Uecker recalls life-saving moment at Wrigley
Brewers broadcaster learned of heart issue, cancer after losing vision in booth
This season marks Wrigley Field's 100th anniversary, and MLB.com asked players, coaches and managers for their favorite memory of the ballpark. Here's another recollection, part of a season-long series.
CHICAGO -- A game at Wrigley Field may have saved Bob Uecker's life.
The Brewers broadcaster doesn't remember the exact day, but he does recall that he was in the radio booth at Wrigley in September 2009, covering a game between Chicago and Milwaukee. Ryan Theriot was the batter, and Uecker said that suddenly, he couldn't see.
"I didn't want to tell the guys I was working with, so I kept talking," Uecker said, retelling the story. "It only lasted about 20 seconds, maybe. I had to talk without seeing anything. My vision came back and I was OK the rest of the game, so I went down after the game and told our trainer about what happened, and they arranged for me to see a doctor."
Uecker, now 79, was examined, and doctors couldn't find anything related to his eyesight, but did detect a heart problem and set him up with a specialist. It turns out he had a leaky valve and needed to be monitored. Uecker is very active and swims daily to stay in shape.
But it wasn't long before his doctors called him back and asked him to return to the hospital. The exam had revealed cancerous tumors on his pancreas.
"The cancer people said I'd have to have this taken care of," he said.
Uecker asked for time to go to Arizona to play some golf, and then in January 2010, he had much of his pancreas removed. Later that year, he needed heart surgery. And all of it started with that Brewers-Cubs game.
When Uecker returns to Wrigley Field now, does he have bad memories?
"I've got good memories of Wrigley," Uecker said. "My friend Pat Hughes is broadcasting there [for WGN Radio], and Lenny Kasper [does the Cubs' television broadcasts], and I played there and hit a home run off Fergie Jenkins. I always have to apologize to Fergie every time I see him. I always thought that would keep him out of the Hall of Fame."
Uecker actually hit three home runs at Wrigley Field, and has a career .295 batting average there. Not bad. What does Jenkins say when Uecker reminds him?
"We laugh about it," Uecker said. "It was a fastball. I never hit anything but fastballs."
Uecker and Jenkins were actually teammates in 1966 on the Phillies. Uecker recalls Philadelphia manager Gene Mauch telling the pitcher that he didn't think Jenkins would win in the Major Leagues. Jenkins, as Cubs fans know, would eventually finish with 284 career wins, 3,192 strikeouts, and a ticket to Cooperstown.
"All those guys -- [Ron] Santo and [Don] Kessinger and [Glenn] Beckert and Ernie [Banks] -- were great," Uecker said.
The brief loss of vision actually helped Uecker in the long run.
"Had it not happened at Wrigley Field, it would've happened someplace else," he said. "And had it not happened, there might have been a different outcome, too. There was something that led the doctors to do further research, and they found the cancerous tumors and they weren't malignant, but they had to come out."