Johnny Carson dubbed Bob Uecker "Mr. Baseball" as a joke. Uecker, a backup catcher with the Braves, Cardinals and Phillies for part of six seasons in the '60s, hit exactly .200 for his career.
Carson was onto something, though, because it was Uecker's personality that has made him universally enjoyed around baseball. Appearing on "The Tonight Show" with Carson, on Miller Lite TV commercials, as Harry Doyle in "Major League" and in the '80s stalwart comedy "Mr. Belvedere," Uecker has earned a coveted spot in America's collective pop culture memory bank.
Oh, and he's also in the Hall of Fame — as the Milwaukee Brewers' beloved radio and TV announcer.
Q: Is "Mr. Belvedere" coming to DVD in our lifetimes?
Bob Uecker: I don't know. I mean, we were on for six years. We were in syndication for a while. It had its run. I still see the people from "Mr. Belvedere" too. We stay in touch. I don't see "Mr. Belvedere" because he passed away a few years ago.
Q: What kind of guy was Christopher Hewett?
BU: He was great. I had a good time with him. We had a lot of fun on that show. He was one of those guys who was a true actor. Born in Scotland, brought up in England, very proper — which made it work perfectly because I wasn't very proper. I always used to tell him bad things about the queen that used to upset him. I'd make up stuff and get him all upset. It was fun.
Q: Did you take any acting classes, or was that natural Uecker?
BU: I was acting when I was playing baseball.
Q: Confession time: I was in love with Ilene Graff — your TV wife, Marsha.
BU: Oh, yeah. Her husband, Ben Lanzarone, composed a lot of TV music, like for "The Love Boat." Ilene always wanted to be a singer — I remember one show where I changed my M.O. from a sportswriter to a lounge singer and we had Robert Goulet on the show a couple of times. I sang on the Tonight Show once to promote that Mr. Belvedere episode and I sang really off-key. Johnny ripped me. But what a great gal Ilene Graff is.
Q: Do you remember — and are you willing to sing — the "Mr. Belvedere" theme song for me?
BU: I know the song, I don't know all the words ... Someone was just playing it the other day. Leon Redbone was the singer. Great song: "Streaks on the china, never married before — who cares?" That's the one. I don't know all the words, but the melody, sure.
Q: Wesley seemed to get along with Belvedere more than he got along with his dad.
BU: Well, he and I had our father-son episodes, but he really knew how to get under Belvedere's skin. Brice Beckham knew everybody else's lines. He was a great kid. He was smart. I still see Tracy Wells and Rob Stone and I talk once in a while. He does a lot of work producing shows for the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.
Q: You guys did some "very special" Belvederes when you had uncomfortable subject matter — including a date rape episode. For 20 years ago, wasn't it rare for that stuff on TV?
BU: We all talked about it before we did the show, actors, producers, writers. It was something that wasn't shown at the time. Even bedroom scenes were touchy things at that time. To do a show like that, at that time, was iffy. But it was a good show; I remember it. Tracy Wells did a great show putting it over.
Q: You finished your baseball career at exactly at .200. Good thing you didn't get one more at-bat?
BU: Hey, I think it's easy for guys to hit .300 and stay in the big leagues. Hit .200 and try to stick around as long as I did; I think it's a much greater accomplishment. That's hard.
Q: What was your secret to staying around as long as you did?
BU: Probably not coming to games. Don't ride the team bus. Fly commercial. Keep a real low profile. Wear a visitors uniform even if your team was home.
Q: Which players of today remind you of yourself 40 years ago?
BU: I don't want to put that on anybody [laughs]. I don't think there's any guy who's gonna do what I did, thank God. Before broadcasting for 50-some years, I did TV, played 10 years in the big leagues, won a world championship — and played a big part in that, too, letting the Cardinals inject me with hepatitis. Takes a big man to do that.
Q: How wild did the Miller Lite TV commercial sets get?
BU: That was like being on a team again. All those ex-players, and different personalities, unbelievable personalities. Those were some of the best spots, ever. The longest-running ad campaign, ever. We had some fun. Boog Powell, John Madden, Buck Buchanan, Mickey Spillane and the Doll, Rodney Dangerfield, Billy Martin. A lot of great players.(Ed. note: Hey, look, it's John Goodman!)
Q: Should the Hall of Fame have an exhibit of the '82 Brewers mustaches?
BU: Should the Hall of Fame have ‘em? As long as they got some kind of sanitary place where they can put them so they won't infect people or hurt them with germs, it would be all right.
Q: Why didn't you have a mustache like Robin Yount, Gorman Thomas, Jim Gantner, et al?
BU: I just grew the hair on my back. Facial hair just wasn't appealing to me. I liked it on my back, though.
Q: You grew up in Milwaukee in the '40s and '50s and played there in the '60s — was it anything like "Happy Days," or are those a big bunch of Hollywood lies?
BU: Oh, I'm sure we had a couple of drive-ins around here, and there still are a couple of good ones around here that were Happy Day-ish. I didn't watch a lot of "Happy Days," but I played against the cast in a celebrity softball game over at County Stadium. I met Marion Ross when she came to Chicago to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and the Brewers were playing there.
Q: Have you ever called a game from the "Uecker seats"?
BU: You know what I did? I called a game from the beer mug over at County. Merle Harmon and I worked out there and we worked it out that I was going to do go down the slide and into the mug if somebody hit a home run. Nobody hit one, but I did it anyway because I said I would. I also broadcast from a hot-air balloon once.
Q: When was that?
BU: It was about the same time. We were going to tether the balloon to the light tower. I was going to do my portion of the broadcast from the light towers and I was going to stay on the roof — of course. The only thing that saved me was, they said if the winds were above 14 mph, we couldn't keep it tied safely to the light towers. That made me happy.
I did get into a balloon to do a pregame show, from about 25 feet up at the most; I tried to do the show, and we had the grounds crew trying to hold it down; it was bouncing along the ground right after batting practice, and they're trying to get the field ready and we all ended up falling out of the balloon after it tipped over. We had a German pilot, he had kind of an accent, and he was already half shot in the morning. Had a little something with his eggs for breakfast. He kept telling me to quit kicking the gas tanks, but I was doing it on purpose.
Q: And your broadcast partner was safe on the ground? Sort of a Marlon Perkins to your Jim Fowler?
BU: Of course. It was like "Wild Kingdom." Merle and my partner now, Jim Powell, always come up with great things for me to do.