“Mister Baseball”…Imagine what a Brewers World Championship would mean to the heart and soul of the organization

89-year-old Milwaukee Brewer radio announcer Bob Uecker (center) celebrates the Brewers 2023 Central Division Championship Tuesday with Brewers owner Mark Anastasio and is wife Debbie. Courtesy Milwaukee Brewers.

Go ahead, call me a big bowl of slightly overripe Irish sap bubbling over on the stove. Or, Wisconsin maple sap, doing same, a drippy, sticky mess, while the cook is off chasing away hungry racoons brash enough to walk in the slightly-ajar front cabin door.

Now ask me if I care. What readers of this blog might have inferred by now is that, as a culture commentator, I rank local team sports as important as any “high, middle or low-brow” art, in terms of community impact, of reknitting and reinforcing the precious weave of community fabric, which in modern times seems to be torn asunder at the local and national levels.

Yep, nothing brings all corners of a community — call it Wisconsin and the extended Brewer fandom — together, politics and racial biases aside, more than team sports that represent the city. So, we have our Brewers, our Bucks and our state has our Packers. I just was prompted to recall to a good friend the first time I was brought to tears as a young sports fan, was at a Packer game with my father, at Milwaukee’s County Stadium in about 1959 versus Johnny Unitas, a sports–transforming quarterback — and the mighty Baltimore Colts.

Now, which aspects of culture might have a more lasting, profound or transformative impact might be another discussion, yet even removing sports from that discussion is an elitist fool’s errand.

Now, my main point might help to explain my blog subtitle: “Exploring our common and uncommon culture.”

OK, explanatory throat-clearing out of the way (yahhh-hem!…Gee, this column is getting, um, sticky), Here’s my sap-drenched point. I just overheard a radio sports talk show host (on 97.3 F.M. The Game) pose the rhetorical question: What it would mean to Bob Uecker, for the Brewers to win it all, now that they are Central Division Champions once again. The question hit me squarely in the gut because I hadn’t considered it until now. Have you?

As the announcer intimated Uecker may be retiring, that is, becoming yet another bronze statue, the ultimate one, before our very ears. and will, in spirit, join the two (count ’em) commemorative statues of him at Miller Park (er, Am-Fam Field). Even Aaron, Yount, Molitor and Selig only have single statues there.

The man is 89 years old and still the foghorn, no, the clarion bugle, of Milwaukee sports. Listen to this, a medley of his more unforgettable home run calls: https://www.bing.com/videos/riverview/relatedvideo?q=bob+eucker+calls+a+home+run&mid=A3BFA25D04945CF49F17A3BFA25D04945CF49F17

One of his last HR calls is his description of Martin Maldonado’s walk-off blast to win a 17-inning game –by a career back-up catcher like Uecker, who caught all 17 innings (Maldonado is still playing for the Houston Astros.) Listen to these clips and look down to check for goosebumps. If none, check your pulse. For your sappy blogger, my sight is blurred by my tear ducts. Does any baseball announcer have a more powerful home run call?

I’ve never even seen Uecker in person, which I’m a bit surprised by, as an aging Milwaukee native, though I spent 20 years working in Madison. Yet, I feel like he’s a very special uncle, my only-surviving “relative” of “The Greatest Generation.”

These thrilling clips segue to an introduction to “the great Bob Uecker” by David Letterman, with a delightful Uecker impersonation and anecdote by Saturday Night Live alum Norm MacDonald.

If you dig further on You Tube, you should find some of Uecker’s many funny visits on The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, always introducing him as, “Would you welcome, Mister Baseball, Bob Uecker!”

This is getting down to the nub of my point. If Johnny Carson helped establish Uecker’s identity as the premier ambassador for the sport entwined with Milwaukee’s national identity as “Mister Baseball,” nobody comes close to Bob Uecker’s significance.

And if so, how do we zoom in on the implications of that identity? Given that is a strong, if arguable case for “Mister Baseball,” who more than Bob Uecker would most appropriately signify “Mister Milwaukee Brewer”? Perhaps the first former player who comes to mind as competition is Robin Yount, arguably the greatest historic Brewer, he of the 3,000-plus hits, league MVP at two different positions, etc. Yount is very much “in the ballpark,” or even comes close, but at best he’s still “just a bit outside,” as Uecker might say.

Bob’s a Milwaukee native and so Milwaukee that it’s still hard for me to type his slightly odd ethnic name correctly, I always want to type “Eu…”

In terms of visibility, wide renown and popularity, Uecker is the voice, the personality, the heart and ambassador of the Brewers, and by extension the city of Milwaukee. It’s also in his still-potent sense of humor, dry as a Wisconsin martini and always ready to float to the top during a slow spot in a game, like a buoyant Door County cherry.

A favorite Uecker line: The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up.

Even consider him at his corniest, in his current, effortlessly gemietlekiet-soaked commercials, as the infallible blindfolded nose tester for the best Milwaukee sausage: “AHHHH Usinger’s!” (though I’d still argue for Klement’s!) Even the youngest Brewer fans know the white-haired nose for those.

Uecker doing Usinger’s commercial. facebook.com

In other words, it has been all too easy for many of us to take him for granted over the 50 years as the voice of his team, our team. Let that sink in: fifty years as the voice of the Brewers.

He might feel a bit like Sisyphus, pushing that big baseball boulder up the hill every season, the boulder that signifies the smallest market in Major Leagues, for 50 years of working, and waiting, for a championship!

No, make that 53 years, (having started with the Brewers in 1971). So, damn, he’s really pushing it. Time for him to slow down? He sounds as vital and sharp as ever, it seems.

Here he is more recently calling back-to-back game-winning homers by Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun: https://www.bing.com/videos/riverview/relatedvideo?q=bob+eucker+calls+a+home+run&mid=A3BFA25D04945CF49F17A3BFA25D04945CF49F17

In one of the vintage home run calls above, he perhaps unconsciously invokes the renowned exclamation of his radio predecessor, Earl Gillespie, voice of the Milwaukee Braves, when he yells out at one point, “HOLY COW!” sensing instinctively how much that’s a quintessential Wisconsin rubric.

So, imagine what a first-ever Brewers World Championship — with Uecker calling the final out, and perhaps the crucial hit or home run, would mean to Uecker — as he possibly contemplates, or chooses, to finally ride off into the sunset? By extension, what would it mean to the city that is his?

At 89, “Ueck” still can embody the essence of the game’s timelessly boyish, pastoral playfulness (with a hint of its sublimated corn-field mysticism: “Build it, and they will come.”) and, in the next breath — as a Brewer suddenly smashes a rocket shot — can capture the drama and visual majesty of an epic, game-winning home run.



Bob Uecker baseball card from 1964. He’s with the Cardinals in this card but he’s wearing a Milwaukee Braves uniform after being recently traded to the Cards by the Braves. e-bay.

Leave it to Uecker to be apparently the first baseball player to pose playing a tuba for his Topps baseball card. pixels.com

As a backup catcher, he played for the Milwaukee BravesSt. Louis CardinalsPhiladelphia Phillies, and Atlanta Braves from 1962 to 1967. His career batting average was an even .200, the generous essence of mediocrity back then, even if a fair amount of current Major Leaguers now hit below that today and still have jobs.

WIKI reports: “After retiring, Uecker started a broadcasting career, (he) became known for his self-deprecating wit, and became a regular fixture on late night talk shows in the 1970s and 1980s, facetiously dubbed “Mr. Baseball” by TV talk show host Johnny Carson. He hosted several sports blooper shows, and had an acting career that included his role as George Owens on the TV show Mr. Belvedere and as play-by-play announcer Harry Doyle in the film Major League and its two sequels.[1]

More from WIKI: Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared September 25, 2021, as Bob Uecker Day in honor of his 50th year broadcasting Brewers games.[25] Uecker threw out the first pitch in the game against the New York Mets. But instead of throwing the ball to the catcher, he unveiled a pitching machine and used that. Before the game, leftfielder Christian Yelich presented a gift on behalf of the players, a pair of custom Nike sneakers with “Air Uecker” and “Get Up, Get Up” on one foot and “One Of Us” and “Just a Bit Outside” on the other.[26]

What of that “facetious” Mister Baseball moniker? Stick around long enough and the joke pretty much wears off, and you’re left with the dregs of titters, like random splatters of brat mustard, adorning a life-size statue sitting in a stadium seat, amid the distinctly pungent aroma of spilled Miller Lite.

Bob Uecker statue in an Am-Fam Field seat, with a
“mini-me” of himself, actually a Uecker bobblehead doll. Pinterest.com




Multi-talented Ben Sidran returns to Milwaukee for the first time in years

Ben Sidran. All photos via BenSidran/bensidran.com, unless otherwise credited.

Ben Sidran is a hydra? After many years of observing the multitalented pianist-singer-producer-author-interviewer-broadcaster, I strive to characterize him. “Renaissance man” is a cliché nearly as old as its historical genesis. More remote yet apt, hydra, the nine-headed snake from Greek mythology, seems only a slight rhetorical exaggeration. Grappling to encompass his myriad accomplishments, I hope you get a sense of the jazz man’s vast resonance.

And yet, despite his intellectual bona fides, literary as well as musical, as a performer he’s always projected a relaxed, unassuming aura which was no less evident in a recent interview.

The occasion is Sidran’s performing with his trio in Milwaukee for the first time in many years, at Bar Centro at 8 p.m. on Thursday, September 7, even as the Madison-based Chicago native has lived virtually his whole life in the state of Wisconsin.

First, I’ll try to highlight the range of his accomplishments. He first arrived as a member of a rock band, led by Milwaukee native Steve Miller in 1968, and wrote one of Miller’s most iconic songs, “Space Cowboy.” Sidran really emerged in 1971, the year of his first album under his own name and of the important book of “jazz/sociology”: Black Talk: How the Music of Black America Created a Radical Alternative to the Values of Western Literary Tradition. That loaded subtitle says plenty about the book, which includes a forward by iconic jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp. Another scholarly Sidran work, There Was A Fire, traces the Jewish contribution to American music and The American Dream. He has also published a book of remarkably simpatico interviews with jazz musicians, and a superb autobiography, A Life in the Music.

Sidran’s album “The Concert for Garcia Lorca” was nominated for a Grammy Award. ebay.com

Among his notable recording projects over the years have included any number of albums highlighting his self-accompanied singing, an offhanded yet often pointed style. Those have ranged to a brilliantly unpredictable album recording poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca, another adapting writings of existentialist Albert Camus to song, an all-star recording adapting Hebrew wisdoms, and an album of Bob Dylan songs.

Also, he hosted a Peabody Award-winning interview program Jazz Alive on National Public Radio, and presented a Tedx Talk, “Embrace your Inner Hipster.” The hipster is a person searching for “authenticity in an age of technology,” he explained.

For all that, one thing he’d never done is record an album of piano trio music until now, with Swing State, with bassist Billy Peterson and his son Leo Sidran on drums. 1 and 2

What prompted this after all these years of jazz-related singing?

“Just what you said, never having done it, trying to keep it fresh,” Sidran replies in a phone interview. “Piano trio playing is very much part of the tradition I like, and it was a good time to make it.”

The piano trio’s seemingly stripped-down format helps prompt the question of why and how he has worked so incessantly over the years in such a vast range of expressive, conversational, and analytical modalities.

“It may sound strange but in doing all of that to me they’re not different things. Playing piano, writing, working on a book, or the radio, they were similar: they take a certain amount of focus, experience, and technique. It all basically revolves around music, it’s music-centric. So, it’s focusing on the music of people. More than the actual notes — the things that music critics get into — that means less to me than the people in the culture.”

Why did he reach so far back into the 1930s for most of the material on Swing State?

“That’s when I first started playing piano, back in the ‘50s. That’s also what I listened to. Music in the ‘30s is a lot like today playing music from the ‘90s. It seems like a long time ago now but at the time it was contemporary.”

But why play it now? “It’s just comfortable to play and I don’t have any problems playing songs that are part of the tradition. That makes sense to me, that’s what we do really.”

So, in a sense Sidran has taken a deep breath after years of artistic striving to let his fingers, instead of his voice, do the talking. He sounds both relaxed and invigorated by vintage romantic standards.

One of the most distinctive renditions is “Laura,” typically a limpid, wistful love song to a dead woman. But Sidran cuts the pathos way back, and turns it into a taut, mid-tempo exploration of almost mysterioso effect. I told him “Laura” sounded like how the late jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal might approach it. Sidran gracefully accepted the compliment, then explained that in fact Jamal had been “the guide for that arrangement.”

By contrast, the title tune is finger-popping hard bop, and that funky jazz style seems to be the dominant aspect of Sidran’s own piano style. How does hard-bop of the 1950s fit into his musical world?

“Well, it’s the style of piano playing of Bud Powell, Horace Silver, Wynton Kelly, a lot of piano players from the ‘50s and ‘60s that I grew up listening to. That’s my favorite kind of harmonic and rhythmic approach. Certainly Horace Silver categorizes as hard bop but it’s the language of the idiom of bebop.”

He’s too modest to think he’s a hydra, or plays as well as any of his favorite hard-bop pianists. But Sidran’s hydra head that actually thinks like a critic analyzed a piece by one of his favorites pianists, Sonny Clark, in these 1984 liner notes to Clark’s album My Conception. After a deft comment on the 32-bar structure of “Minor Meeting,” Sidran unfurls this lyrical description: “Sonny’s relaxed, casual attitude during his solo belies the precision of his lines and the almost literary construction of his musical ideas. It’s as if his playing is a non-verbal narrative that describes, in equal detail, both the ultimate destination of the journey and the little flowers along the way.”

But he’s a communicator in many senses so, despite Swing State, it would be a disservice to ignore his contributions as a jazz singer and producer, greatly influenced by another hipster singer-pianist, Mose Allison. He’s produced albums by Allison, Van Morrison, Rickie Lee Jones and Diana Ross. Sidran’s own most notable recent vocal recording is probably Dylan Different. How good is it? The album offers “covers that uncover a near symbiotic connection to his source’s material,” raves All-Music Guide’s knowledgeable critic Thom Jurek.

“I did the Dylan songs I grew up with in the ‘60s, the songs that I liked to listen to. I wasn’t so much making a statement about Dylan as I was reinterpreting his songs because I grew up with them and they were fun to play. Dylan has had such a long career that he’s had four or five different periods. It’s hard to summarize. So, this was a tribute to the way he approaches lyrics and putting a Ben Sidran spin on the arrangements.”

But like Dylan, Sidran can’t help making some sort of statement, and one is embedded in the title of the latest instrumental album. He’s lived most of his life in one of the most critical swing states in politics and, in that sense, beyond the uncanny rhythmic state that jazz swing evokes, political implications were intended.

“Of course, here in Wisconsin the majority of voters are Democratic but the Republicans have got the state (electoral map) so gerrymandered that they take over the (legislative) offices,” Sidran explains. “I want people to be aware that this is a swing state electorally, and it’s important to get this right, and not let one party co-opt the other.”

Sidran’s album communicates this in a subtle way, almost like subliminal messaging, as if the romance in this wordless music beckons us to not forget Martin Luther King’s dream, of human equality and opportunity for all.

This prompted me to ask him about the political implications in his first book Black Talk. He didn’t want to paraphrase a book written so long ago, which doesn’t mean it doesn’t retain relevance.

And yet he feels that something in the book’s subject, black culture, has been lost, or perhaps needs reclaiming.

“I can tell you that the music and culture that I wrote about, the black music and culture of the ‘60s has almost no references in today’s black culture. So, I can’t really speak to the music that’s current because it doesn’t reflect what was going on 50 or 60 years ago. I don’t listen, and I haven’t listened, to very much rap music, and of course that’s been the leading form of black music since the ‘90s. So, I haven’t paid attention to a lot of this stuff. I go back to rhythm and blues and bebop; it’s very hard for me to contextualize this other music which I don’t listen to.

“Maybe it needs a different labeling for me to understand discussion of what people call contemporary. I don’t recognize it in the greater subject of my book.

“The music of the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s was a great flowering, a cultural explosion of tradition. I mean there hasn’t been a greater musician than John Coltrane in 60 years. Today, there’s a lot of good young players out there. But it’s not as interesting to me as listening to Jackie McLean or, I love Eddie Harris.”

“The music I’m talking about, bebop, is still the most elegant improvisational music that has come out of America and really all around the world. It is not a particularly commercial format compared to a lot of others that have come along. It is difficult to play and difficult to listen to, in some cases.

“So, it’s not for everybody. The music that interested me made me understand American society from the inside out, to understand various aspects of what America is.”

Still swinging, Sidran stands strong by the bastions of American music history, by what we can still draw inspiration and insight, by honoring.


This article was originally published in The Shepherd Express, in slightly different form, here: https://shepherdexpress.com/music/music-feature/ben-sidran-in-milwaukee-for-first-time-in-years/

  1.  Leo Sidran also reaps a bounty of diverse musical talents: drummer-multi-instrumentalist-singer-songwriter. He also hosts an acclaimed interview podcast, The Third Story with Leo Sidran.
  2. A reliable source reports that Racine-based trumpeter Jamie Breiwick will be at least sitting in with Ben Sidran’s trio at Bar Centro. The following night, at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, Breiwick’s jazz-hip-hop group KASE will be recording a live album at Bar Centro with the jazz-folk group Father Sky, a.k.a. pianist-singer Anthony Deutsch.