cardinals -- have won more games.

“The pledge we made 19 years ago was to always be competitive,” Attanasio said. “I think we’ve done a really good job of that.”