Chris Jenkins, AP
Bob Uecker has made a 40-year career out of delighting baseball fans with his self-deprecating sense of humor. Even facing heart surgery at the end of the week, that didn't change.
Addressing reporters, the Milwaukee Brewers radio announcer opened up by joking that he called a press conference to announce that he was joining the Brewers' active roster. Then he turned serious — well, as serious as he could be.
“I'm looking forward to getting it done and getting back to work,” he said. The 75-year-old Uecker will have his aortic valve replaced Friday morning, and will be away from the team for up to three months while recovering. Uecker plans to return to the booth as soon as he can after the procedure on Friday. He said he would likely return to do only home games at first, but eventually return to traveling with the team.
“I've been in baseball 55 years,” Uecker said. “This is all I know. Or want to know, for that matter.” Uecker said he hasn't had any pain or other symptoms, beyond occasional breathing issues during his daily swim. But his doctors have been monitoring a heart murmur, and a recent scan revealed that his problems were escalating and he needed surgery soon.
One of Uecker's doctors, Jim Kleczka of Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin, said Uecker's aortic valve will be replaced, as will part of his enlarged aortic root. “I don't know if I'd call any heart surgery routine,” Kleczka said. “But it's a commonly done operation.”
Uecker said he had a similar procedure on a different heart valve several years ago, but only needed a few weeks to recover then. Milwaukee manager Ken Macha and several Brewers players, including Prince Fielder, Trevor Hoffman and Rickie Weeks were on hand for Uecker's news conference.
Uecker says he'll be watching and listening to games during his absence. “Winning's great, losing's bad, and when they lose, I feel bad,” Uecker said. “I hate it. I played. Well, I didn't play, but I sat around.” Uecker's own six-year baseball career didn't amount to much, although he did play for the World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals in 1964. His biggest success came after he retired in 1967.
Uecker went on to star in commercials and the television sitcom Mr. Belvedere. But his first love remained baseball. He is in his 40th season calling Brewers games. Uecker said he looks forward to going to the ballpark every day, and doesn't foresee retirement any time soon. “I don't ever want to quit,” Uecker said. “I don't want to become a jibberish idiot on the air, either. I'll know when to quit.”